Reformed Catholic?

“That sounds too Catholic.” I have heard that more times than I can count. This raises the question, “Can we be Reformed and catholic?” We confess in our creed that we believe in the “Holy catholic church.” Many are familiar with the distinction where small “c” catholic is used to mean universal and whereas capital “C” signifies the Roman Catholic church. But what is we are Reformed in our conviction, but desire that ancient faith. Is the only reasonable option to turn to the East or Rome? I submit there is another legitimate option, leave a consumerist mentality behind and embrace God working in the present.

William Perkins (1558-1602) was an influential leader in the Puritan movement, and wrote a treatise Reformed Catholicke to bring clarity to the apparent dilemma. In it, he argues Reformed identity is actually a matter of Reformed catholicity. He argues that in the Reformation, the liturgy, worship, and church government of the catholic church were refined not removed. Therefore to be Reformed is to be catholic, part of that original apostolic strand of the teaching of Christ and his apostles. To be Reformed doesn’t mean we leave the past behind, rather we see God’s working in the historical church today.

Michael Allen and Scott Swain in their book Reformed Catholicity quote Perkins

By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church: yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine, whereby the said religion is corrupted.

This is a call for our churches to find renewal today by embracing our heritage. This renewal effort is not new. Others have queried theological and historical matters to influence the current generation, however I find some fell short. This is what the modern hymns tried to do, attempting to make older hymns more “singable”. Some were successful others, not so much. Even commentary series have been published full of Patristic quotes on certain passages. However quotes present another problem as they don’t offer development nor much desired insight. This is, in part, how the Emerging/Emergent Church developed. Children of contemporary evangelicalism turned to this renewal movement in an effort to find a connection with their historical roots. In doing so, they fell into subjectivism, as they often selected the liturgical practices they liked and disregarded others.

This raises the question, “How are we to embrace fully our rich Christian heritage?” I think Allen  and Swain helpfully raise six suggestion: Firstly. Learn theology in the school of Christ, which means that we remember God’s Spirit is at work still in the midst of his people. Secondly, understand the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and abandon misconceptions. Thirdly, consider how confessions and creeds shape our lives in the church. Lastly, connect the past to the present in the life of the congregation.

As Reformed catholics we can celebrate God’s faithful work of preserving the Gospel in the historical church in the present church.