Recently, I’ve noticed that the word reformed means very different things depending on who you are talking to. For some, reformed is a negative word that is thrown around to describe the kind of Christians you should hope you never become. For others, reformed is a word used to describe people who hold to a kind of supernatural truth that is reserved for the select few who actually “get it.” For still others, reformed mostly means old. Or rarely celebrating Communion. Or maybe the word has been heard so seldom that it means little to nothing at all.
The first time I heard it was in close proximity to the word Calvinist. When I was a freshman in college, I met my first five-point Calvinist, and he quickly informed me that he would never date someone like me (not that I was interested!) because he would never be willing to marry someone who was not a Calvinist. Conversations about reformed theology always centered around predestination, specifically God choosing certain people from before the creation of the world to condemn to hell. My first experience with the concept of reformed theology left me thinking that reformed was a brand of theology reserved for an elite few who thought they had a direct pipeline to God. The God of this kind of faith seemed cruel and unfeeling. And, if life was already micromanaged and pre-scripted, I couldn’t understand what the point of the created order and humanity could even be.
I am not that kind of reformed.
More recently, I have heard a lot about megachurch preachers who call themselves Calvinists or reformed. Though these preachers never really define what it is about their theology that is reformed, it seems reformed means strict rules and roles. It means an unyielding insistence on rigidly-defined purity. It means leaders of the church have to look a specific way – not only male, but ruggedly masculine (in the most stereotypical sense of the word). Reformed, in this sense, often portrays God as angry and vengeful. The role of the preacher is to convey this anger to the world in as winsome a way as possible. The God of this kind of theology seems more like someone in need of an anger management class than the God I read about on the pages of Scripture.
I am not that kind of reformed.
When I met my husband and started attending a reformed church, I was very hesitant. I was skeptical. I enjoyed pointing out all of the things I disagreed with. But, in this Christian community I found a group of people that was willing to wrestle with difficult questions. I saw Christians seeking to live like Jesus in their communities, in their workplaces, in the ways they raised their children. In this place, in this church body, reformed theology wooed me, and it won me over. What I discovered was that being reformed means being open to the possibility that you could be wrong. It means embracing your questions rather than hiding from them. It focuses on studying God’s word, which means I don’t have to check my intellect at the door, but it also focuses on the mystery that God acts among us through the sacraments.
Reformed theology both welcomed my questions and told me I didn’t have to have the answers to all of them.
Being reformed means always being in a posture of humility because we are not only reformed, but also ever-reforming. Ever-reforming doesn’t mean that God is always changing, but it means that the closer I grow to God the more likely it is that my understanding of things might need to change.
In the reformed church, I am encouraged to use my mind, but I am also reminded that God is bigger than I can understand.
When I say that I am reformed, I also mean that I don’t have to walk this road alone. I can connect with people in other denominations and faith traditions because we share similar liturgy. I can have an ecumenical conversation about preparing for seasons of the church year because we are mindful that life isn’t just a series of days, it is a journey that leads us somewhere. Being reformed means living in gratitude for the many who have gone before and prepared the way, and it means living in community with other travelers on the journey.
I don’t think much about things like the elect, or predestination because my belief in God’s sovereignty isn’t about trying to figure out who will be saved. God’s sovereignty means it isn’t about me. It’s about God, and about the amazing things God freely does through human beings.
Show me a faith that loves God holistically, embraces community, walks with humility, and feasts at God’s table and on the Word.
I am that kind of reformed.