Friday, January 01, 2010

Joylessness in Reformed Chritianity

"I wasn't born and raised in the Reformed church. In other words, I am a Reformed immigrant. Like many people in the Reformed church today, I migrated out of broad based evangelicalism and non-denominationalism. Many of my friends, both ministers and laypeople, have had similar immigration experiences.

Recently, at the funeral of my father-in-law, I had the opportunity to get reacquainted with many of my Reformed immigrant friends. Much to my surprise, I found myself having a very similar conversation with this group. They shared with me that they felt like something was missing in their Reformed experience. While they were all satisfied with the doctrine, worship and government of the church they spoke of a missing intangible element. They had trouble articulating the exact nature of this missing element. I suggested a variety of terms to give it a name and the one that seemed to come closest was "joy." These immigrants perceived the Reformed church to be suffering from a deficiency of spiritual joy."

These conversations got me thinking. I did my own assessment of my Reformed experience and, I must admit, I had to agree that "joyful" was not one of the first adjectives that came to my mind to describe it. Then I began to contemplate why the Reformed church seems to be lacking in the joy department. My contemplation yielded two main reasons.

(The Joy of the Reformed by Anthony Selvaggio December 2009.)

If it was appropriate, I'd copy the entirety of Mr. Selvaggio's article. He goes on to discuss two reasons he sees for the lack of joy in the Reformed church; the migration of Evangelical malcontents into the Reformed movement, and "...perpetually circling the theological wagons." Please also note Selvaggio's evaluation comes from his position within the Reformed movement. This is coming from one of the Reformed's own.

Selvaggio proposes a remedy, and in so far as it goes, I believe the proposed remedy has merit as it does, in its own way, call for a focus on the promises of God.

That said, what was noticeable in my mind was his lack of discussion of joy as the fruit of the Spirit, and in fact, among the very first of the fruit of the Spirit as listed by Paul in Galations 5:22. This is where my own concern for the Reformed church comes to focus.

I spent a little over 25 years in a Reformed (Baptist) church. About 7 years ago we left that church and started attending a more mainstream Evangelical Baptist church. It is on the basis of that experience that I totally understand Mr. Selvaggio's statements, "...they felt like something was missing in their Reformed experience." and "These immigrants perceived the Reformed church to be suffering from a deficiency of spiritual joy."

One of the very first things we noticed about our new church, in contrast to the Reformed church we had left, was the much greater and obvious level of honest, genuine, authentic Christian joy expressed by the people and manifest in the life of the congregation corporately.

This raised a question in my mind. If, as the Bible says, joy is a fruit of the Spirit, what does that say for the joyless Reformed church? A tree is known by its fruit. If my Reformed theology and the Reformed preaching from the pulpit of the Reformed church is not producing the fruit of the Spirit in my life, then something is not right and we need to do some VERY deep soul searching.

This becomes even more critical and vital when I look at raising my children in such a church. It was that very concern that 7 years ago drove me from the Reformed church back into the Evangelical mainstream. (I'm still a Calvinist, but I no longer call myself Reformed.) If my children were to know true Chrisitan joy, the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit, then they need to be raised in a church and thological climate that clearly demnstrates that joy in the life of individual believers and in the corporate life of the congregation, and that along with all the other fruit of the Spirit as well.

I beleive there are probably some Reformed churches out there somewhere who have managed by the grace of God to hold and nuance their theology in a way that produces a noticable level of genuine Christian joy. That said, in a sizable part of the Reformed movement there is the need to do some VERY DEEP soul seaarching at this point.

Kyrie eleison...


A. B. Caneday said...

Thanks for linking Selvaggio's article.

I agree with your assessment of the matter. The fact that joy is in the cluster of the fruit of the Spirit, yea, even the second mentioned, has huge ramifications.

Recently I have been speaking at a church not in the Reformed tradition. What joy! What happiness! How much they care for one another! This is so very unlike everything that I see in Reformed churches.

This joylessness, though not the primary cause for our departure from RBC many years ago, was nonetheless one of the causes. We did not fit. Our joyfulness was unwelcomed. Our upbeat view of life ran counter to what we encountered in the church.

Throughout the years I have frequently butted heads with joyless Reformed folks over this matter, folks who hold a view of life that is dreary, ever dismal, gray, and joyless.

A. B. Caneday said...

I forgot to mention in my earlier note that joy, which is the fruit of the Spirit, is very much bound up with gospel-borne assurance of salvation. I am convinced that one of the significant causes for the lack of joy among Reformed people is the defective teaching concerning perseverance and assurance that holds so many Reformed folks captive to doubting, as though doubting were of grace.