January 15, 2021

IM Recommended Reading: Michael Horton on When “Reformed” Is Not “Reformed”

By Chaplain Mike

Over at the White Horse Inn blog, always thoughtful Michael Horton has posted a great essay commenting on the fissures and fault lines that are becoming apparent among the “young, restless, and reformed.” In his typical style, Horton goes beyond mere reporting to examine some fundamental issues revealed by disputes like the recent flap over John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at a Desiring God Conference.

Specifically, he challenges us to consider the differences between a “movement” (evangelicalism) and the “Church” (as represented in its great traditions—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist).

Movements come and go, change and shift. The Church, firmly rooted in its confessions, provides a stable and permanent home in which the faith can be lived out and passed on from generation to generation. Confessionalism has staying power, the ability to withstand “every wind of doctrine” and the fleeting trends of cultural change. Movements do not.

Horton believes many in the “young, restless, and reformed” movement have mistaken their adherence to certain aspects of Calvinism with being “Reformed,” in the sense of belonging to the tradition of Reformed confessionalism.

Like wider evangelicalism, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is a grassroots trend among people who are, generally speaking, not Reformed….

“Reformed” has a specific meaning.  It’s not defined by movements, parachurch ministries, or powerful leaders, but by a confession that is lived out in concrete contexts across a variety of times and places.  The Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) define what it means to be Reformed.  Like Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Anabaptism, Reformed Christianity is a particular tradition.  It’s not defined by a few fundamentals, but by a whole system of faith and practice.

Evangelicalism may have its Calvinist (or Arminian) manifestations, nevertheless it remains a movement, not a church or confessional tradition. The “young, restless, and reformed” movement might better be named “evangelical Calvinism,” since many who are in it do not actually embrace the system of faith and practice that marks the historic Reformed faith. It is part of the evangelical “village green” where people with both common and disparate perspectives meet, rather than one of the churches on that green, built on a specific confessional tradition.

For centuries, the “Reformed” label has been embraced by people from Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed traditions.  Only in the last few decades has it included those who do not embrace a covenantal interpretation of Scripture, which encompasses baptism and the Supper, the connectional government of the church, eschatology, and a host of other issues that distinguish Reformed from non-Reformed positions.  I often run into Christians who say that they are Reformed—and also dispensational or charismatic, Baptist or Barthian, and a variety of other combinations.  Like the term “evangelical,” “Reformed” is whatever you want it to be.  It’s hard to challenge pragmatic evangelicalism’s cafeteria-style approach to truth when “Reformed” versions seem to be going down the same path.

Alluding to C.S. Lewis’ famous analogy, Horton likens movements to the hallways where we meet and talk with our neighbors about things we have in common, but we live in rooms designed and furnished so that families can eat, rest, and grow together. Hallways are temporary passing corridors. They can’t accommodate permanent residents and the complexity of their lives like rooms can. We shouldn’t think they will.

Right now, though, the “young, restless and Reformed” movement is in danger of succumbing to the fate of all movements at their peak: splintering.  Our confessions help us major on the majors, leaving secondary matters open.  Yet the “New Calvinism” movement is already showing signs of stress over questions like the age of the earth. Churches have ways of dealing with questions of fraternal relations and cooperation, but leader-driven movements can’t handle the stress.  Conferences operate as quasi-official church courts, with vigilante benedictions and excommunications determining who’s in or out. It’s like the wild west.

A movement is not a Church, shouldn’t try to function like a Church, cannot provide what a Church can provide. Horton’s insightful words remind us of the value of the “Great Tradition,” and urge us to move beyond an adherence to “the next great movement of God,” or “the church of the what’s happening now (or next)” and to make ourselves at home in a historic, confessional Church with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.


  1. Didn’t most of those “Churches” we consider historic and confessional with foundations first come about by Christians joining a “next great movement of God” to form those “Churches”? So why shouldn’t Christians continue to do that and form new great Churches which, 500 years from now, can also be considered historic?

    • Because the historic and confessional churches are organically linked to the Great Tradition of the creeds and the rule of faith and, for the most part, did not see themselves as “forming new churches.”

      It’s the difference between being a tree or a weed.

      • The Anabaptists were called the “Radical” Reformers for a reason: rejection of the divinity of Christ, rejection of the authority of the state, rejection of infant baptism (counter to all of the magisterial Protestant Reformers), and so on. The other Protestant movements were terribly alarmed by them and fought them/executed them.

        Granted, their beliefs became less radical eventually, but I guess I am failing to see how a Protestant can say that these new movements are fads while affirming the Anabaptists as a “Church” connected with the Great Tradition.

        • Of the traditions mentioned, the Anabaptists are the most problematic. You make a good point, Devin.

        • Hmm. Pondering this. I believe there is an essential difference between Anabaptism and a ‘movement’ but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what feels different to me. (I’ve been part of a movement, and I’ve dried up and sought to dive back into the deeper waters of Anabaptism.) Perhaps it is because rather than drifting away from the Church I see Anabaptists as increasingly drawing back to it. Yes, we will always have some doctrinal differences but we are still deeply rooted in the creeds, and in the Church.

          I am going to have to do some deeper thinking on this. In the meantime, I shall simply relish my status as ‘problematic’. 😉

        • I was not aware that Anabaptists denied the divinity of Christ. It was my understanding that Anabaptists (or, at least, early Anabaptists) were doctrinally various — meaning that doctrine could vary from one church or religious community to another.
          Whatever the case, you have to admit that the Anabaptists were definitely ahead of their time on many issues, such as their belief in total religious freedom and the seperation of church and state. And that’s really why they got slaughtered by both Catholics and Protestants during the bloody religious conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s ironic how these Anabaptist ideas — while so threatening and offensive at the time — have now become the accepted norm in Western culture.
          As I’ve heard it said: “One step ahead of the pack makes you a visionary. Two steps ahead makes you a pioneer. Three steps ahead makes you a martyr.”

          • Hi Ron,

            I would recommend (Anglican Protestant scholar) Alister McGrath’s book “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” to understand how and why the Anabaptists were so frightening.

            The first generations of Anabaptists took a variety of (heterodox) positions on the Trinity, claiming that they didn’t see the orthodox doctrines concerning the Trinity when they read the Bible (cf. McGrath: around pages 75-81).

        • The vast majority of Anabaptists did not reject the divinity of Christ. Often times they were demonized by Catholics & Protestants looking for a reason to burn them. of course, in those “radical” religious times there were people who may have denied Christ’s divinity, but they would have been on the fringe. Catholics & Protestants often would take any heresy in any group outside their own and paint with broad strokes to appy it to all “Anabaptists”. It is sad to see that it is still being done today by your post.

          • Briank, how is this post doing that? I think I’ve shown respect for the Anabaptist tradition. After all, I call it one of the five great historical traditions of the Church!

            Nor am I calling those in evangelical movements “heretical.” I’m simply saying that they are very weak in ecclesiology, and that that’s not a good thing.

          • Sorry for the confusion, I was refering to Devin Rose’s suggestion that the early Anabaptist Churches rejected the divinity of Christ. I greatly injoyed your post! 🙂
            Maybe I should have said comment instead of post in my last sentence in my reply.
            keep up the good work! peace

          • i meant great enjoyed you post, of course.

          • Hi briank,

            My point is not to malign present day Anabaptists as Arians or Trinity deniers but to paint a more comprehensive picture of the original Anabaptists and their actions/beliefs, as described by both Catholic and Protestant historians.

            In rejecting the notion of taking oaths to secular authorities, in rejecting infant baptism (which at the time was entrance into both civil and religious society), in rejecting or modifying the “traditional” doctrines of the Trinity, and in the episodes where they literally took over entire towns claiming that the Second Coming was going to occur, the Anabaptists were a dangerous and subversive movement of Protestantism.

            If you want to refute the points I am making, you will need to point me to a history of the Anabaptists which demonstrates how all of the Catholic and Protestant histories that I have read of them are exaggerated and wrong.

            I have many friends who have been Anabaptists at some point in their lives and do not condemn Anabaptism today as holding the same positions that it originally did (excepting rejection of infant baptism).

          • i will direct you to Anabaptist page on wikipedia (which is the gospel truth of the internet 🙂 ) which states my point:

            Research on the origins of the Anabaptists has been tainted both by the attempts of their enemies to slander them and the attempts of their supporters to vindicate them. It was long popular to simply lump all Anabaptists as Munsterites and radicals associated with the Zwickau Prophets, Jan Matthys, John of Leiden (also Jan Bockelson van Leiden, Jan of Leyden), and Thomas Müntzer. Those desiring to correct this error tended to over-correct and deny all connections between the larger Anabaptist movement and this most radical element.

            I think if you look in to the history of the Mennonites (that’s me), the Hutterites, & the Amish, you will not find a history of rejecting the divinity of Christ. Did they reject the state church??? oh yes & rightfully!! did they reject swearing oaths ???? Yes & many still do (myself included) & they all have a history of pacifism & still are “peace churches”, & yes, they are still preach the Believer’s baptism.

            the problem is Anabaptists can not be pinned down because they were not a organized Church , they were underground Church do to the Persecution they were under. My point, though i know you are not trying to disparage the Anabaptist Church, when you lump every Anabaptist Church into a the heresy of denying the divinity of Christ (their savor!!!!) – you are saying a very hurtful thing.
            Again anybody at the time of the reformation that believed in credobaptism was considered a Anabaptist — they did not waste time trying to organize them into different heretical groups. love you anyway, brother! peace

          • briank,

            Please forgive me for coming across rudely toward your beliefs. To hopefully end on a harmonious note, my wife and I greatly admire the virtues and values of Mennonites and read their magazines on farming, hoping one day to emulate the way of life and community that many of them enjoy. God bless!

    • I know it’s not quite the same as what I think you’re talking about with respect to “churches”, but other Christian “movements” that had something meaningful and of lasting value to them did ultimately result in the formation of distinct institutions. In the early medieval period, great movements in the church led to the formation of a number of different monastic orders (Cistercian, Dominican, Franciscan) as well as a strong sense of the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal—a view which directly impacted Church theology and catechisms for centuries (right up to the present).

  2. Chaplain Mike…I think I have a basic understanding of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran traditions, but I admit that Reformed and Anabaptist still confuse me, even though I have done internet searches in an attempt to understand. I read that Amish folks are Anabaptists and I can kind of get my head around that. It took a long time for me to understand that I couldn’t really be both Roman Catholic and Evangelical with a capital “E.” Yet, we Roman Catholics are called out to evangelize.

    And I do like very much C.S. Lewis talking about the hallway and rooms. Works for me.

    • Quixotequest says

      “Evangelical” really isn’t the same as “one who evangelizes”; My understanding is it roots is the Evangel, the Gospel, the foundational Good News. But, to be fair, it is a loaded term because being Evangel-driven has been defined historically as affirming all the solas, but pragmatically there is “common law” capital-E Evangelicalism that it became which usually means all sorts of political, social and cultural preferences tacked onto those solas. Because of the modern tendencies I’m always queasy at considering myself Evangelical even though I worship with an Evangelical community.

  3. I think the churches who remain tied to the great traditions of the church remain tied to the great body of believers who have gone before us. These traditions that keep Christ and His gospel before us, keep us anchored that we might not flaot hither and yon with the latest “Christian fad”.

    Look where we have gone. We have thrown out pulpits, and altars in favor of stages and high production values and high energy and entertainment values.

    We are giving into the culture, instead of remaining counter-cultural.

    The last thing people need in church is to have themselves handed back to them.

    • nicely said

    • If at the end of the day, the fads outlast the altars, the whole religion was vain to begin with.

      • Patrick,

        Could you further clarify your comment?

        • What Good is Reformed theology without an orthodoxy to compete with?

          What good are the Solas without a vast, pacific body of Christians fingering rosary beads to beat them with? At the end of the day, divested of its present context, being the most self-consciously strident guys in the Christian Octagon counts for absolutely nothing to God, offers absolutely nothing to unbelievers, and consoles us how?

          Being ‘right’ about God is boring; it doesn’t stay the hand or still the tongue or cherish a loved one any better than unbelief, let alone than regular old unspectacular Christianity. It’s a bunch of books striving towards an abyss, and the sensible thing to do would be to cut that journey off early and not allow yourself to become the most odious, most hypocritical person in the world / in your family / on the Internet – and have some fun for a change.

          It’s lonely defending the keep; once upon a time, that may have seemed self-evidently necessary, but time slips away insensibly and one day you’ll show up to the task to find you’re guarding a museum – standing fast before what enemy, what army?

          if “guarding the Reformed keep” becomes the only theological game in town, even us low-IQ Christians are going to notice that it’s a pretty silly game.

          Why spend your afternoons nurturing tepid theological froth in a half-empty glass of ‘truth’ when your friends are out having a good time?

          • Patrick L., you just summarized 1Corinthians13, whether you meant to or not:

            “Being ‘right’ about God is boring; it doesn’t stay the hand or still the tongue or cherish a loved one any better than unbelief, let alone than regular old unspectacular Christianity. It’s a bunch of books striving towards an abyss…”

            If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

    • Heck, pulpits and alters and even these religiously designated structures we put them in — structures we unfortunately came to define as “churches” — were once new innovations in the history of the church. This cycle of input from resisted invention to popular practice to accepted tradition to sacred tradition has been going on since Pentecost — and I suspect it will continue until Christ returns. I don’t think Christ ever meant for this age-old argument between the preservers of the “old” and the pioneers of the “new” to be such a matter of conflict and division.

      • I don’t think we’re just talking about preserving the old and rejecting the new.

        • Agreed — but, historically, the dynamic I speak of has definitely been a factor in how some church traditions, institutions, and forms view and define the legitamacy of other expressions of the church. There is a tendency of some within church traditions with a centuries-long institutional history to regard church bodies and forms without that historical pedigree as wild weeds in God’s garden. Then again, some of us wild weeds have fallen into the reactionary trap of regarding anything historical or traditional as spiritually stale and confining.
          As part of what is often called the home church “movement”, I don’t so much see myself as part of a movement as I identify myself as a part of a specific body or family of believers. Sure, we’re pretty short on established ecclesiology — but I do see some developments that might be defined as ecclesiological starting to take shape. To be perfectly honest, we’re somewhat hesitant and cautious about establishing either a well-defined ecclesiology or a carved-in-stone list of doctrines — for the most part, because we look around us in Western church culture and see how divided the church is over these very things. To put it another way, we’ve worked very hard on developing unity of love and unity of the spirit — and we’re afraid of losing or compromising that unity in the name of uniformity and conformity to the cultural mode of what church is supposed to be.

  4. One of the things that concern me about the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement is that a lot of these youngsters who join the evangelical Calvinist bandwagon just join because they think it is a cool thing to do. It’s also a sub-cultural alternative/reaction against a lot of the postmodern emergent poppish evangelicalism you find these days. In addition, like the above post says, it is not an ecclesiological body with sacraments as we conventionally know it.

    Whether it is Calvinist, Lutheran, Arminian, or whatever anything that sounds “faddish” is something I am wary of.

    • I am in a church right now that embraces this “new” Calvinism, and your statements sum up almost exactly what I think about it. It may have started out as a genuine movement to reclaim certain aspects lost in present-day evangelicaism, but I can easily see it becoming an end in itself. The same thing happened with the charismatic movement of the 60s and 70s. While many churches and individual believers were transformed by this movement, it ultimately lost much of its fruit. The focus becomes who is one of “us”, dividing the spiritual “haves” from the “have-nots”. (I get particularly irritated by all this talk of the “doctrines of grace”, as a before-and-after spirituality. “When I discovered the doctrines of grace…”). It’s like Pentecostal believers snubbing those who do not have the “fullness of the Spirit.”

  5. Louis Winthrop says

    This reminds me of the difference between the American and French Revolutions. Burke approved of the first, but not the second, based on whether he felt them to be sufficiently “conservative” of tradition. Otherwise the whole society would come crashing down–which happened in France just as he predicted.

  6. And are altars and pulpits Biblical anyway?

    • One could make an argument either way. The idea that Christian worship included hearing from the Scriptures and teachings of the Apostles is definitely found in Acts. The concept of an altar as a Christian element is more fuzzy but definitely has its roots in the OT. There certainly were Table and Word elements of Christian worship in Acts and the Epistles. Of course, the Table is the forerunner of the altar. We do know from Church History that the the Pulpit/Altar bit was part of Christian worship very early on.

      I’m not really sure, however, that the “biblical-ness” of the pulpit and the altar are really the point, though. Rather, the point seems to be that it seems one cannot deny the historic “Christian-ness” of the pulpit and altar without doing some serious logical gymnastics.

      Unless, of course, one takes a Frank Viola Pagan Christianity? point of view that concludes anything that can’t be directly connected to the NT is pagan. When he writes that something didn’t appear “until the 2nd Century” as if that’s a mark of apostate innovation, I find myself wondering how much he understands the facts he’s gathered about Christian history.

      • Is “is it Biblical?” the only question we should ask when considering various traditions and practices?

        • I’m not sure if this is getting too far off topic, Chaplain, but I like the way you phrased that question. Many groups do in fact make that the only question. Perhaps rather than “is it Biblical?”, we should ask “does the actual current understanding and use of a tradition/practice contradict an express Biblical command or principle?”

          I think that’s a good discussion, but it seems that specific practices or the concept of ideas evolving are not really what the original essay is about. Regardless of any specific, if there is a well defined historical confession, anyone claiming to be part of that confessional group should submit to its tenets and not independently start redefining those tenets or the very terminology used.

          • “does the actual current understanding and use of a tradition/practice contradict an express Biblical command or principle?”

            Well we know where YOU stand in regard to the regulative principle of worship. 😛
            I think a better question than “Is it Biblical” might be, “Does it point to Christ?” It has to if it really is Biblical, and it ought to if it’s extra-Biblical (as opposed to non-biblical).

    • Are they unbiblical?

      In our church (American Baptist) our pastor has banished the pulpit to the far corner near the US flag, because he prefers to use a music stand—and because the pulpit would be in the way of the music team. The altar, too, has been pushed to the rear center in front of the baptistry for the same reason, and only comes forward for communion on first Sundays.

      I don’t know if they’re biblical or not; I think they’re just furniture.

      Is the US flag biblical? Is it unbiblical? Fortunately, nobody has mentioned the flag in the 18 years I’ve been there. I’d prefer to banish it from the sanctuary on Separation of Church/State grounds, but it’s not an issue I’m willing to hassle over. So I’m content just to speculate, and to keep my eye on it as it’s keeping company with the lonely old pulpit in the corner.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And are altars and pulpits Biblical anyway?

      Well, I’ve always thought one of the Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe is why non-liturgical churches (who don’t use an altar) are the ones with the Altar Calls…

  7. I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time. That the Evangelical Calvinists like myself are not truly Reformed. In fact, for those Evangelicals who move toward a more complete Reformed theology, we stand a chance of getting labeled with all sorts of nasty names.

    i read an iMonk post (I can’t remember which) where Michael stated that the Calvinist movement among the SBC had not had the results that he had hoped. I suspect that I know what he had hoped, but wouldn’t want to speak for him. My own take on this is that Evangelical Calvinists have by and large simply revived the “fightin fundy” mentality and chosen Calvinism as the new battleground. They really haven’t embraced the larger Church tradition, and still view it as largely dangerous, liberal, compromised, unbiblical, blah blah blah. So Calvinism becomes just another box to check along with YEC, Dispensational Premillenialism, or whatever. That to me, is a great shame, and why I find myself loving my church with its German Reformed heritage. The church is Calvinistic without all the Fundy hang-ups.

    Just my thoughts. Do with them what you will.

  8. I think the issue is soteriology with the “New Reformed.” The doctrines of grace have opened many eyes to depth and beauty of the grace of God.

    I like Horton for the most part, but this sort of thing smacks a bit of elitism. The quote “to make ourselves at home in a historic, confessional Church with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” seems myopic. It is fair enough to say that there is a distinction between old and new, but spare me more of the card carrying “truly reformed” rhetoric.

    Many of those “historic, confessional churches” have “peaked” and “splintered” as well as the new ones that have sprung up. To parody the old country song, you can sing “I was Calvin, when Calvin wasn’t cool” if you like, but how about a little patience please?

    • Soteriology may be the issue for the “new reformed,” but ecclesiology is the issue for Dr. Horton.

      • Yep. I think many of what Dr. Horton would call “movements” often have weakness in the area of ecclesiology. That’s probably because “movements” ultimately aren’t ecclesiastical, though it’s easy to forget that at times.

        • Or could it be that once “movements” develop an ecclesiology, they cease to be “movements” and get bumped up to the status of “denominations”?

          • I wouldn’t say that the historic traditions (apart from the radical Reformers) really “developed” an ecclesiology. They tweaked the Great Tradition out of which they grew.

            This is not the case with modern evangelicalism. Every church I’ve been associated with has had a period (sometimes a very long period) of “going back to the Bible” to determine what our ecclesiology should be. Never once did any of them look to the historic traditions to try and learn anything. The very suggestion would have been laughed at. We’re independent! We believe in the Bible, not tradition! We don’t want to be part of a denomination! That’s not Scriptural!

            These kinds of churches may become “denominations” in the sense that groups of them may form associations and cooperate with each other in various ways. They will never be linked to one of the historic traditions.

      • I agree actually and that’s I why I disagree. Don’t the “Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptists” all have a different ecclesiology? Do Roman Catholics affirm Westminster? Do Lutherans affirm the Council of Trent.? Do Anabaptists affirm anything? (just kidding.)

        Wouldn’t many of the new reformed churches have an Anabaptist ecclesiology of sorts?

        • For the sake of this conversation, if we assume that there are five great historic traditions, you are right, Buck, those five traditions are distinct and differ in many important areas, ecclesiology included.

          But Horton’s point in this essay is not to argue one ecclesiology over another. He is simply arguing as one within the Reformed tradition that those who call themselves “reformed” must have a more robust, historically-rooted ecclesiology.

          I take a lesson from his words for all of us. Evangelicalism as a whole (not just the new “reformed” branch) is movement-oriented and notoriously weak in ecclesiology. Movements disdain tradition of any kind. They link their own interpretation of the Bible to their contemporary situation and value little of anything in between. And usually, they submit to no authority outside their own autonomous congregation.

  9. My, what an irenic reading Dr. Horton receives here!

    He reminds us that Reformed Theology is a package deal, not subject to picking and choosing. He sums up his disdain of cafeteria-style evangelicals with this key sentence:

    I often run into Christians who say that they are Reformed—and also dispensational or charismatic, Baptist or Barthian, and a variety of other combinations.

    Four (or fewer) points doesn’t make the grade, in Dr. Horton’s theologically sound but pastorally anemic opinion. What Baptist reading this piece doesn’t come away thinking s/he’s a bastard stepchild of Presbyterianism?

    By all this, it’s clear that Dr. Horton expects the label “Reformed” deserves to be spared the confusion inherent in other self-designations, “Christian” included. But he fails to admit reality: believers are convicted of biblical doctrine gradually.

    I for one am relieved to know that believing in God’s sovereignty and election doesn’t make me Reformed. Thank you, Dr. Horton and hallelujah!

    • I think you’re missing the point. Dr. Horton is concerned about ecclesiology, not how many “points” one holds to.

    • Moonshadow,

      Dr. Horton has a point. Reformed doctrine and thought are a unified whole; made from one piece of cloth so to speak. The fact that people so freely and easily apropriate it in a piecemeal fashion shows that they really don’t understand it. The same can be said of Lutheranism, maybe even moreso, but because of our view of the sacraments, there are far fewer folks looking to graft a piece of our doctrine onto theirs

      • Dr. Horton ignores or wishes away a reality that Lewis recognized:

        “The world does not consist of 100 per cent. Christians and 100 per cent. Non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.”

        Substitute “Christian” with “Reformed/Calvinist” and you see my point.

  10. Hallway or room, I don’t really care – as long as someone trusts and loves Jesus, that person is part of my house and family. I’ve met and been blessed by Christians from a wide denominational spectrum in the last three decades. What grieves me deeply is all the wasted time and effort debating whose room or hallway is closer to the “throne room” or possibly doesn’t belong in the house at all. As if the body of Christ had no more urgent things to do than sorting out who’s “in” or “out” or more orthodox than the rest!

    Denominations who condemn each other are no better IMO than movements who have followed in their footsteps in this regard.

    • I don’t think Horton is being judgmental in the way you’re thinking. In this article, he’s concerned about ecclesiology, not promoting one denomination or tradition over another.

      • This wasn’t meant to be a criticism of Horton or direct response to him personally. I’m just talking about a general pattern that stretches all the way back to the Reformation and beyond. Think about it – a little word like “filioque” or what the word “is” means causes monumental schisms and in a very similar way modern litmus tests of TULIP and other schemes for Christian brothers and sisters to break fellowship.

        I find it sometimes hard to believe that there are followers of Christ who believe that God is actually on their side in these debates and that it doesn’t break His heart to see His children so divided!

        • I agree, Josh. It’s one of the reasons I am recommending John Armstrong’s book, which we are currently reviewing.

          I think Horton contributes to this discussion. His essay made me think we can take steps toward more unity among Christians by recognizing the danger of temporary “movements” that spring up enthusiastically based upon what’s happening at the moment, and seeing in contrast the value of the historic traditions.

          In my own life, I have concluded that I am a “post-evangelical”—and one thing I mean by that is that I’m done with “the church of what’s happening now.” I will not be part of a church that is not rooted in the Great Tradition, with historic roots—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, or Anabaptist.

          Do you see how that might be a step toward unity if more people chose that route? Instead of trying to choose between over 100 distinct families of churches and over 250 denominations (which is what we have in America right now), I have narrowed my choices down to 5!

  11. I personally think it’s a bad thing to have folks claiming to be Reformed that aren’t really Reformed (or pick any group—if you call yourself by that group’s name, you should align yourself with what that group clearly teaches). The same sort of issue was a problem with the liberal/conservative battles in the Presbyterian church in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s not so much that conservatives at Princeton, for example, couldn’t dialog with liberals at Union—it’s that being part of the Presbyterian denomination and being in a position of teaching meant that one was expected to uphold the confessions that had always been the standard. The conservative argument was that if you don’t want to uphold the standard, fine—we can disagree charitably, but you can no longer be a part of this denomination’s teaching infrastructure (otherwise, our confessions have no meaning). I personally see the issues raised in the essay to be very similar.

    • I don’t know, Jeff. There’s something about insisting that everyone conform unquestioningly to the Reformed tradition of which they are a part that seems to contradict the very founding principle of reform itself.

      • I think Jeff has a point. Once the definitions of words break down, no communication can really happen. Deliberately breaking down words smacks of arrogance — “Well, when I use the word Reformed, it means THIS to me.” We receive language from those who come before us. It’s a gift, a heritage. We have no right to pick and choose or to reinvent language for our own purposes. It’s easy to see what chaos would result from that. We all have had conversations where we’ve found ourselves unable to communicate because the other person understood something different from everything we’ve said.

        If Reformed means a particular thing, then I have the responsibility to use it that way and not take the word as I drift off to another position. The same thing is true of both language and religion. It is arrogance to think we can or should make them up for ourselves every generation. That’s not to say we can’t make them our own, but that process still involves accepting what we’re given, conforming to it, and then letting ourselves grow within it.

        • You may be right — I may very well be misusing the term “reform” in this instance.
          As it applies to the church, I would define the stance of reform as one in which there is a healthy level of openness toward making changes, additions, or substractions with the ultimate aim of preserving and improving the whole. Of course, doing this well requires a degree of balance and patience that we Christians seem to have a hard time maintaining. And as someone with a natural bent toward radical reform, balance and patience are certainly not my strong points.

  12. If Dr. Horton is indeed right here, then apparently I am NOT officially reformed.
    I guess I’m simply a Calvinist who wishes he were Reformed. And yes…. I’m young. And probably restless….

    I really love, though, the distinction between a church and a movement. Everybody wants to get caught up and be a part of a movement because it seems so meaningful. It’s like creating history in the present. But let’s not forget just that: It’s history soon enough. Being part of the church is less glamorous, as is most forms of holiness to the eyes of man, but in the end eternally more meaningful than a passing movement.

    This was good to hear. In the mega-church movement, nobody wants to be a part of a floundering church. It feels like being on the loosing team. You can achieve the feeling of being a winner by simply going somewhere else down the street. But it is a false security… Our hope, meaning, and “only comfort in life and death” comes from belonging to Jesus, not something of worldly significance.

  13. Christopher Lake says

    Horton writes here, “Our confessions help us major on the majors, leaving secondary matters open.” My question is, who has the ultimate authority to decide what the majors and minors are? This isn’t a theoretical or pseudo-philosphical, “hey, let’s all just embrace the mystery of it all,” kind of question. I’m not meaning to come off as relativistic either, because I am no relativist. However, I am utterly serious. Who has the authority to decide what are the majors and the minors?

    Luther and Calvin thought that if a professing Christian was against baptizing infants, that person was an enemy of Christ. Nowadays, a Reformed person would simply say, “Well, if you don’t believe in infant baptism, you’re not historically Reformed, but you are still a Christian.” However, some of the Reformers themselves disagreed. Who decides?

    • Christopher, I think Horton would say that this is one of the advantages of being part of a historic church tradition rather than simply a movement. Over time, through well-established processes, the historic church tends to weed out aberrations or incorporate necessary changes that may rise out of specific situations. Momentary craziness ultimately gets transformed and the church gains wisdom.

      Movements on the other hand tend to flame out only to be replaced by the next big thing.

      Churches are patient. Movements are not.

      • Christopher Lake says

        Thank you for the reply, Mike. I’m not certain how it really answers my question though, and I mean that with the utmost respect for you, and for historic, confessional Protestant churches. If the original writers of historic Reformed confessions (and perhaps just as importantly, the men who inspired them, such as Luther and Calvin) thought that those who would not baptize their infants were not Christians, upon what basis do modern-day Reformed assemblies of believers disagree? Were Luther and Calvin simply “faddish” in their very strict thinking about baptism, and now, Reformed churches have grown out of that? (I’m definitely not saying that Luther and Calvin were *right.* I’m just posing a question about authority in the lives of church assemblies here.)

        Another example would be the section of the original Westminster Confession which declares the Pope to be the Antichrist. Upon what authority do modern-day Reformed churches (for the most part) choose to either remove that section from the WCF, or simply treat it as something that one can take or leave? Is that consistent with even *being* an historic, confessional Reformed church? (I also don’t agree with the WCF’s stance on the Pope.)

        Anyone else, please feel free to answer too– it doesn’t have to be only Mike, although I am grateful for his help. 🙂

        • Christopher, I’m not trying to “answer” your question, but one thing you mentioned reminds me of one of the issues I have with the WCF. Although I am mostly in agreement with the WCF theology, what bothers me is its constant railing against Catholicism. I think any statement of what one believes is done best as a positive statement (“this” is what we believe) rather than as a negative statement (we don’t believe “this” like those other guys do—-why not let “those other guys” speak for themselves rather than putting their beliefs which you don’t accept into your own belief statement?). The relevance to your question is that groups that make these sort of negative statements are often reacting against some idea or group that exists at the time and years later when that group or idea is gone (or at least the conflict has been smoothed out), the explicit reference to that group in one’s confessional statement sticks out as an ugly anachronism. Whether or not one believes the WCF negative statements about Catholicism are still valid, I don’t believe they belong in the confession then or now. Guess that makes me NOT Reformed, though in virtually every other way, I am!

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