Always Reforming or Unrecognizable?

By Susan Hetrick

I was thinking this week about what it means to be “Reformed, and Always Reforming.” For some reason, a joke popped into my head:

A middle aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is her time to die. God says no, and explains that she has another 30 years to live.

Upon her recovery she decides to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, breast augmentation, and a tummy tuck. She even has someone come in and dye her hair. She figures since she’s got another 30 years, she might as well make the most of it!

She walks out of the hospital after she fully recovers and is killed by an ambulance speeding up to the hospital. She arrives in front of God and complains: “I thought you said I had another 30 years!”

God replies, “Oh! My dear, I didn’t recognize you!”

 We reformed folk tend to pray a lot. Because we are children of the Reformation, we don’t let other people or church authorities tell us what to believe, or how to interact with God. To be Reformed is to hold the Bible in very high esteem, and to be overwhelmed by and appreciative of God’s grace. We tend to agree with the theologies of Calvin or Knox or Luther, or other reformers from the 1500’s. And while we believe God’s Word is the final authority, we also know that we mere human beings get it wrong sometimes. OK, more than sometimes; we get it wrong a lot.

When we get things wrong, we need to reassess what we believe and why. There’s that always reforming part. But when we reassess, I don’t think it means we necessarily become unrecognizable like the woman in the plastic surgery joke. If we question our beliefs and our theology to the point that we became that different and distorted, it would be heresy, not Reformed.

 I was watching TV the other day and came across a new show, called Snake Salvation on the National Geographic channel. It features two pastors from small Appalachian churches who use poisonous snakes in their worship services.  Now granted, these pastors probably don’t consider themselves Reformed, but they hold the Bible in very high esteem. So much so, that they base their entire faith on Mark 16:18 (in the King James Version, of course) that reads, They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Um…  yeah.

 I am dismayed when people base their entire theology on one verse of the Bible. You’ve met them, I’m sure; the pastor who insists that the world was made in seven literal days (because it says so in Genesis) and that was a mere 10,000 years ago. And logically, since dinosaurs are no longer around it’s because they were too big to fit onto Noah’s ark.

Or those pastors who insist women can’t possibly be called by God to preach the word because 1 Timothy 2:12 clearly says, But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The fact that this is not a direct quote from God, or that there are more verses in the Bible that suggest women are called to teach or prophesy, or that there are numerous examples of women in the Bible answering God’s call is irrelevant. Since when are facts irrelevant?

 There’s the pastors who insist LGBTQ people cannot be loved by God because of Leviticus 20:13, yet somehow miss that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” (John 3:16), or that we aren’t supposed to judge one another (Matt.7:1) or “I love you, you are mine!… And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:1,25) Or, what about the 800 or so verses that say “Love one another?” Have we forgotten about grace?  But please…. don’t try to disprove their arguments with facts.

 Basing an entire theology on one Bible verse – regardless of the facts – doesn’t seem very wise. I imagine that God looks at that, shakes his head and gives himself a face palm.

 As a pastor, I do my best to base my theology on the entire Bible, as well as prayer and the conclusions of wise theologians both past and present. And I’m sure I get it wrong, a lot. However, I am Reformed and supposed to be always reforming, so periodically I reassess my beliefs, which is very humbling, and really exhilarating at the same time. I rely on God’s unmerited favor – God’s grace – and I trust that someday God doesn’t say to me, “Oh! My dear, I didn’t recognize you!”





4 thoughts on “Always Reforming or Unrecognizable?

  1. I am hesitant to say that those who base their theology on just a single verse, or exalt some verses over others, are entirely wrong, because I am sure they are prone to say that about me. Yet I am convinced that the totality of Scripture speaks of God’s love for everyone, unconditionally, God’s desire for us all to be complete, and that the Spirit, speaking through the Scriptures, wants each of us to find love and happiness as it best fits for us–including some who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or even celibate. And there are some places where I would be burned at the stake for suggesting that.

    Part of the beauty of being Reformed is that, while we are called to walk together (“synod”), we are not called to march in lock step; while concord, a united pull, makes us stronger, uniformity is not required nor desired. It is good that my fleet (“classis”) of congregations has parishes of differing sizes with differing abilities, because I learn something from those who understand the Scriptures a bit differently from me, and I am grateful to have colleagues and congregations I can trust to whom to send people who need something my congregation and I cannot provide. We Reformed folks are held together by a common set of confessions, a common church order, and common sacramental liturgies, none of which say anything about marriage or sexuality; these are not central to our understanding of the faith.

    I only wish that my colleagues who see the Scriptures differently could understand and appreciate that last part. I promise I would never officiate at a same-sex wedding at any of their churches, and I wish they would not be so incensed over the sexual orientation and/or gender of those ordained in mine.

    1. Thank you James, that is beautifully stated.

      I too learn a lot from my colleagues who don’t agree with me, and I thank God that we can worship together. I am always mindful that the things that hold us together are much greater than the things we might not agree on. And you are right – we must always strive for unity over the most important things – that God loves us just the way we are.


  2. I am definitely an LGBT ally but I don’t know what God thinks. The whole thing confuses me to no end because people can think, pray, and read and come to just as strong–and completely opposite–convictions.

    And boy do I wish Snake Salvation was on Hulu Plus because from the videos I saw it would be great entertainment (though like any “reality” show you don’t know how much of it is shooting from the hip verses posturing for the camera).

  3. Susan,
    Your post makes me think of all the people in my life who have forced me to think differently, and boy, am I glad they did! Not because I thought I was right, but because I didn’t have a wide enough perspective to realize there was a way to think differently. It definitely makes me conscious of how narrow-minded I can be. I hope I’m less narrow-minded now than I have been in the past, though there is always work to do. What I never want others or God to say of me is, “You were narrow-minded and therefore unmerciful.”

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