Once Lost, Now Found: How Reformed Theology Assures Us
we are still living in an age of Christ-less Christianity. That’s the diagnosis. I believe the reformed catholic Christianity of the Protestant Reformation and post-Reformation is the cure.
But all too often we as Reformed believers come off as total freaks when people visit our churches for the first time. A visitor walks in for the first time and hears something like this: “Hi, I’m Danny, welcome to OURC. Are you supra or infra?” Or, “So are you credo or paedo?” Maybe, “Pre-, post-, or pesimistic amillennial? We here are optimistic amil.” Too often we let our most rabid new members into greeting ministry too early. Instead, the “cage phase” Calvinists who are so excited about being Reformed need to be put in a cage for a year until they’ve been tamed. In this age of Christ-less Christianity we want to be welcoming to unbelievers, disenfranchised evangelicals, burned-out liberals, and everyone on the outside looking in an understandable, hospitable way. And we want them to come to know the assurance that Reformed Christianity brings.
It was the late-sixteenth-and early-seventeenth-century Catholic theologian, Robert Bellarmine, who said that assurance of salvation was the principal heresy of Protestantism. In the decades and centuries surrounding the Reformation this was the great question. What assurance could creatures have of their Creator revealing himself? What assurance could the pious Catholic have that he would not spend eternity in the flames of hell? And the list goes on.
We do not live in a time where everyone lives under Christendom, and hence everyone is searching for assurance within that system. We are living in a great time, though. The Reformed faith is on the march once again. People in our society are not coming to us seeking answers and assurance in the same way as in the sixteenth century. Instead, they are seeking assurance whether anything can be trusted and believed in.
You see, although we live in what we can call a post-everything culture where it seems people are unsure about everything, in reality, people evidence their deep-down need for belonging, for community, for assurance. Let me give an example of this. Russell R. Reno, a theologian at Creighton University, wrote a while back about the phenomenon of tattoos. That which was once a symbol of rebellion is now a symbol of belonging to something larger than oneself in our culture.
So what can we give people? The full-orbed message of the Reformation. And I am writing as one who—as the great hymn says—“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
The Assurance of Our History
First, Reformed Christianity offers the assurance of our history. Everything today is about what have you done for me lately, the brief sound byte, the tyranny of the news cycle when the next big thing takes center stage only to eclipse what once had all our attention. We are by nature “chronologically arrogant,” as the great C. S. Lewis once said. When the Israelites languished under their disobedience and impending judgment of God, Jeremiah called upon them to seek the ancient paths. As Reformed churches we can confidently say to searching people, we have deep roots historically. We can call upon family, friends, and neighbors to unite themselves to something bigger than them and us.
The Assurance of Our Theology
Second, Reformed Christianity offers the assurance of our theology. Before next Sunday, stop and think about everyone who walks through the doors of where your congregation meets for worship, especially those who may be there for the first time. There are so many people coming with so many experiences. No doubt there will be someone who shares a similar story with you. For me, I was lost. I was baptized as a Roman Catholic, taken to Sunday school at Calvary Chapel, I remember going to Easter and Christmas Mass throughout my childhood and teenage years, and all through that I sought assurance that God loved me. I was converted in a Foursquare Church and then went off to college to play basketball. The church next to campus was an Assemblies of God church. After seeing the same people go forward to the altar calls to get saved or to rededicate themselves to the Lord week after week after week, I thought, “There has got to be more to the Christian faith than this.” There will be people who, like me, turned to investigating religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, agnosticism, and every -ism under the sun.
What brought me assurance? The gospel. I came to realize that no amount of works a la the Roman Catholic system, no amount of intellectual investigation of religion, and no amount of seeking emotional assurance via my Pentecostal church could bring the assurance I sought. That was, until one day I was introduced to the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 70, “What is justification?” The answer is, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.”
The Assurance of Our Liturgy
Third, Reformed Christianity offers the assurance of our liturgy, that is, our way of worshipping the triune God. As you know, Rome likes to say, “We’ve had the Mass for two thousand years.” Well, in Reformed churches we can say confidently, “We’ve had the Psalms for three thousand years, like the entire people of God.”
I remember walking in a Reformed church for the first time. I’ve never told Mike Horton this, but it was Christ Reformed, which was then meeting in Placentia. I felt like I had walked into heaven. Remember I had seen the smells and bells of Rome and the signs and wonders of Pentecostalism. It wasn’t until I sat in a service saturated in the Word like a Reformed church, with reverent worship, that I found what I had been looking for. I had no idea how to hold a hymnal, how to read a note, when to stand, when to sit. But it was amazing.
The Assurance of Our Piety
Fourth, Reformed Christianity offers the assurance of our piety. Have you gone to your local Christian bookstore lately or received a catalog in the mail from the large publishers? What’s in them? Mostly Christian living, right? But it’s what some have called law-light. You know, how to be a better you, finding your purpose in life, Christian dieting, women’s issues, men’s issues, teen issues, how to get over your issues with having issues.
The Reformed Christian faith is not merely a bunch of doctrine. It’s not merely head knowledge. As my friend and mentor, Joel Beeke, describes our faith, it is a religion of head, heart, and hands. Our life is described so wonderfully by the two opening questions of the two great Reformed catechisms. The Heidelberg Catechism opens, “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” We belong to the Lord; we are his bondservants. The Westminster Shorter Catechism opens, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” We exist as clay, molded for the maker’s pleasure.
People walk into our churches beat down, ashamed, defeated. We get to say to them that God makes the dead alive, the blind to see, the enemy his friend. And now that you belong to him, live with joy and gratitude to the glory and praise of your maker and redeemer.
As you conclude reading this article and we go our separate ways, I pray you will be equipped to be used of God to communicate the truth of that great hymn to all unbelievers, pilgrims, and outcasts who walk through your church’s doors: “I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
Rev. Daniel Hyde is the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad, CA.