Why are 'traditional' Reformed churches struggling?

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by Need 4 Creed, May 14, 2013.

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  1. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."

    Most criticisms tell us more about the critics than they are probably aware of.

    As for Presbyterianism, there are biblical marks of the church, and they do not include the Romanist mark of external glory. And besides, we are truly catholic, and are quite pleased to see our labours bring growth to particular churches besides our own. "I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours."
     
  2. Steve Paynter

    Steve Paynter Puritan Board Freshman

    I am largely ignorant of the Reformed church scene, especially in the US, but I don't fully understand some of this thread. I understand that the PB caters to "Reformed" Christians, where this is understood to mean "confessional" with respect to the specified confessions, and that being merely a 5-point Calvinist is not enough to earn the title "Reformed". But what I don't understand is why being confessional leads to different worship styles/practices than - say - the 5-point Calvinists who are not explicitly confessional.

    I gather that some Reformed/confessional churches practice psalm singing only ... perhaps with limited or no musical accompaniment. However, I gather that not all confessional churches understand their confessions to be so restrictive. Is there any difference between the worship practices of these confessional churches and the non-confessional "Calvinistic" churches?

    I think it is dangerous to assume that worship practices are the main or principal reason for differences of growth. Passion for Jesus, love of the lost, cultural engagement, and evangelism are almost certainly more important factors. I am not here denying the sovereignty of God in salvation and church growth, but pointing up a well known Calvinistic insight, that those God is planning to use, he firsts sets praying (and engaging in other healthy practices).
     
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Thomas Manton observes,

    "the paucity or fewness of followers is no disgrace to a thing or doctrine. The world followeth the multitude, as if the way to religion were like that to a town, where there is the greatest track: Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock,” mikron poimnion. Christ’s flock is a little flock. The world usually casteth that prejudice. There may be but one Micaiah against four hundred false prophets.
     
  4. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    Because their signs are all parallel to the road.

    Sorry.... that is a pet peeve of mine. A sign should be at right angles to a road so that when you are driving along, there's a chance you will SEE it. I can't tell you how many times I have tried to find a Reformed church wherein there is rumored to be a Presbytery meeting about to begin, and have driven RIGHT BY, had to turn around, and take a second attempt, etc. And I only found it because of the unusual density of cars parked along the road, one bearing the slogan "Grace Happens." I literally saw the sign on the car before I saw the sign on the church.

    The sign at one church was so hidden behind bushes that I literally had to stand on tip-toe to see it. I'm 5'3", which means that was a tall hedge obscuring the sign, and it is highly unlikely anyone would see it from the road.

    Give visitors a chance, Reformed people! Don't leave them wandering the streets looking for you!
     
  5. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    The OP asked why "traditional" Reformed churches are struggling. I suggest the question might be profitably narrowed a bit.

    Why is the "traditional" Reformed option not the universal position among Protestant Christians who share two of the "t"R's fundamental commitments; i.e. the authority of Scripture and particular redemption?
     
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Now, now...if the Lord wills that His Elect will find those churches, well....they will find those churches. ;)
     
  7. Unoriginalname

    Unoriginalname Puritan Board Junior

    Packing the pews is not the same as true conversion so I am not unnerved by the apparent success of the pragmatists. The reformed churches may not be terribly appealing to other "churchy" people but at the same time I think if we are focused on reaching the lost that is not a huge issue. New converts are not the ones generally pushing for a drum kit and rock band led worship service anyway.
     
  8. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    Indeed, that is generally the joke I go with for people who arrive late to Presbytery. "You did not see the sign? I fear you are not one of the elect. Those who are chosen will be prompted to snap their heads to the left at exactly the right moment to glimpse the sign before it disappears behind the 5-foot hedge."

    But seriously, there is something to be said for the fact that Reformed churches are not visitor-friendly, generally speaking. Their websites are outdated (even in terms of contact info), their signs are hard to see, etc. I found the OPC because of a sign, and it was providentially the only one in the Presbytery at right angles to the road and thus highly visible.

    Even beyond simple visibility, I sometimes think Reformed churches do not realize how difficult they can be to understand. I am a reasonably bright, college-educated woman, but I had a really hard time the first few months I attended my church. Other people that have visited confess the same confusion. One woman asked me whether the deaconate offering was taken up because the first offering was deemed insufficient for the church's needs. She didn't know what 'deaconate' meant. But really, how many people in average American culture have heard the word "deaconate"?

    That is true even though my church is pretty easy-going. I would think it would be even tougher some other places. My pastor was pretty good about explaining things, even if he had a little too much fun about it sometimes. (I didn't know about sprinkling, so when I asked him where the baptistry was, he told me it was under the floor, and that they put it there in case someone was being really stubborn about getting baptized--they could just lure him to the right spot, press a button, a trapdoor would open up, and he would fall in. My husband backed him up in the ruse. They are both awful that way.)

    If you are talking very, very traditional, though, you have to understand how it feels to be an outsider walking into one of those churches. You arrive at your pew, look around, and realize you are the only woman there who isn't wearing a dress and a headcovering, and you suddenly feel all self-conscious about your pants and your hair. You open the songbook, and there are these songs about the chosen race, and you wonder, "Did I inadvertently join the Klu Klux Klan?" and also a song about a sea-monster. (At least, there is one in the OPC Trinity Hymnal that addresses "ye monsters all.") And everyone sits down and stands up on time except you. And you start to applaude at the end of the prelude because the music is very pretty, and nobody else claps, and you get embarrassed.

    I'm not saying these things can't be overcome, but I think it is good to be aware of some of the issues that have to be addressed. It's not always that people want a silly service, but nobody likes to feel like they are on the outside and can't understand anything. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know that it is a problem.
     
  9. Need 4 Creed

    Need 4 Creed Puritan Board Freshman

    This is spot on in my opinion.


     
  10. Need 4 Creed

    Need 4 Creed Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Caroline, this is very helpful.

     
  11. Need 4 Creed

    Need 4 Creed Puritan Board Freshman

    While I have no doubt that part of the issue is the fact that people are drawn to churches that embody preconceived values and mindsets (humanism, relativism, pragmatism) I think the 'smugness' and spiritual elitism that Jack speaks of is spot on.

    If some of the non-reformed have gone to one end of the spectrum (cultural relevance that has become worldliness) then the Traditional Reformed are in danger of being at the other end of the spectrum (preservation of principles and practices to the point where there is no cultural engagement). NR become so relevant that they are no longer relevant from a gospel perspective and TRs become irrelevant, not because they do not understand gospel teaching, but because they lack the ability to communicate and engage with the wider culture. In a sense, both of these approaches can be a factor in why true mission and spirituality are in a state of declension in the west.
     
  12. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I gather that very few Reformed are actually postmil.
     
  13. nicnap

    nicnap Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Amen.
     
  14. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks to the good words of Caroline I am putting together a small two-page 5"x7" bulletin to put in the pew/place in the back to help explain our worship (especially since we are 180 degrees different from the baptist churches/non-denom's/methodists around us) and some things like that. Hopefully using words/phrases that are easily understood.
     
  15. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Sure, nobody likes to feel like that. But isn't this the case for any other activity that we might attend?

    Move to England - you won't understand cricket.
    Show up for Karate class - you will need to learn the names for the moves.
    Organic chemistry course - there is a technical vocabulary to learn.

    I don't see how we could expect it to be any other way with regard to the teaching and practice of biblical Christianity. People will learn as they go along; first, simply by watching and following others.
     
  16. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

  17. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    RE: Caroline's comment (and Caroline is *more* than reasonably bright, for anyone who hasn't guessed that already), one of the things Ruben and I were so impressed with in visiting Rev. Greco's church, where they are smack in the middle of a housing development and have taken thought for how to warmly welcome and help those coming in to learn how to be part of the church (including an optional 'worship training' for little ones which does not last the entire service, and the evident goal of which is to help teach the little ones to sit through the preaching) -- Rev. Greco would take a few moments before various elements of the service to explain the significance of what they were doing, and why they do things in this way (I gathered that he would explain different ones at various times, rather than all of them every week). It was very clear, genial, and helpful. I also remember visiting the OPC in Greenville years ago when Rev. Buchanan was still there, and how he would explain the Psalm they were learning each week; and how much more memorable it made the Psalms we were singing.
     
  18. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

  19. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Ah, but don't we have reasonable inference from Scripture, via 1 Corinthians 14, that we should take an interest in our services being intelligible to outsiders? Don't we serve a God of light, not confusion? And wouldn't we be eager, especially, to make those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ but may be unfamiliar with our methods feel at home with us—given that they're family?

    That's not to say we need to dumb things down or pander to every guest. But I do think that when it comes to making an effort to be accessible, the bar is set higher for Christ's church than it is for a cricket match... and that's a good thing.
     
  20. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

  21. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    I really like it, and I think Reformed churches need more of this. While there will always be a learning curve, the bar shouldn't be so high that people get discouraged about ever being able to understanding anything. The only thing I would suggest is that I think there is still a need to break things down a little. The average American doesn't know what the doxology is, nor a benediction. I also don't think most visitors would know what you mean by active engagement (should they raise their hands if they have questions during the sermon?) It would be helpful to explain a little more. A doxology is a short hymn of praise. A benediction is a blessing on God's people, etc. And even I don't know what you mean by active engagement specifically. Perhaps an example would be helpful (it should be applied to your life, discussed at home, etc). I realize, of course, that you are trying to be brief and not write an pamphlet of intimidating length, but just some suggestions. It's good, but needs a bit more, In my humble opinion.

    If it makes you feel better, Reformed pastors often have this difficulty. I advised my own pastor to note the purpose of the deaconate offering, and he agreed, only to phrase it, "At this time, we will take the deaconate offering, which is an offering to support the work of the deacons." Uhhhhh.... thanks, says the average American, but what are deacons? It would be better to say, "At this time, will take the deaconate offering, which supports the work among the poor and disabled in our church and community." Aha, now we understand.
     
  22. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    Thank you very much Caroline! That is a big help to me.
     
  23. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I too think it's great that you're doing this.

    Your opening summary about worship is a key sentence:

    At first, I was concerned it might sound prideful and like a put-down of other churches (especially to southern ears). But as I've read through it a few times, I think the tone is pretty good. It would seem to me that the goal in a document like this should be to explain why you are excited to worship the way you do... without taking any unnecessary jabs as those who aren't like you. That's a very hard line for a writer to walk, but I think that sentence does it okay. Was that indeed your intent? Do you feel that sentence did the job?
     
  24. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    That is exactly what I was trying to convey in that sentence. Since you are the professional writer it seems it did do its job. ;)

    Thanks for that Jack.
     
  25. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Ben, I think the brochure is generally pretty good. Here is an OPC website that has pretty concise remarks about the parts of the service, though some terms (e.g., "saints") might have to be clarified.

    Worship | Redeemer OPC of Carlisle, Pennsylvania

    But because I doubt that very many visitors will read through this first or refer to it constantly, I don't think it eliminates the need for transitions - a sentence or two that says what is happening next, e.g., "Knowing that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, we now confess our sins to God in prayer."
     
  26. kvanlaan

    kvanlaan Puritan Board Doctor

    We are a fairly TR church that is indeed growing, but mostly from within (Dutch evangelism). We don't attract many outsiders because of our insular nature (being Dutch, not terribly comfortable outside of our fairly narrow 'zone') but there are a few - and we try to reach out into our immediate community and beyond. I do think that the focus on theological purity stems from the reason that we are where we are in the first place: we saw worldliness coming into the church in various manifestations, and thus were resolved to root it out. And we are quite often in the frame of mind of just having finished defending the gospel against corruption when new folks come in. Perhaps it scares them, I'm not sure. I know of one family who moved into a URC church close by, they were Baptist previously but there were real issues in their previous church. They were amazed by the warmth and openness of the congregation but yes, somewhat befuddled by the doctrine. I think we do forget that the Reformation was, in addition to a great work of God, a massive intellectual about-face where the believer now had to do the understanding, studying, and believing instead of having it all done for him so long as he said enough Hail Marys and Our Fathers after confession. There is great depth to the Reformed view of faith that is not seen in many other denominations. So there is a bit of an uphill climb to really participating in a reformed congregation if you were not raised in it. Thus I think that Jack has hit the nail on the head, but there are reasons for those points (ones that we obviously need to work on, but they didn't just pop out of the ground!)
     
  27. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    I put the above bulletin in the pews in time for this Lord's Day worship. I received a number of compliments from our newer members wishing they had been there when they started attending.

    Thanks again Caroline for the great idea! Appreciate it.
     
  28. kvanlaan

    kvanlaan Puritan Board Doctor

    Pastor Glaser, could you repost that link? I tried to follow it and could not get there from here... (Because it sounds like a great idea. Thanks!)
     
  29. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

  30. THE W

    THE W Puritan Board Freshman

    they're not cultural and pragmatic enough.
     
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