Why Reformed Christians Hate Being “Reformed”

The author of today’s letter is Audrey Edewaard, a 2016 graduate of Western Theological Seminary who was a Corresponding Delegate to this year’s General Synod. Send your #WeAretheRCA letter to revstacey@gmail.com, or if you’d like an additional layer of anonymity, drop me a comment and we’ll make other arrangements. 

Dear Reformed Christians and RCA leaders,

My name is Audrey Edewaard, and I unabashedly love the RCA (it’s actually a bit embarrassing). My denominational identity has been nurtured by a lifetime spent in the RCA, thoughtful professors at Western Theological Seminary and Calvin College, my exuberant family, my call to preach and to teach, and ineffable moments of humility. My love for the RCA is largely influenced by a Reformed articulation of Scripture, tradition, and witness.

One of the many fundamental characteristics I love about the RCA is its commitment to be transformed and transforming; reformed and reforming (whichever slogan you prefer). The RCA is careful to articulate what it is while also leaving space and opportunity for becoming. In other words, the RCA is always in the process of growing more and more into the image of God in real time. We are still learning because our God cannot be confined to one beautifully scripted sermon, one biblical interpretation, one theological clarification, or even one set of creeds and confessions.

The RCA that I love is committed to Scripture with a sacramental emphasis, appreciating experience and witness. When we gather, we read the same Scriptures to remember both what they have meant, celebrate what they mean for us now, and marvel at what they will come to mean. When we gather, we do so as chosen people washed in the waters of baptism, coming together to partake in bread and cup. When we gather, we do so in complete recognition of our own failings, our own gifts, and our own personal encounters with our Triune God. In the RCA, we are a broken and beautiful mess of human beings with a history and a future ordained by a good and loving God.

But even though we gather together before the throne of the Lord, oftentimes we shift our gaze to the fine print, the logistics, the semantics, the details, to the junk that we bring with us to the throne: we are so lost in the magnitude of God, in the surplus of what we have yet to discover, or in our disappointment with a lack of boundaries/hard lines that we get lost in translation…

Because God is love, who is it for? how much? what does that even mean??

Because God is here, then where? in what capacity? what does that even mean?!?!

Because God cares for the least of these, who is that? does that change? what does that even mean?!?!?!?!?

It’s comfortable to put a choke hold on the answer because the original “God is” statement is so vast and our God is so massive – it’s difficult for Reformed folk to agree on the “answers” because we are not comfortable admitting that we are convicted, but not always certain. We know that God is love, that God is here and cares for the least of these, but we don’t understand all of the ramifications of those enormous claims. Though many of us know full well that our personal beliefs have fluctuated – perhaps even significantly! – we do not like to admit it, and we especially do not like to admit when we’ve got it wrong. We become flustered when considering the hereditary mystery innate in our convictions. It’s interesting to this Reformed Christian that Reformed Christians have such a hard time confessing that they are Reformed!

Reformed folk will always disagree because it reflects the significant truth that we do not know everything. In fact, anyone who claims that they have all the answers is, to borrow the lingo of General Synod, “out of order.” The frustrating fact of the matter is that different RCA ministers, congregations, consistories, and classes are going to disagree, and not just about how much money to spend on disposable Styrofoam coffee cups. We know from our ecclesial history that some of these disagreements lead to schism, and from our personal history that some of these disagreements produce anxiety, fear, and flippancy.

My fellow RCA members, we should not be surprised when we disagree. What should surprise and shame us is:

  1. When we allow our disagreements to become who we are;
  2. When our disagreements hinder the flourishing of all God’s children within our denomination;
  3. When our disagreements fuel hateful theology that oppresses, belittles, erases, or shames;
  4. When our disagreements make a fundamental claim or affirm a correct position concerning interpreting Scripture, discipleship, relationship, etc. that does not allow for multiple interpretations to exist.

That’s what it means to be Reformed. You don’t know everything, but it’s fine: neither do I. Make some room. Do not let the fear of uncertainty or the unpleasantness of disagreeing get you down, threaten our Reformed identity, or falsely convince you that unity is impossible. Do not allow the pressure to “have the answers” force you or your congregation to produce flippant theologies that hold no real meaning. Do not turn God’s people away from your pulpits, tables, and fonts and bless them from behind closed doors to soothe your guilt. Do not stuff your ears so full of your personal beliefs that you cannot hear the voice of one saying “YOU ARE HURTING ME.” Do not use God or Scripture to push people out, shut people up, or throw people down. Remember that you were called to be a blessing.

Make. Some. Room.

It is absolutely possible, and okay/honest/good/beneficial, for us to exist in disagreement. And praise the Lord, because I could never serve an understandable God or a Church who claimed to have it all together.

In hope, fervency, and prayer,

-Audrey Edewaard

4 Comments Add yours

  1. You are wise far beyond your years. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Jack says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this very important and much needed reminder and call to Reformed Christians. Although I belong to and work for a ministry of another denomination (Holland Deacons’ Conference – Christian Reformed), I believe these words are equally relevant and applicable to my denomination . . . as well as Christian churches and denominations everywhere. This kind of unity and love–despite our differences and disagreements–is what I believe Jesus was praying for in John 17: 20 – 23 and which he knew would be our greatest witness, “. . . so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

  3. Jack says:

    Reblogged this on Journey Toward Shalom and commented:
    I greatly appreciated these words and thought they were worth sharing with those who read my blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s