Laura Gregory On Discovering The Reformed Confession

My dad’s side of the family has spent many years piecing together our family history. I think what drew them to genealogy is our relationship to the Hatfields of the Hatfield and McCoy feud (which obviously was started by the McCoys and won by the Hatfields). I recall my aunt telling me quite a few years back that in all this searching she found out we come from a line of French Huguenots that fled to England. Now that I have discovered the Reformed confession, it seems as though my Reformed family heritage has come full circle.

The Beginning

My Reformed story is much like the stories of others who grew up Dispensational Baptist and came through the gateway of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” preachers into full covenant theology. But perhaps the details will be encouraging. I grew up in the Bible Belt of Southeast North Carolina (the land of the finest barbecue). My school was a ministry of my Baptist church, so I was on those grounds six days a week in various church, sporting, and youth activities for roughly thirteen years. Although I came to understand the gospel to some extent at this church and in my home at age five, I was not confronted with a fuller understanding of my sin and misery until much later.

The Law Without The Gospel

For quite a few summers, my church would pack the whole youth group in a van and head to the mountains for a week of camp. This camp featured Bible memorization, lots of fun activities, and fiery preachers who scared most of us into questioning our salvation. I still recall one evening when there was an altar call to leave the chapel and find our counselor if there was sin in our life that we needed to confess—the call was given both for Christians and unbelievers. It was the sort of message that emphasized making sure God was the Lord of your life to have assurance of salvation. If Christ’s life and death on the cross was mentioned, it was overshadowed by legalism. The way it was worded from the preacher made me feel like it would be shameful or dishonest not to get up during the altar call. Of course I had sinned—I had already confessed this and Christ died for it. Have I truly made God the Lord of my life? Was I really saved? Because of the belief that I was able to lose my salvation, I would respond to these sorts of altar calls often. I was in deep confusion like this for a long time. I had a lack of clarity, freedom, and rest in what the gospel offers after hearing a pounding of the law without Christ.

Naturally, I chose to go to a Bible college for my undergrad. Most of the students there came from Independent Fundamental Baptist churches of all stripes. We were required to take a class on dispensationalism and only had one professor who was slightly Calvinistic. In some sense, I had looked forward to these formative years of being and thinking on my own, but I was met with a strict moral code of conduct and more of the bubble that I grew up with. The truth is, we got used to it and we made the best of it. I made tons of friends and good memories there. Unfortunately, however, I found the same sort of legalism there that I experienced growing up. But something started to shift. I decided to work at a Christian camp for the summer before my senior year (different from the one I attended as a kid), and it was there that I discovered more about the mercy and grace of God.

The Young, Restless, And Reformed

Deciding to work at this summer camp has been one of the most impactful catalysts in my life. I will never fully grasp the depths of my sin and misery, but I was confronted with it in a greater measure at this camp, and was met with an almost new concept of the mercy of God toward me. The leaders of the camp made sure that the Word of God and caring discipleship were central to the staff. A transformation started to occur in my life there. I ate up Scripture and actually cared about my sinful responses toward others. Some of my dearest friendships were forged there. Working at this camp landed me my first official employment. I took a job as a media specialist for a traveling evangelistic group (which is a full story in its own right). As I traveled around the US with this group for four years (spending the summers at the camp), I discovered pastors like John Piper and Tim Keller. Despite ministering in mostly Fundamental Baptist churches, I found such rich scriptural teaching from Piper and Keller’s sermons and writings. I had entered into the outskirts of the Reformed world.

I first heard the term “covenant theology” while I listened in on a theological conversation between a pastor in Chicago and the two leaders of our traveling group. The pastor explained how he had recently moved away from dispensationalism and found himself somewhere between it and covenant theology. This was such a new concept for me that I was unaware of what resources there were to investigate covenant theology. It lived in the back of my mind as a higher concept I could not grasp. I knew the word “Reformed” because of the Protestant Reformation, but I recall the first time I heard it as a pejorative. I was interested in a man who was attending Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte, and one of my teammates said to me, “He’s too Reformed for you.” I guess what he meant was that this man’s theology was too covenantal and confessional for me. After that conversation, the concept of “being Reformed” had a negative connotation to me.

As time went on in my traveling years, the leader of the traveling evangelistic group had a desire for church planting in the Intermountain West. The endeavor was not going to be like the Fundamental Baptist churches we served, but more like who we were as a team and much like the summer camp we had all served at, which was Young, Restless, and Reformed Baptist (although we would not have ever labeled it that). The leaders of the new plant created their own church planting network and the church was quickly underway, meeting in a rented facility. I was so dedicated to church ministry that I moved out there, determined to convert as many LDS people as I could.

Living out West was both incredible and ordinary. I realized pretty fast that church planting was not as romantic as I had hoped it would be, but it was good for me. A big emphasis of this plant was to plug into the city and be evangelistic, so I attempted to do just that. At this point in my life, I felt as though I was so far removed from my Independent Fundamental Baptist past that I could go no further. There was no need to. Many of us that moved out for this church plant came from similar church backgrounds. As one former attendee put it, “This is a church for recovering fundamentalists.” He was somewhat correct! Over the years, the church grew and many people in the area became believers and worshiped with us. This was another place where I grew in the Lord and made deep and lasting friendships that I still have to this day. In hindsight though, I can now say that although the leadership and we as church members emphasized the five solas, the gospel, and the holiness and grace of God, living somewhere between dispensational and covenant theology left some of the culture of the church with whispers of Lordship Salvation. It was subtle, but for me in particular this lack of clarity affected my view of my relationship with God.

Covenants

The pandemic years brought unique challenges for me in my work, life, and relationships. It led me to prayerfully consider online dating, and I decided to take the plunge. Little did I know that there was a godly, cute, single OPC member in Michigan who had also taken the online dating plunge. One of the first questions my husband and I asked each other was what kind of church we went to. He simply described his as “Reformed.” I had to think about whether I could call my church Reformed. My church had recently read through Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, and many of us were greatly influenced by the Young, Restless, and Reformed writers, so I said my church was Reformed as well. As my husband and I dated, I had conversations about Reformed covenant theology with him and one of his elders. If I was going to move to Michigan and become Presbyterian, there was a lot to consider, what with infant baptism, the creeds and confessions, and a whole new way of reading the Bible. My soon-to-be husband and his elder gave me books by R. C. Sproul and other Ligonier content to read. I felt encouraged that my pastor at the time, who would end up marrying us out West, said that we would figure out how to come to these conclusions together in our marriage, and praise God we did.

After two-and-a-half years of knowing my husband, and a year-and-a-half now of being a member at an OPC church, I am so thankful for many who have explained the wonderful riches of Reformed covenant theology to me. The continuity of the Scriptures has been so helpful as I read and hear the Word preached. I heard the argument for infant baptism probably twenty or so times before it finally clicked (the final kicker was listening to Chad Vegas’ sermon series on why he became Reformed). There are so many biblical concept changes when adopting covenant theology that it truly has felt like a worldview or paradigm shift in my mind. One particular concept that is striking and freeing to me is the law-gospel distinction in Scripture. Once I heard the story of the rich young ruler explained by a Reformed pastor, I was dumbfounded. Jesus is actually giving the law to this young man and not the gospel! The rich young ruler’s sinful fault was not merely loving his riches more than God (although that was true). He could not inherit eternal life unless he fulfilled the entire law and kept himself from sin. Jesus presented the law to answer the question of what the man must “do” to inherit eternal life. Learning of Jesus’ active obedience has been so wonderful to me now. I do not have it in me to muster up enough strength to “put God first” or to make sure Christ is Lord over all of my desires. It is truly all Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

I am also so thankful for the Lord’s Day. Growing up, Sunday was always about gathering with the saints in worship to God, but in the Reformed tradition there is even more. I am in deep need of each Sunday. I need the reminder of the gospel, the time of confession and assurance of pardon, prayer, the Word, God’s presence, the Lord’s Supper, the fellowship with the saints, and preaching that grounds itself in the theology of God’s covenants and the ancient doctrine of the creeds and confessions. Being part of a Reformed church has allowed me to rest from my efforts of getting God to accept me through obedience. I can truly trust in Christ’s fulfillment of the law and finished work on the cross.

©Laura Gregory. All Rights Reserved.


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  • Laura Gregory
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    Laura resides with her husband Todd in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan where she is a member of an OPC congregation.

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