Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”
- Jeremiah 26:12-15
Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, “Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your ancestors.” But you have not paid attention or listened to me. The descendants of Jehonadab son of Rekab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’
- Jeremiah 35:15-16
Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.
- Acts 24:1-4
A year ago, or more, I was conversing with SlimJim, an OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) minister. We were conversing by comments. He made a statement that I did not sound like any PCUSA member that he had ever talked to. I quipped, “I guess I am a reformed school dropout.” I repeated my joke with a friend who teaches a different adult Sunday school class at our church. He only has a few students, but they are loyal. He quipped that since my class was doing well, maybe people just did not like to hear about a strong reformed theological approach to Bible study – a possible dig at my loose teaching style, but he did not know my strong beliefs, perhaps. That’s when I repeated my joke. He got offended and walked away.
My friend speaks of “reformed” as if it was a religion of its own, but I really think that he is a strong believer and studier of the Bible. And many of the doctrines of the Reformed church are good doctrines. The three Scriptures are three of the eight mentions of the word “reform” in the NIV, three as headings and not part of the Scripture itself (the reform of Asa, Josiah, and Nehemiah’s last reform). Of the five in the Scripture itself, four are in Jeremiah and show how some people resisted reform. The reform mentioned by Tertullus in his case against the Apostle Paul was not healthy reform of Judea, but blatant flattery of Felix, the governor. So, when you mention “reform,” what do you mean?
But maybe some definitions are in order. The Presbyterian church, in all its denominations considers itself “Reformed”, in the pattern of the Reformation age, rather than “Protestant.” Rather than protest against the Roman Catholic church, the Reformed denominations are those that base their doctrine, at least in part, on John Calvin’s interpretations. If you read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), you find a scholar, law school trained, who wished for the king of France to consider reformation of the church, as opposed to open protest and rebellion with the Roman Catholics, which at that time might have meant war. I have read the book, two volumes. It is very thick, and the second volume is primarily arguments against the practices of the Catholic church in that day, many mirroring the 95 theses of Martin Luther, but with a lot more detail. Due to the subject matter, the heavy language, and the thousands of pages, I doubt if many Presbyterians have ever read the thing.
To dissect, and thus kill, the joke. Juvenile delinquents in the USA used to be sent to reform school. Reform school was supposed to reform the children to a state of upright living while providing an education, but for most, they learned how to be better criminals. Since there is a Reformed School of Thought, following the thought process of Calvin, I mashed them together. To be honest, my joke was an attempt to point out that the PCUA has become so liberal, is there any resemblance to John Calvin’s Institutes left within the denomination? Have we thrown the baby out with the bath water? Who is the dropout, me or the PCUSA itself?
Why would an Orthodox Presbyterian Church minister (the OPC broke away from the main body of Presbyterians about 80 years ago because they felt them getting too liberal then) not think that I sounded like a PCUSA member? Because I let the Bible be my guide and I hold to many values that the mainstream of the denomination generally ignore?
If the decisions of the PCUSA in the direction of liberal thought is the “Reformed School of Thought,” which it is not, I am indeed a dropout. Yet, I feel that my “school of thought” is to the present-day PCUSA liberalism what Calvin’s view was toward the Catholic church in his day. There are many things that need fixing, in most cases put back the way they were before. We need reform within the reformed denominations.
If we do not achieve and continue to reform in the proper direction, then we are no better than the Pharisees, highly religious but could not see Jesus as the Son of God.
So, in a way, I am a Reformed School Dropout, but I am seeking a reformation that brings with it a stronger relationship with Jesus Christ. If that flies counter to the religiosity of today, mirroring how Jesus had His troubles with the Pharisees, then so be it.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.