Brief history of the Church: Situating the Reformed Church
There are many different churches in the world today. Some call themselves "Presbyterian," others "Methodist," others "Assemblies of God," and others claim to be just "Christian." All Christians follow Christ, so why are there so many churches? Also, why "reformed"? Isn't that another division of Christians in a world where there are already too many divisions?
The issue of why is there such a thing as a "reformed" church is one rooted in history. To understand what "reformed" is and why it is important that the church be "reformed," we need to understand some basic church history
The church as we know it began at Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. After the times of the apostles, the church continue to grow and multiply in Gentile areas especially within the Roman Empire. As the church grew, it began to express her thoughts and teachings using Greco-Roman ways of thought, and came to know itself as the Catholic Church. As the Roman Empire declined, the Ancient Catholic Church took on many of the previous functions of the declining Roman Empire, resulting in the medieval papacy and the Medieval Catholic Church. That church became corrupt over time, thus in the 16th century the Reformation erupted onto the scene of history.
The Reformation was a call by the Reformers to return back to the Scriptures, to pure worship of God, to devotion towards God that is line with what is taught in Scripture. The Reformers sought to reform the church as they recognized that the Medieval Catholic Church was a corruption of the true church. The Reformers believed in the promise of Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not prevail upon the church, and therefore the Reformation was not about overthrowing the Medieval Church and creating a new one in its place. The Reformers saw themselves as "Reformed Catholics" as they wanted to preserve what were true in the Medieval Church while at the same time removing the corruptions within her.
After the times of the Reformation, two major trends began to emerge. The first trend is that of a privitization of faith, or making faith an internal, individual matter between a person and God. After the Reformation, the beginnings of Pietism in the 17th century and the Enlightenment in the 18th century centers matters of faith onto the private and the individual. This trend is not necessarily bad since faith is indeed deeply personal, but the modern trend over-corrected such that the corporate and external dimensions of faith have been minimized or even rejected. The second trend is that of divorcing the Christian faith from the history of the church. Whereas the church all the way until the Reformation has always seen herself as being in continuity with the past, in the modern period, people began to recast the Reformers in their image and think the Reformation was all about rejecting all of church history and going back directly to the apostolic period. In scholarly speak, the first trend is known as pietism and invidualism, and the second trend is known as primitivism. These two trends combined have contributed to the many Christian movements and multiplication of denominations in the Age of Modernity (approximately 17th - 21st century), with mixed benefits to Christianity.
The Reformed Church is the Church coming out of the 16th century Reformation, before the two major trends in the modern age transformed what people thought about Christianity and practiced it. Needless to say, the Reformed Church rejects both of these trends. While we do not believe in going back to the 16th century as if it were a golden age, we think the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions penned during those times to be more correct in their views of the Christian faith and of the church.
[to be continued]