Godfrey On Being Disestablished

We Reformed conservatives need to become missionaries in our mentality. Missionaries recognize that they are not established. They do not have power. They must understand a new culture and learn to communicate with it. They depend on the Spirit to persuade their listeners. They need to understand their own position thoroughly so that they can answer questions and defend their teaching.

Too many of us Reformed conservatives are not up to being missionaries. We are too accustomed to power. We succumb to the argument of Thomas Becket’s second tempter: “Power is present. Holiness hereafter.”

We must watch our attitudes as we present the truth. The disestablished are apt to be impatient, grumpy and angry. They are likely to look for quick fixes for theological problems that need careful analysis. Missionaries will follow the admonition of Paul to be kind, patient and gentle (II Tim. 2:24,25). They will recognize the longterm commitment necessary for persuading others of their point of view.

One serious impediment to being missionaries is that many of us can no longer really defend our Reformed heritage. In the days of our establishment we could simply take our heritage as given. Even when historic Reformed Christianity was attacked, we were tempted to use power rather than arguments to defend it. We may be shocked to discover that our own commitment to Reformed doctrine and practice may be more the result of familiarity than of our knowledge of the Biblical evidence for our commitment.

To propagate and defend Reformed Christianity today we need to be knowledgeable about the Biblical. theological and historical foundations of our faith. For many of us this means back to the books. We may make uncomfortable discoveries as we realize that our own Reformed commitments have not been as pure as we have always imagined them to be. We may need to change to become more consistently Reformed.

In evaluating our Reformed commitments our ultimate authority must be the Bible. At the heart of our Reformed faith is sola Scriptura. But as we study the Bible let us not be isolated from our theology and history. It is too easy for us to be stampeded by modern questions and answers in interpreting the Bible if we are not intimately acquainted with our Reformed tradition. Before we change. before we accept “new, fresh” ideas from the Bible, let us ask why our forebears thought differently. They read the Bible too! Why did they come to conclusions so far from our new ones? If Reformed people thought or did something for three hundred years or more, should there not be among Reformed people today a presumption that they were right? At least we must be sure we really understand their reading of the Bible before we reject it in favor of our own.

Disestablishment is not all bad. Some observers believe that the vitality of American religious life is significantly derived from the varieties of religious groups in America and their interaction and competition with one another. In any case disestablishment is sometimes unavoidable. When disestablished. we must be missionaries. We must look. ahead and not back. We must not grumble and try to recreate our old establishment. We must carry forth the glorious understanding of the Gospel entrusted to us by our Reformed forebears. We must look to the Spirit to grant the increase. Remember that the Apostle Paul lost his position with the Pharisee establishment and became a missionary. His work was not easy, but he embraced it with joy. He still says to us: “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13,14). Read more»

W. Robert Godfrey | “Disestablished!” | 1993


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One comment

  1. Dr. Clark,
    A timely article, essential to guide us to live and work as missionaries in our culture.
    I have been reading the perspective of Paul in Philippians 2:1-18 in the monthly blogs from Missionaries in SE Asia, former East Berlin, Haiti, Ukraine. They live the life of Faith in Christ day-by-day. I believe this is God’s call to meet my neighbors with joy as His adopted son, with His Spirit as my guarantee, on this mission field right outside my door.

    Thank you for excavating this article from The Outlook Archives, published in 1993.

    I have needed an attitude adjustment and new lenses regarding my neighbor and His Domestic Mission Field.

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