Straightjacket Christianity

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  1. “I’ve also observed that it’s possible for Canadian Reformed members to have an impeccable stance in doctrine and a religious adherence to traditions, but miss the very Spirit that ought to be behind these things.”
    This makes me think, what would happen if that were said aloud in a congregational meeting. Would the question be met with a, “yes, we could be more exuberant, let’s work on it”, or, “what do you want arms waving during singing, street corner preaching”? I’d say, “Yes, a little of that might be a start”.

  2. Linda says:

    You have hit the nail on it’s proverbial head! I really don’t know where this jacket comes from but it’s there, alive and well, and very daunting! Stifling! I grew up Can Ref, and this has been a major hurdle/struggle for me. My heart is so warmed by those who glow from within, and where holiness/life is not just a head matter. My biggest struggle is that so often head folk,have the same urge to glow but seem so shackled by rules it dulls the inner glow to a set of do’s and don’ts!
    Most would strenuously deny my categorization, or blame it on a tradition/heritage of Dutch ‘keep your feelings to yourself’.
    Thankfully, in the midst of it all there are those who radiate the Spirit- who glow from deep within – and who give me hope for a changed face on the Can Ref, that and a new generation of those willing to share that change.
    I wish you could have met one such soul – who now lives in glory with His Saviour ! George Leffers -to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for his faithful and genuine unstoppable ‘glow’

  3. Minnie Meyer says:

    Much food for thought and I can identify with what you are saying, there is much room for improvement.

  4. Nicole says:

    Great article and definitely food for thought. I struggle with this too, being a “cradle” Can Reffer …. as a matter of fact, just had this conversation recently at a bible study …I would love the freedom to lift my hands in praise during (some!) of our singing in church, but feel I can’t. Shouldn’t. Etc. Wish I could clap sometimes …. wish I could echo an “amen” to prayers that really resonate within my soul. Yes, some might say “just say amen in your head” or “clap in your head” …. but it’s not the same!!! Wondering how things can change …..

  5. Mike Vandergugten says:

    Thanks for a great and thought provoking post Paul. It reminds me of the sermon series from John MacArthur, The Tale of Two Sons, aka The Prodigal Son. I identify with the older brother, being prone to spiritual pride. I agree we must search our hearts when we go through the good routines and orderliness of the Reformed polity and doctrine. In the words of John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We can’t help praising things we like or enjoy. We tell someone about this amazing new piece of music or this delicious recipe or some amazing view or we praise the weather. We can’t help ourselves! So God wants us to enjoy Him. It completes our joy! It is its appointed end! (This was taken from John Piper’s sermon God is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him and excerpts from C.S. Lewis.)
    It’s not megalomania when God commands us to praise Him because He is the only thing that truly satifies and God knows that if we praise Him our joy will be complete. To God alone be the glory!

  6. AZ says:

    I can identify with the straightjacket idea. Although, fish sometimes can’t see water. If you’re born into a straightjacket, that’s your normal. You might not stop to think about it. My biggest concern with the traditions of the Reformed community is that is prone to stifle the creative work of the Holy Spirit. There is a cultural structure created around the doctrines to protect them but people begin to place their faith in the structure and not in God. They find their comfort in the structure, they find their identity in it. The structure is what makes them different (better) from their fellow believers in the greater Body of Christ. We see God working throughout the Bible in unconventional ways but the Reformed system doesn’t create the room for God work in His creative ways. It’s as if the structure (box) was set up and we ask that God would please work within the bounds of that structure. Am I saying structure isn’t necessary? Of course not, but I’ve seen that it has a tendency to become an idol.

  7. Bill and Liz Oostdyk says:

    Good article, we need to lighten up a little and let our joy show more. What Christ has done for us should give us great joy and that should come out more. When we attend church in the US there is a whole different atmosphere. People talk about their faith more and are not afraid to express their joy in the Lord.

  8. Joel says:

    Thanks for this blog post, Paul, this is a really important conversation to be having!

    Something I think we need to keep in mind is that while attention to form and doctrine is often present where joy is lacking, doctrine and formal liturgy don’t necessarily drive out joy — I’m sure I’m not the only one who has met with wonderful examples of Christian joy in both the CanRC and other, similarly formal Reformed churches. Some of the other commenters here (e.g. Nicole, Mike V.) are right when they identify cultural elements as the stifling straitjacket Paul describes.

    At the end of the blog post there is a dilemma set up: do we choose adherence to formulas or love for God? Part of the problem in CanRC society as Paul has described it is that this is thought of as a choice, as two different things — and they ought not to be. 1 John 4 is part of a beautiful sermon on the love of God that ought also to fill His people, and its application arrives at the beginning of 1 John 5 in verse 3, where John writes “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Love and obedience, passion and structure, are both at their height when they are inseparable.

    I think that more than anything else we need to be taught to see and share the joy in obedience.

    • adopted3 says:

      Joel, I appreciate your comment. I agree… it doesn’t need to be (shouldn’t be!) an either/or thing. There is love, there is duty, there is diligence, and these things work together.

  9. Rob Schouten says:

    I appreciate the perspective provided by Paul and by some of the comments, too. Growing up in the faith is an amazing gift of God’s grace. It also presents temptations of complacency and spiritual pride. This is a problem not only for Reformed people but for believers of whatever background and culture. Even charismatic Christians have their own “cultural straitjacket.” For them, too, there are ways of being Christian and worshipping God which have become tradition. Some of their youth find refuge from their more experiential heritage in the high liturgy of Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism. So the problem, as I see it, is not the straitjacket of Reformed doctrine and worship; rather, the problem is simply one of stagnation. Being lukewarm, becoming worldly or losing our first love are dangers ever present for the Christian church. We find them identified already in Rev. 2 and 3 where Christ addresses the seven churches of Asia Minor. The solution provided by the Lord Jesus is not to look to another tradition or try out a new worship style. Instead, the answer proclaimed in the seven letters is one word: repentance. When you grow up in the faith and begin to take the faith for granted, you need to turn away from this sin and embrace Christ all over again! For some edifying reading on this matter, consider this book:

  10. cecile says:

    …and not to forget that being joyful is not only ‘feeling joyful’ or speaking about our joy but actually living it through action. What I mean is helping the sick, visiting the lonely, spending time with the distressed. We can get all caught up with ‘feelings’ but being joyful in the practical day to day routines of life in how we relate to others can easily become side tracked.

  11. Darren says:

    I used to believe that the the Can Ref was a church with strict doctrine that everyone knew, but did not want to put into practice. That all the cliches in the world were sufficient; we just needed to know them for when we went to church on Sundays and when we decided ‘we had time’ for spouting them in the occasional bible study.

    Then I realized that I was merely only speaking for myself. And if I could spend my time not in church speaking, reading and delving into sports and everyone knew my love for them, but did not do the same for God…. then I have an idol and I’ve merely been dressing it up in colourful ‘I need my time too’ or, ‘It’s not bad to have other interest’ arguments.

    So… I worked on changing. And I started speaking of my love for God, and really trying to live it. And what did I find? I found that others in my community HAD the love of Christ written on their heart, and truly yearned for his Word. I was just awash with my own sinful, selfish desires that I espoused my feelings on others. And I found there were others in my age group who want to speak of Him, but simply didn’t know how. It’s one thing to know the right words, but it’s quite another to have the passion behind the words and being brave enough to put that passion to words without fear.

    The Can Ref. can come across as ‘straight jacket’ and there indeed is some of that in reality. But there are also those who love the Lord and show it in so many ways. Talk about God, and what he does for you. Talk about him, and how you struggle with your sin to your brethen. Treat each other with love and kindness first, without judgement, and you will see that man/woman in the pew beside you isn’t dead as you believe.

    The Can Reformers are not dead. Sometimes they have forgotten on to speak and live it however.