The Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice in the Reformation Canada Network. Well, except when we prefer our traditions.
In the heyday of Western Christendom, churches emphasized their differences. Chastened by plummeting church attendance in our society, and focused on the Great Commission Jesus left us, we might now be wiser to emphasize what we have in common with other remnant churches … that is, those churches that have not “bowed the knee to Baal” and have remained faithful to the LORD.
We have an opportunity to envision a different kind of denomination … one that welcomes a broader representation of Reformational churches than has been typical.
Many churches have happily repeated the slogan, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity. In all things, charity.” Of course, the real trick has been to agree on what the essentials are. In practice, every group that agreed to the slogan merrily separated themselves nonetheless from every other group. But it is a good slogan, and an attempt should be made to put it into practice.
The Roman Catholic Church has appropriated the title, “Catholic”. The Eastern Orthodox Churches have appropriated the title, “Orthodox”. Should we not acknowledge that the Calvinistic Churches have appropriated the name “Reformed”? Surely the first reformed churches were Lutheran. And all churches that embrace the core reformational teaching … that Christians are saved by grace alone (sola gratis), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solus Christus), according to Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), for God’s glory alone (sola Deo gloria) … are rightly called reformational churches. This includes groups like the Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and various other Evangelical churches. We could choose to set up the RCN to cater only to Calvinists. We could also take a broader view of the word “Reformation”.
If the Holy Scriptures truly are our only rule of faith and practice, then we should be able to be in full communion with any group that is also a “Sola Scriptura” church. In other words, we should be able to work together with all churches, indeed, with all believers, who have a robust theology of the authority of Scripture, and who have reasonable, good-faith interpretations of Scripture … not even, but especially in areas where views differ.
- The Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian)
- The Reformational Solas
- The Evangelical Statement of Faith
- The Covenant Statement
- Arguably, anything in our respective denominational creeds and confessions with which other sola Scriptura churches have differing views.
- Many of our traditions
If we can deal with baptism in a way that acknowledges other varieties of Reformation churches, we can probably deal with any other topic.
We could, as one strategy, develop practices that would embrace both infant baptism and believer’s baptism options in any of our churches. We could, alternately or additionally, establish affinity cohorts within the broader RCN umbrella for various theological and even polity subsets.
In other words, we could have core essential theologies and practices that all RCN churches must embrace … to delineate us from apostate churches and churches with non sola Scriptura authority structures; but we could also permit, for instance, a believers baptism cohort. The obvious expectation would be that believers who move from one cohort to another would have their differing traditions respectfully acknowledged. In other words, an infant baptist could become a member of a believers baptist RCN church without being required to be “re-baptized”. Similarly, if someone moved from an infant baptism church to a believers baptism church and wanted to be baptized by immersion, this would not elicit the condemnation of the infant baptism churches.
If a pastor from a believers baptism RCN church is unwilling, for the sake of conscience, to officiate at an infant baptism, they would have to be willing to invite a pastor from an infant baptism RCN to officiate. And vice versa.
From Richard Baxter’s Church-History of the Government of Bishops (1680):
“I am a CHRISTIAN, a MERE CHRISTIAN, of no other Religion; and the Church that I am of is the Christian Church, and hath been visible where ever the Christian Religion and Church hath been visible: But must you know what Sect or Party I am of? I am against all Sects and dividing Parties: But if any will call Mere Christians by the name of a Party, because they take up with Mere Christianity, Creed, and Scripture, and will not be of any dividing or contentious Sect, I am of that Party which is so against Parties: If the Name CHRISTIAN be not enough, call me a CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN; not as that word signifieth an hereticating majority of Bishops, but as it signifieth one that hath no Religion, but that which by Christ and the Apostles was left to the Catholic Church, or the Body of Jesus Christ on Earth.”
New Wineskin Opportunities
We have, in essence, three options:
- To exactly reproduce the bylaws, standards and traditions of the RCA. This would appeal to those who are perfectly happy with everything as it was, excepting the slide into worldliness.
- To update our bylaws and standards to better reflect customs that we have already been permitting to happen in at least some of our churches (e.g. infant dedication), and to be better positioned to welcome churches from other similar traditions (e.g. Presbyterians).
- To take the opportunity to become a post-denominational denomination, a movement of “mere Christianity” reformational, sola Scriptura churches (Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, etc.) focused on obeying the Great Commission together.
The latter is, in my opinion, the best option. We will spend eternity with all such believers.
How is it possible that we cannot fellowship and labor and debate together already?