The following article is written by guest blogger Paul Jubenvill, a friend of mine and a dear brother in Christ. Both of us were born outside of the Canadian Reformed Churches and raised in different churches… and there is no Dutch heritage in either of us! Because of these things we often joke that we feel like Gentiles among the Jews as we struggle to learn new customs and traditions. Many of these customs and traditions are beautiful, some cause us to smile, and others we question. Regardless of these customs and traditions, within the Canadian Reformed Churches we certainly find the true gospel of Jesus Christ preached and defended. This heartfelt article demonstrates the faithfulness of our Father in heaven in his sovereign love, grace and mercy, and it also reveals the struggles of trying to fit in to a new sub-culture of Christianity. I hope you enjoy this article.
Straightjacket Christianity By Paul Jubenvill
I was raised in a church that doesn’t take a name, but is known by outsiders as the “Two by Twos.” I was a zealous member of this group. We were not allowed to read or listen to Christian material outside of our fellowship—any such material would be “false.”
The so-called gospel that I tried to embrace involved the possibility of Jesus saving me in the future if I would only open the door of my heart to God.
I was frustrated and despairing under this system, because I was a slave to sin and could never seem to give God what He required.
My church and my conscience kept telling me to just stop sinning, but why would I stop? I loved my sin, and I had a pocketful of lies that seemed justification enough to continue. Only a series of earthquakes sent by Almighty God would shake me out of this slavery. One after another, God’s chastening blows knocked me down—in mercy, for my salvation.
At the same time, I began to hear something of the doctrines of grace from my brother, who evidently comprehended them by reading the Bible. Eventually, I permitted myself to read “false” Christian books. The first one that amazed me was “The Holiness of God” by R.C. Sproul.
I found a John Piper article called, “What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism“. I showed my brother, and he said, “It’s everything we already knew from the Bible.”
This “new” Gospel was the one that I found freedom in. It wasn’t impossible, because it depended on God’s faithfulness, not my own. Slowly, I began to see the fruits of repentance in my life.
Throughout this time, I visited many different churches, and was mostly disappointed by how shallow they were. After studying the denominations, I decided that the Reformed/Presbyterian/Calvinist path was the Biblical one. I typed “reformed church cloverdale” into Google, and the first hit was the Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church. I read the confessions and listened to the sermons, and I knew that’s where we belonged.
In 2008, I started attending the Canadian Reformed Church as a regular visitor. As far as I knew at the time, I was under no obligation to be there. I was there because I was eager to hear the gospel, and I loved the privilege of marching into the sanctuary of God, as it were, calling him “Father,” and singing his praises. My boys and I sat at the front every week, because this was the first institution I’d ever encountered where the Head of the organization had personally reserved a seat for an undesirable like me.
After a year, I publicly professed my faith, and my sons were baptized in the same church.
As time went by, I learned that the Canadian Reformed Church has an extensive set of Biblical doctrines and healthy traditions. I investigated each one in turn as I encountered them. I got in trouble for taking one of my boys’ friends to the corner store on a Sunday. I was rebuked by my elder for believing that one service might be enough some Sundays. I’m growing fond of eating dessert before eating soup. I love listening to the covenant promises recited for an infant who is receiving baptism. I’m developing new good habits and discarding old bad habits.
More time has passed, and I’m a much better conformist. I know more of the doctrines and traditions, and I understand why most of them exist. I’m fitting in.
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. We go to church because it’s our duty (and so it is), but not because our heart burns to be there out of passion for the Gospel. We do all the right things—send our kids to catechism and the Christian school, have devotions before or after meals, attend two services every Sunday, pray with our spouses—but we rarely express a genuine, heartfelt care about God or why the Gospel personally matters to us.
As I seek to “put on” a Canadian Reformed identity, I feel something like a straightjacket pulling over my soul, threatening to snuff the passion that first drew me to the true Gospel.
My identity is Christ.
I’ll call him “Master” under the roof of the Canadian Reformed Church, because there I find true doctrine and healthy traditions, but I must not hide behind a denominational zeal, be it a Canadian Reformed zeal or otherwise, and miss the Spirit of Christ.
Is the essence of our Christianity a calculated adherence to formulas, or is the essence of our Christianity the Spirit of Christ: love for God and love for our neighbor?
May God graciously prevent us from being content with the correctness of our external conformity.
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