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!”