Discovering The Reformed Confession (Part 6): Reformed, Searching, and Undecided

Sovereign Grace Church has not yet landed in a denominational home. We are studying, inquiring, and praying. In good Reformed fashion, we are attempting to move slowly and deliberately—doing everything decently and in order. This step has not been easy for us. We have lived in an ecclesial world where we spoke about our catholicity as being so broad that we chose not to join any one group. We do not want to be like those “divisive denominations”—never mind that we are apparently unable to find any group of churches worthy of our commitment. We are like the man who is always dating and never able to find a woman worthy of marriage. Though, this likely says more about us than it does the available denominations. Of the many reasons that drive our decision to find a denominational home in such a slow and deliberate manner, two stand out very distinctly.

First, I became increasingly aware of the troubles that have confronted all churches in the United States throughout its history. Progressive doctrines have left churches untethered from their confessional moorings. Ministers and members of churches have chosen to be more interested in being doctrinally correct than growing in godliness, or are more interested in crossing theological swords with friends than proclaiming the gospel to the lost enemies of God. They feign the appearance of godliness but deny its power. There are men who are more committed to gaining the approval of the unbelieving world than they are to heralding the offense of the cross of Christ. Depending upon the season, I can be guilty of being one of those ministers, driven by a fundamentalist impulse for a pure church this side of heaven. I need to reckon with the fact that even the purest church under heaven is subject to mixture and error (WCF 25.5). Though I may struggle in these ways, I do not want to join a denomination of ministers that practice such behaviors on a regular basis.

Second, I began to notice a trend regarding missions among the confessionally Reformed that really bothered me. Sovereign Grace is a church deeply involved in missionary efforts. I was not seeing the same commitment to missions and church planting among the confessionally Reformed, at least not to the degree that I was reading about it historically. The confessionally Reformed have a robust missionary and church planting history. Many denominations and churches today appear to be more interested in policing their doctrinal quibbles than reaching the lost and engaging in the task of world missions. I wondered if we would lose our missionary zeal by joining one of these groups. I did not want to become “Old, Angry, and Reformed.”

These two concerns first began to be answered in 2015 when I went with some of the men from my church to the Shepherd’s Conference. There were two men speaking that year who bear no little importance in my understanding of how to think through my concerns.

The first man was Dr. Carl Trueman, who had already become a friend at that point. Carl was not keen on eating at the speakers’ dinner, he preferred to eat with everyone else (see his concerns about the celebrity culture in Big Eva). Therefore, we texted about meeting for dinner at the food trucks, where most of the attendees eat. I told Carl that evening about our church having a foot in two ecclesial worlds. He replied, “Be a good Baptist, or be a good Presbyterian. But don’t try to be both.” He had said this to me before, but this time I was ready to push back. I replied, “Well, even if my church became Presbyterian or Reformed someday, what denomination would we join? They all seem to have their issues.” Carl replied to the effect that, “You never marry an ideal woman. You marry the woman you marry with all her strengths and weaknesses, failures and foibles.” He kindly told me to “stop being a schismatic and get over it.”

The second man was Ian Hamilton. I accidentally met Ian at the Banner of Truth table at that conference. I had no idea how that providential meeting would blossom into a close friendship. Ian has become a kind of ministerial mentor to me. Through a series of conferences in Bakersfield, and elsewhere, our relationship grew. The Lord has used Ian to shape the pastors at our church in several ways. He pressed us to consider our responsibility to know the sheep, particularly through pastoral visitation. He encouraged me to exalt Christ in the whole of my ministry. He is a faithful friend and encouragement to me. He also pastored in the Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. Ian is principially committed to Presbyterianism. He is committed to that form of church government, even in the face of its troubles, because he believes it is biblical. I admire a man who can settle down and live with the courage of his convictions even when doing so is costly and difficult.

As important as those convictions with Ian and Carl were to my thinking, it was seeing Ian live out the conviction of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice that really settled me down. Ian believes the Westminster Standards. He loves them as a faithful exposition of biblical doctrine. Ian also loves the piety and ministerial practice that flows from them. It has been seeing this that has been so seminal for my own development.

Ian spoke often of how worship is regulated by Scripture. God’s word shapes the worship of God’s people. I knew this intellectually. Yet, I thought of it more as a restriction of old school Reformed men than as a doctrine that frees gospel ministers. I did not have to be creative to bring about the right kind of worship service. I needed to be faithful to preach the Word, pray, sing, publicly read Scripture, and administer the sacraments. I was free to trust the Holy Spirit to work effectually through the ordained means he gave to the church. I knew this doctrinally,  but it was when Ian prepared for worship, prayed in worship, read Scripture publicly, and preached Christ that I saw a godly man utterly convinced that the church was ascending Mt. Zion by the Holy Spirit and hearing from the Lord Jesus himself. The simplicity and beauty of Reformed worship captured me.

Ian demonstrated to our men that we could trust the ordinary means of grace in our ministerial practice. Again, we knew about the ordinary means of grace. We knew the Lord gave the church, particularly her ministers, the charge to preach, pray, administer the sacraments, etc. We were men who had never interacted with an older minister who had spent his life depending upon the Lord to work through those ordinary means. Ian showed us and spoke to us about how these ordinary means are attended by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. We learned to stop searching for the next program, technique, or constituted means that would really make the difference for our church. We were finally able to stop being restless in piety and practice. We could rest in the work of the Holy Spirit as we faithfully administered what the word of God commands the ministers of Christ to do.

As I conclude this series, I want to humbly challenge my Reformed brothers. If the Reformed have biblical doctrine, piety, and practice, then we should be the most committed evangelists and missionaries. We have this glorious gospel—the greatest news the world could ever hear. We should shout it from the rooftops. We have worship that is simple enough to be practiced in a cathedral or a cave. We believe we are ushered into heaven by the Spirit to hear from our Lord. How glorious is that? We do not need Medieval festal choirs, inspiring homilies, smells, bells, and candles, nor do we need the modern equivalent of robotic lighting, fog machines, slick video, rock bands, and inspirational sermons that amount to little more than group therapy. All of that is so trivial in light of the weighty and glorious reality of what the Lord gives his church through the ordinary means of grace.

Yes, our pastoral practice is ordinary. We are responsible to do visible ministry in the visible church. We do not change hearts and minds. We preach the word, pray, administer the sacraments, and visit members in their homes. It is the Lord who does the internal work. There is a real sense of “rest” here. There is a real freedom in our training and sending of evangelists, church planters, and missionaries. We know exactly what to train church planters and missionaries to do. Even the seeming mystery of foreign missions is resolved. We train our missionaries to administer the same means of grace as our pastors here. The only difference is that they do so among those in another language and culture. It is the embrace of these realities at 50 years old that makes me happily “Old, Rested, and Reformed.” I pray many young ministers will join me.

You can view the whole series here.

Note: This series was also translated into Spanish. You can find this whole series in Spanish here.


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Posted by Chad Vegas | Tuesday, July 4, 2023 | Categorized Discovering The Reformed Confession | Tagged , Bookmark the permalink.

About Chad Vegas

Chad is the founding pastor of Sovereign Grace Church. After completing his M.A. in Theology at Talbot, and being the high school pastor at RiverLakes Community Church, Chad was called to plant a church in Bakersfield. He is also the founding board chairman of Radius International, an organization that trains people to plant churches among unreached language groups. His passion is to know Christ and to make him known. He has been married to Teresa since 1994, and they have 2 children and one daughter-in-law.


  1. Hey Chad! Thanks for the series! It’s been a lot of fun to read 🤓.

    Do you think Dr. Trueman’s advice would change at all if considering a denomination that is not confessionally reformed? I.e. if you were, say, still a part of the EFCA?

    (I’m asking the question from the perspective of a member and not an elder/pastor, but, as a member, I’ve given my word to support the church, so I assume the wife analogy still applies!)

    Thanks! Hope all is well! 🤓

    • Blake,

      First, I am not sure how Dr. Trueman would answer your question about church membership. As a member you have not taken the same vows as an elder, though your vows aren’t unimportant. I could ask him.

      Second, I would argue that church membership is voluntary. Thus, if you find that your doctrine has shifted to the degree that you can no longer support the teaching and practice of your church, then it could be wise to see if another church is a better place for you to be a member. Now this assumes your doctrinal concerns are sufficient to merit leaving, and that there is a better option near you.

      Third, I would argue there is no pure church under heaven. So guard against slipping into the habit wherein you find yourself continually dissatisfied with every local church because none is pure enough.

      Fourth, if you are intending to train for gospel ministry (whether here or abroad), then seek membership in a church that is on the same page with you theologically. You don’t want to be sent by a church with which you have important doctrinal differences. Adoniram Judson was sent out by the Congregationalists. He became a Baptist. He realized he needed to move his membership / supporting church because of that change.

      Fifth, be patient with regard to the church where you presently hold membership, seek wise counsel, and pray. The Lord will lead you on.

      Sixth, just move to Bakersfield and roll with us. You know you belong here. At least, we loved it when you all were here. So, come on…😂

  2. This is an excellent series of articles. It resonates with me as I’ve recently undergone a similar journey. Thank you for being so candid.

  3. I like what Dr. Carl Trueman said about committing to a church in the same way one commits to a wife with all her strengths, weaknesses etc. I recall having to leave my non-denominational church; I was fully convinced at that time of the covenant of grace, covenant baptism and Presbyterian church government. I am not seminary trained so I don’t know how to read the Biblical languages but I knew enough of the Westminster Confession of Faith so I knew enough. My previous church was also going in a bad direction (think biased church discipline and unclear declaration of the gospel – see Dr. Clark’s article “Sanctification By Grace Versus Sanctification By Scolding” to understand what I mean.)

    Leaving a “vibrant church” whose smallest of three Sunday services is twice the size of my small Presbyterian church ‘s entire congregation was incredibly difficult. My current church and denomination has its foibles as any other does and the ubiquity of the largest (most progressive) Presbyterian denomination in my country gives the impression they are the only Presbyterian denomination in a country where Baptist and Pentecostal churches dominate. But given all that has happened since, I can honestly say that the Lord guided me well and I have no regrets 7 years later.

    • TLSE – thank you for sharing this bit of your story. My wife and I were just wrestling with some of what you’re talking about. The particularly scary part is the thought of losing the community of friends and loved ones we already have around us – especially with our first kiddo due in just a few weeks. But it is encouraging to hear that you have no regrets 7 years later!

  4. Chad – I read point 6 to Hery (“Heidi”) and she said, “Don’t give him any ideas, Chad!!” 😂😂 Thank you for the thoughtful post. That is very helpful.

  5. Blake, I’m not sure how to link to your response so I’ll post another comment – leaving a church is something one has to think seriously about. After all, most churches are like an extended family. Also I was single and had no qualms about leaving the church. I was already receiving hints that my line of inquiry into reformed covenant theology, piety and practice would not be welcome.
    Unfortunately I lost friends. So it showed me who was a true friend and who was simply a fellow ideologue.
    The friends I have since gained have walked with me in ways I could not have thought possible when I was leaving my non-denom church and that has really helped. But there are still wounds. On hindsight I can reiterate given the direction my previous church has gone in, that the Lord was leading me away to safety and therefore have no regrets when compared with what I left behind.

  6. I would currently be “young, restless and protestant”. I have went from a HRM-influenced theology to a classical protestantism, but I am still waiting for the dust to settle. My theology would allign with Guy De Bres, Ursinus, the Westminster divines, and Scott Clark, buy I am still not very settled or confident in all areas. While I disagree with the Lutheran doctrines of baptism and perseverance, I do not do so confidently. While I have passed Pipersville, Macarthur city and Moscow, Idaho, and the train is slowing down, I am not sure it has stopped. Matters are further complicated by the fact that reformed missions have not reached my country. My best options are the baptist dispensationalist church I grew up in and an Anglican church whose theology is unclear.

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