Who Are We?
I have enjoyed the musical Les Miserables since I was first introduced to it. It contains powerful themes that cut across a broad section of life. In one of my favorite scenes, the main character is faced with a chance for real freedom. However, this freedom would come at the cost of another man's freedom. He sings the song, "Who am I?" Is he going to let another take his guilt that he may go free? The song is about who he is in his moral character and principles.
Today, we as Christians have to ask the question, "Who are we?" What is really at the core of what we believe? The world has changed. We no longer share a common faith with many whom we once ministered with and shared much in common.
There was a time in small rural towns where different denominations would join together for Sunday night worship. They would rotate around between the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist. These different denominations had various church governments and sacraments. Yet, they preached a relatively common understanding of the Gospel and Biblical Ethics. Gone are these days for any conservative biblical Christian. We have seen these old and historic denominations split and fall. Even this year, the United Methodists are preparing for a split over unbiblical teachings in their church.
In the community in which I serve, the ministerial association went defunct due to these growing differences twenty years ago. Probably in parts of the US and Canada, this whole idea of being connected to the church at large in some real tangible sense sounds odd. Those connections broke down generations ago. In the American South, this has not been the case. In the past, we have gladly worked across denominational and theological lines with those who hold to the essentials of the Protestant faith. We Reformed Evangelical Christians have been a happy part of the prevailing Southern Christian culture that surrounded us. This has been especially true of the Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP). It was noted "that we are less contentious or 'nicer'" by Dr. William Evans in a 2003 address to the ARP General Synod (Haddington House Journal, Supplemental Issue, 2006, Pg. 116). Dr. Evans, in this address, challenged our Synod to know better who we are. He says,
"But if we are to be the blessing to others, we have work to do. There is unfinished theological business. We need to think more carefully and deeply than we have about a confessing community. Perhaps it is time to look more carefully at the current shape of our confessional standards and how they function. We also need to think in a more principled manner about what it means to be the church as a worshiping community. In this connection, we need to reflect more carefully on the relationship between Christian faith and culture — to think about and meet the challenge of being "in the world but not of it."
In the seventeen years since this address, the situation has only become more critical. The Southern Church culture that was ubiquitous in every area has now been lost almost everywhere. Areas once insulated by geography are just as secular today as the internet puts the whole world a few clicks away. The modern secular culture comes rushing into our homes, schools, and churches through broadband and 5G. Many Churches and denominations have been carried by this tide of secular culture so that they have lost the historic protestant faith. The result is that terms like "Evangelical" have become confused and co-opted to have political or social meaning rather than theological meaning.
So in 2020, who are we? Do we call ourselves fundamentalists, evangelicals, or Presbyterians? These terms are all loaded and open to misunderstandings. I would suggest that we reformed, conservative, and biblical Christians think of ourselves as "Reformed Confessionalists." This is not a new term, but one that we should adopt as our rally cry. Reformed Confessionalists are who we should be!
In using the word Reformed, we show our roots are from the Protestant Reformation. It ties us to a historical faith that was re-formed back to the teaching of the Bible and the early church. We desire to reform all of life to the Word of God.
In using the word Confessional, we say we have a standard that we believe. In a day where biblical knowledge is weak, catechetical and theological knowledge in the pew is even more inadequate. We need to say there is something that we believe. It is not enough to simply give ascent to the Bible. We must say we believe the Bible and what it teaches, which is found in summary in our Confessions.
If the term Reformed Confessionalist is going to be helpful, it must be an accurate reflection of who we are in the Conservative, Presbyterian, and Reformed World. Our pastors, officers, and congregations must know the Bible and the theology that flows from it. We need to know our historical and biblical Reformed faith. We need to memorize our catechisms and know our Confession.
Why do we need to see ourselves as Reformed Confessionalists? The spirit of our age has toppled many old and grand denominations that served God and preached the Gospel. We can no longer be a part of the generic Christian culture because the generic Christian culture is ceasing to be Christian. But, we cannot merely define ourselves by what we do not want to be. We should not and cannot make the distinction based on the negative of what we are not. Instead, we must say and be who we are, and to this, I say we must answer — We are Reformed Confessionalists.