Being Reformed

Following our Van Ruler conference last week, I found myself reading Herman Bavink. He comes from the other side of the Dutch lineage. He was the “brainy” Kuyper, if you will. There I found this short description of the movement from the Lutheran Reformation to the Reformed:

The question for the Lutherans was “how is one saved?” For the Reformed that was valid, but not sufficient. The Reformed asked: “How is God honored?” The first question only began the work of the Reformation. For all the world was to stand open to and be penetrated by the Word of God. The implications for this in terms of the life of the church meant that only only the office of the preacher was to be reestablished, but the liturgy and discipline as well; not only the religious life of a Sunday, but the societal life throughout the week; not only the private life of the citizen, but the public life of the state.

Hence the importance of 1) the life of the community beyond the congregation and 2) the offices as they are found in public life.

I find this interesting in part because Bavink is no radical but articulates what has pretty much been understood as centrally Reformed. But I find this the more interesting because the current direction of the RCA has pretty much forgotten this.

Is it because we presented a scholastic orthodoxy that was so dry that anything exciting was better? Was it because we weren’t paying attention to the exciting ways in which this tradition has evolved through very important theological and ecclesiastical voices? I’m not sure. But I’m not ready to settle for the smaller visions that have been put in front of us.

Al Janssen

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2 thoughts on “Being Reformed

  1. An historical theologian may suggest (with a number of qualifications) that the RCA was not closely watching the theological goings-on on the continent, focusing instead on more American concerns. I suppose in a form, that is what you might be suggesting is happening now too. I’d have to ponder that further before offering it as hypothesis, but it would be an interesting study.Blessings, RogueMonk

  2. Thanks Al!Yes, Bavinck tried to ground Kuyer’s pragmatic and political thought in Reformational theology. (Kuyper’ theological writings were motivated by the opposite approach). He was Kuyper’s immediate successor at the Free University, and was followed by Berkhouwer, who in spite of his erudition and open approach was not able to come to a definitive grounding. (Bavinck did not find it primarily in theology either, but in a quite sophisticated form of creational ‘natural’ theology).The current flurry of restructuring in the RCA also lacks theological, and even ecclesiastical, grounding. Indeed, ‘How are we saved?’ looms much larger than ‘How is God honored?’I wish that the current RCA directions were simply aiming for but one Gestalt of ‘American’ ecclesiology, but it neither the substance nor orientation is grounded enough for that, at least not grounded in theology!It was telling, that one of our RCA’s ‘own,’ the Rev. Isaac Rottenberg was not even allowed to call attention to one of his most recent books at Synod. The hall space, set aside for all sorts of displays and resources, and with plenty of room to spare, was not only specifically off-limits for a humble book table. Worse, any flyers inviting people to a free lunch meeting elsewhere in Pella were removed, including taking down posters in the dorm spaces. His 2007 book, “Judaism, Christianity and Paganism” makes clear that Worldviews have implications! The recent RCA developments show a willingness to borrow freely from the latter, and completely ignore the first. That is doubly disastrous. Neither will ‘Save’ us, but at least in Reformed theology the first is about ‘honor’ of the NAME. By and large, Reformed theologians have been good at understanding or exposing the pagan latter, and have been more diligent than most on searching for Jewish connections and implications. (For a good review of Miskotte, Van Ruler and Berkhof on this latter aspect, see Andre Drost: Has God Changed?, a 2007 VU dissertation).And besides Judaism, the RCA also overlooks the non-western theology and ecclesiology. The RCA is a tiny fraction of WARC, to name one global organization. We are still lacking a good monograph on the various worldwide manifestations of offices and assemblies in the WARC member churches (at least to my knowledge). Reading Martien Brinkman’s ‘The non-western Jesus, ’ a study of the spectrum of worldwide christologies inspires a hope that we will also learn from non-western ecclesiology. I don’t know that ‘American’ ecclesiastical models of late will be able to make worthwhile contributions to the larger world. The subtitle of the book, ‘Jesus as bodhisattva, avatar, guru, prophet, ancestor and healer,’ stirs the imagination! (The 2007 book will soon be available in English). Reformed theologians are not afraid to look far and wide, always reforming ‘according to the Living Word’ as the supreme authority. The Counter Reformation grounded itself with equal vigor in the authority of being ‘The Church’ of the ages, binding the authority of the Living Word to ecclesiastical and ecclesiological considerations. The recent RCA re-structuring efforts are grounded, if at all, in neither. The great Reformers were even more disparaging of the ‘progressive’ holiness movements of their day than of Roman catholicity. What would they say about our contemporary developments? Bavinck is not a bad place to discover the questions, even if some of the answers are –by his own admission—provisional. God is honored by such humble servants.Okke

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