Reformed

What does it mean that we are "Reformed"?

One problem with new pastors coming right out of seminary is that they have all kinds of theological categories and communicate with such a distinctive vocabulary that they come across as unhelpful. They have spent so much time in books and classrooms and have forgotten how to have a conversation with regular people. Being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) doesn’t mean full of intellectual knowledge, but able to open up big truths to all kinds of people.

One of those confusing theological words for us already has been “Reformed.” We claim that to be one of our key identifiers as Reformed Baptists. We have found since getting on the ground here in Rochester that there are many people who are thrilled to find out we are an explicitly Reformed Baptist church. However, many others wonder what that even means. They want to know how this theological claim matters to their daily Christian life.

So, let us briefly offer an explanation of what this label “Reformed” means to us and why it is so important for what kind of people we desire to be. The word can refer to an entire theological system (embraced by Presbyterian churches and Covenant Theologians), a doctrine of salvation (borrowing only parts of the previous system), stating a lineage dating back to the Reformation, or simply meaning “changed.” Most of these rabbit trails can be confusing to most people or even turn off the average person to hearing more. Who cares about a theological system when my job is horrible, my mom is suffering, I am really depressed, or I wonder how I am going to pay my next month’s utility bills.

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What do we mean when we say we are “Reformed”?

We believe that God planned from eternity, accomplished in Christ, and applies by his Spirit the redemption of his people for his own glory.

This statement has four parts that we think are important: (1) Trinitarian, (2) redemptive, (3) personal, and (4) God-centered.

Trinitarian

God effects every part of our salvation. The Father planned our salvation before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4). The Son accomplished salvation for his people proclaiming “It is finished” meaning, the debts of his people were paid in full (John 19:30). The Spirit brings new life (John 3:7–8) to those the Father planned to save and the Son paid for on the cross and He guarantees that his people will receive their eternal inheritance (Rom 8:17). God guarantees salvation from the plan in eternity past through his work in creation unto our eternal inheritance.

 

Redemptive

The Bible is not simply a list of rules on how to make God happy or a nice collection of inspiring stories. It is the multi-faceted story of God working to redeem his people from the curse of sin and bring them into ultimate joy and rest in Christ for all eternity. Sin pervades every aspect of our lives and culture. God is always at work breathing new life into the burned ashes of this world. And we are always at work to find a way to be a part of that redemptive work.

 

Personal

The very beginning of the Bible opens by telling us that God created people to be his image-bearers. This is a complex statement requiring a lot of unpacking, but a big part of that is that we were made to be relational people, in relation with one another, but primarily in a relationship with God. We were made to represent God’s rule over the earth. We were made to display his joyful love of others. The rest of the Bible tells us how he worked to redeem people through a very specific plan to regain this original intent. He had the names of every person planned out; whom he would use to accomplish his redemptive work. The Son knew exactly whom he was purchasing on the cross. The Spirit goes to and fro throughout the earth to find the people whom God has called to be his forever. Salvation isn’t just a general call where God wonders if some people might take him up on a pretty good deal. It is the unfailing work of God to complete the work he planned and began in those whom he adopted as his own children.

 

God-Centered

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” says the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Everything about this eternal redemptive work is to make God’s beautiful character shine toward his people so that they would delight in him forever. Isaiah 48:9–11 says, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Amazingly, God has created and redeemed his people not just to save them from the consequences of sin, but to delight in a relationship with him forever so that for all eternity we may proclaim how kind, generous, beautiful, and loving he is.

 

All of this is important first because we believe it is what the Bible teaches. But we also believe that these truths are life-giving. It is emboldening to know that the Godhead works harmoniously to ensure my personal salvation. God wrote my name in his book of life before I even existed. The Son paid my debt in full on the cross. The Spirit sought me when I was wandering and guarantees that he will bring me home to the Father. God is so invested in his own glory that I can be certain that his work will never fail. No matter how dark things are in my life, he promises to be my eternal light. No matter how lonely I am he guarantees he will be with me always. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I can proclaim the gospel to my neighbors, my city, and the world and be confident that God’s lost sheep will hear his voice in me and will eventually come to repentance and faith. I know that I can overcome my sin and temptations because God promises that he is working to complete what he began in me. I can live confidently in Christ knowing that my life in the Spirit will be a pleasing aroma to those God is working to save even though it will be a repulsive aroma of death to those who hate Christ.

These truths give life to us and we strive to teach these things in everything we do and say. “Reformed” isn’t just a buzzword or some unhelpful theological system. It is our declaration of confidence in God’s sovereign control over every thought, every molecule, and every distant galaxy alongside his incredible love toward his little children. And so we proclaim:

We believe that God planned from eternity, accomplished in Christ, and applies by his Spirit the redemption of his people for his own glory.

Why another church in Rochester?

One of the most common questions we are asked is: "Why does Rochester need another church?"

That is a really good question that every church planter (and existing church pastor) needs to ask himself. There are over 200 congregations in Rochester, MN, why can't we just help one of them become stronger and grow?

The answer to this question has many good answers. For us it comes down to reach, theology, and relationships.

Reach

First, Rochester, MN is a quickly growing city. Currently it is the third largest city in the state but investors are pouring billions of dollars into the city to grow its medical facilities, business and education opportunities, and improve its infrastructure. Rochester is just over 100,000 people (not counting the additional 50,000 in the outlying towns), but could easily become a city of 200,000 people in our lifetime if it continues to have such a worldwide reach.

200 churches in a city of 100,000 people means that if every citizen were to attend a church each congregation would need to contain 500 members. That is a lot of big churches and very unlikely. If Rochester grows to 200,000 people each church would need to have 1,000 members! The average church in America is less than 100 people. To reach even half of a population of 200,000 people we would need 1,000 churches. A more modest goal of reaching 25% of that population means 500 churches. We, the corporate church, have a long way to go to reach this city with the gospel of Christ.

Additionally, every church has a different flavor mixed from ingredients of different kinds of people. Some churches are going to reach different kinds of people than other churches. It is a team effort to serve and teach children, parents, retirees, doctors, teachers, chefs, artists, laborers, homemakers, rich, poor, black, brown, and white. Some might be really good at reaching college students while others are really good at connecting with suburbanites.

Statistically, new churches have shown to be better at reaching non-Christians. They offer a fresh perspective not yet controlled by history and tradition ("the way we've always done it"). They attract people through a vision of what Christ will do instead of hanging onto what he has done in recent history. They are excited and motivated people willing and able to take more risks and try new things than an established church may be willing or able to. We believe that the corporate church in Rochester should always be planting new churches to keep our eyes forward and challenge others to take risks so that God can show off his fierce love for his people.

 

Theology

The second reason we are planting a new church in Rochester is because of theology. Currently, of the approximately 200 Christian congregations in Rochester, MN maybe 50 are conservative evangelical churches that have some true gospel witness (50 may be generous). Sadly, a country that was founded on  many Christian principles has gotten comfortable with some of the principles, forgotten others, and completely abandoned the Person those principles point to. Those 50 churches represent about 20,000 people in Rochester giving a true Christian testimony (assuming that their membership reporting accurately represents 400 people per congregation who are all faithful followers of Jesus).

In addition, there are now no churches in Rochester that are explicitly Baptistic in polity and Reformed in soteriology. We know many good pastors in the city with Reformed theological leanings, but would not teach such doctrines publicly (for various reasons). We know many people in Rochester who feel out of place at a baptistic church that is uncomfortable with Reformed theology or at a Presbyterian church that differs on baptism and church government. Some have expressed to us that there is no place for a Reformed Baptist to be free to express their views and know that every week they will grow more in love for Christ through the teaching and preaching of his Doctrines of Grace.

We desire to plant a church that is unashamedly Reformed and Baptist. We joyfully proclaim God's sovereign work in this world to save his people from every nation, people, and language. And we diligently work to build a church that reflects the pure bride of Christ through meaningful membership, independent congregational authority, a plurality of elder leadership, and entrance into the covenant community through believer's baptism.

 

Relationships

This culture is growing more isolated. People huddle into groups that affirm their own perspectives. They interact with the world mediated through the sterilized world of their devices yet are left unfulfilled relationally. Part of being made in the "image of God" is reflecting the relational nature of God's very nature in Father, Son, and Spirit. We were made to be with others. Redemption City Church wants to be a people that expresses its identity in the world, not in a building on Sunday mornings. We show hospitality in our homes by sharing meals with neighbors and providing lodging for the traveler. We encourage each other through life not just with an inspirational message on Sunday morning, but by living, working, and playing together throughout the week. We encourage interaction with people who are different, people who believe other things, and people who look different.

We don't want to plant a church that is in competition with other churches but is a partner to other churches.  We need each other and our unity over essentials is a testimony to God's work in us. Yes, secondary issues will require us to work on the details in different ways, but we want to come together regularly with other congregations to serve the needs of the community and display the mighty love of God for all kinds of people.

 

Tim Keller explains further why we need to be busy planting more churches. In summary: 

  1. Planting is the pattern we see in the Bible.
  2. Planting is effective evangelism.
    1. Plants reach different groups of people.
    2. Plants are more effective at reaching non-Christians.
  3. Planting is good for the corporate church.
    1. Plants bring new ideas and perspectives.
    2. Plants empower new leaders.
    3. Plants challenge existing churches to self-examination.
    4. Plants help fill other churches.
  4. Planting promotes an outreach mindset in existing churches