Our Theological Vision – Core Values: Reformed Catholicity

“Our Theological Vision: Core Values: A Culture of Reformed Catholicity

John 17:6-8, 14-26

March 27, 2022

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pastor Nicoletti

The Reading of the Word

This morning, we come to the fourth Sunday of eight in which we will be discussing our theological vision as a congregation.

On our first Sunday, we talked about our core purpose, and we said that Faith Presbyterian Church exists to be God’s instrument in making, maintaining, and maturing disciples for Jesus Christ.

Over the last two Sundays we have talked about two of our historic core values:

  • the deep exposition of Holy Scripture, and
  • thoughtful and robust liturgical worship

Today we come to our third core value: A Culture of Reformed Catholicity.

This one often raises a lot of eyebrows, as I’ve learned. So I want to say a few things before we come to our text.

First of all, the term “Catholicity” as we are using it here, is not a reference to “Roman Catholicism” but to the “catholicity” of the universal church, as in its unity in Christ. In other words, we are using it the way the Reformers themselves used it. [See, for example, John Calvin in Institutes 4.1.2]

Second, this isn’t a new value for us, or something I’ve introduced here. When the church leadership went through a process ten years ago to define the commitments of our church that they wished to preserve in the transition to the next generation, the first value they listed in that 2011 document was “Reformed Catholicism.”

And in 2017, when Pastor Rayburn preached a sermon series titled “Characteristics of Faith Presbyterian Church,” the first sermon he preached was on “Reformed Catholicism.” It’s a wonderful sermon, and I’ll be drawing from it and quoting from it quite a bit this morning, actually.

In that sermon, Pastor Rayburn defined “Reformed Catholicism” like this – he said that what we mean by “Reformed Catholicism” “is that we intend to be a congregation that is, at one and the same time, committed to the Reformed faith as a particular understanding of the Word of God and committed to the unity of the Christian church.”

Let me say that again: “We intend to be a congregation that is, at one and the same time, committed to the Reformed faith as a particular understanding of the Word of God and committed to the unity of the Christian church.”

This morning I want to consider together what that means, and what that looks like in our particular setting.

Tonight, I want to take some time to consider an enemy of Reformed Catholicism: the breaking of the ninth commandment in the form of slander.

But this morning, we begin with a text that highlights the two aspects of Reformed Catholicity: the importance of holding onto the specific truths of the Word of God, and the importance of seeking the wider unity of the Church of God. And so we hear from John 17, Jesus’s high priestly prayer.

Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.

Jesus, praying to God the Father said:

17:“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. […] 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This is the word of the Lord.  (Thanks be to God.)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Prayer of Illumination

Lord,

we ask you to work now through this, your word to your servants,

the very word in which you have helped us to place our hope.

For our comfort in the afflictions we face in this world

is that your promises in your word give us life.

Though the world may deride us,

we do not turn from this your revelation to us.

Teach us from it now, we ask, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:49-51]

Truth & Unity as Callings on the Church

Our text this morning holds out our dual callings to Christian truth, and to Christian unity – to both the purity and the peace of the church. Our attempt to hold these two truths together is what we refer to this morning as our commitment to a culture of Reformed catholicity.

In verses six through nineteen, Jesus prays to the Father about the fact that he has given his followers the Word of God, which is the truth. And he asks God to sanctify them in that truth. The truth of the Word of God matters – it is deeply important to what it means to be the Church, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Then, Jesus prays for the unity of his followers. In verses twenty through twenty-six he prays that his followers would be one even as God the Father and God the Son are one. He prays that that unity would be visible in such a way that others, in the world, would see it, and be led to faith by it. The unity of the Church of God matters. And it is by love that Jesus prays they will be united.

In his prayer to God the Father, Jesus Christ, our Lord, prays that his followers would be sanctified and committed to the truth of his word, and that they would be united to one another in love.

But in this fallen world, there is a tension there – a difficulty. Because followers of Christ who are committed to his Word, don’t always agree on what his word means, and how they are called to obey it. And that disagreement threatens our unity.

And yet, it is clear from the New Testament that the call to unity extends into situations where we do not agree. There are many possible examples, but one good one comes from Romans 14 and 15. In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul speaks to a number of doctrinal and ethical disagreements between the Christians in Rome. And Paul makes it clear that he is convinced that one side is right, and the other is wrong. But because the disagreements are not over the central tenets of the Gospel, Paul does not demand conformity or separation, but loving tolerance of their disagreements. He urges them to be united even as they disagree on these matters of doctrine and ethics. In the next chapter he calls them to live in harmony, to glorify God with one united voice, welcoming each other, just as Christ has welcomed them. In other words, just as Christ welcomes us even with our ongoing flaws and errors, so we are not to have higher standards for one another than Christ has had for us – but are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us: flaws, and errors, and all. [Rayburn, “Reformed Catholicism”]

Navigating this reality means that we must have a sense of hierarchy about our beliefs: acknowledging that some of them are core, some of them are peripheral, and some lie in-between.

At the core are doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith – beliefs where if someone willfully and thoughtfully rejects them, we probably need to consider them a heretic. There are various summaries of this core set of beliefs, but one good historic one that we use here regularly is the Nicene Creed. A literal (as in a literal resurrection, a literal pre-existent Son of God, a literal virgin birth) – a literal understanding of the Nicene Creed is a good starting place for thinking about that set of core doctrines. [On the idea of defining “mere Christianity” as a non-metaphorical understanding of the Nicene Creed, see Andrew Delbanco, quoted by Tim Keller on Mere Fidelity (1:00:00-1:01:00)]

If we think of those core doctrines like the center of a bulls-eye, then the next ring out are important doctrines that the historic believing church has held to almost universally, that are related to those core doctrines, though not quite identical to them. These might be things like our doctrine of Scripture, or some of the mechanics of justification.

Third, in the next ring out, are important doctrines and practices that may be disputed between firmly orthodox Christians and denominations. In other words, an error at this level is a theological error, but not one that should lead anyone to question the faith of another believer. Such disagreements may, for pragmatic reasons, require congregations or denominations to separate in how they function, but issues at this level should not lead us to question the genuineness of someone else’s faith.

And the fourth ring out from that are doctrines and practices that may be disputed within faithful denominations. Disagreements on this level can be held by Christians who work together and worship together, and there is no real reason why these disagreements should cause divisions.

[I can’t recall the original source of this version of a four-tier approach. For a slightly different, but also very helpful tiered approach, see Gavin Ortlund’s Finding the Right Hills to Die On.]

Such a scheme gives us a hierarchy of doctrines not only in the church, but also in how we understand ourselves – on what is most important for our own Christian identity.

To illustrate this attitude, Pastor Rayburn has often quoted from John Duncan, the 19th century Scottish presbyterian, missionary, theologian, and professor of Hebrew who is often referred to as “Rabbi” Duncan, who put it like this – he said: “I am first a Christian, next a catholic [by which he meant not a “Roman Catholic,” but a member of the one world-wide body of Christ], then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order.” [Colloquia Peripatetica, 8; quoted in Rayburn, “Reformed Catholicism” and The Truth in …, p.181]

That set of distinctions, in many ways sums up the culture of Reformed Catholicity that we value here.

But how does that then play out?

Well, it might be helpful to flesh it out further in three different ways.

We Are Reformed … But Not Narrowly Reformed

First, a culture of Reformed catholicity means that we are Reformed … but we are not narrowly Reformed.

Meaning, first of all, that we are Reformed – we are part of the theological tradition coming out of the Protestant Reformation. But the reason we are Reformed is because we believe that Reformed theology has best summed up the teachings of the Scriptures themselves.

And so our commitment to Reformed theology and the Reformed tradition is rooted in, and grows out of, our commitment to Scripture. It can also be further refined, and corrected by the Scripture. We are, as our own leaders have stated in the past, Reformed and always reforming – always open “to new light from Holy Scripture changing our thinking or practice.” [See our 2011 document “Transition to the Next Generation at Faith Presbyterian Church: 2011-2031”]

In these ways we are Reformed. But even as we say that, we must also say that we are not narrowly Reformed.

Meaning that as we hold firmly to our theological convictions, we also acknowledge the legitimate diversity within the Reformed tradition, as well as the faith and faithfulness of believers outside of the Reformed tradition.

That means we actively resist the temptation to draw the lines of the true Church, and the lines of the true Reformed tradition, narrower and narrower. And that is a temptation for many – especially in the Reformed community: a temptation to doubt the faith or the orthodoxy of Christians who are not Reformed, and a temptation to identify just one strand of the Reformed tradition as truly Reformed, and to seek to exclude all others.

But by being committed to a culture of Reformed catholicity, we are committed to being firm in our beliefs, while also actively resisting those temptations to wrongly narrowing our concept of the Church or the Reformed world.

It makes me think of how I have been shaped by this approach in my own life.

I did not grow up in the Reformed Christian tradition. I grew up in a mainline Lutheran church, and I became a believer in high school.

I was first introduced to Reformed theology by my campus minister at RUF – the college ministry of our denomination. My pastor’s name was Vito. And Vito and I decided to meet once a week to talk about theology. In those meetings, Vito introduced me to Reformed theology, and I argued against it with everything I had. And each week we debated about Reformed theology from the Scripture. And we did that for a year. (Vito was very patient.) And at the end of a year, I realized that I was losing these debates badly. And it wasn’t just because Vito was smarter than me. It was because he had the Bible on his side, and I did not. So … I became Reformed. Because I could not help but conclude that this Reformed theology summed up the Bible’s teaching in ways that my own thinking simply did not.

After that, I did what many Christians new to the Reformed faith do: I became a Reformed assassin. I went around questioning the faith and practice of all sorts of non-Reformed Christians at my college, and I advocated for a strict and narrow understanding of Reformed theology.

But Vito, my pastor, again, was wise. And so, the very next year as we began meeting again, he started debating with me against my overly narrow and sectarian approach to Reformed theology. And he did it, once again, from the Bible. He forced me to grapple with the nuances and complexities of the Scriptures. He forced me to reckon with the broadness of the gospel itself. He forced me to accept a form of Reformed catholicity. And that shaped me.

When the time came for us to move to St. Louis for seminary, that was something that drew us to our next church: a pastor with firm convictions, who also spoke about those who disagreed with him (inside and outside the Reformed camp) with charity and catholicity. When I saw that in others, I knew that was the kind of pastor I wanted to be.

And that, in many ways, is part of what drew me here as well. When I first learned of this church, I mainly knew of Pastor Rayburn, and I was impressed by his great mind and his theological work. When Pastor Rayburn defended a minister in a theological trial, we at Covenant Seminary were passing the transcript of his arguments around to each other, marveling at how he made his arguments.

But what increased my admiration all the more was to realize, later on, that Pastor Rayburn had defended the man not because they held the same theology, but because on the several points at which they differed, Pastor Rayburn was convinced that the man’s views were still firmly within our Reformed doctrinal standards. And so he had vigorously advocated for him, even where they disagreed. He was living out a spirit of Reformed catholicity. And one of the things that drew me here was that I wanted to be that kind of minister: a minister both of conviction, and of a spirit that acknowledged and valued and defended brothers and sisters in Christ even whom I disagreed with.

That is what it looks like to be Reformed, but not narrowly Reformed.

That is one implication of Reformed Catholicity.

We Are Evangelical … But Not Narrowly Fundamentalist

A second implication of having a culture of Reformed Catholicity is that as a church in our context, we are Evangelical, but not narrowly Fundamentalist – another distinction that our church made over a decade ago.

Now, those terms mean different things to different people. So what do I mean by them here?

Well, by “Evangelical” I mean not a voting block or a social demographic, but a theological position. David Bebbington has summed up theological Evangelicalism as consisting of four convictions: As one writer summarizes it: “The four marks of evangelicalism are a belief in (1) the full authority of the Bible as the sole and supreme rule of faith and practice, (2) the necessity of the new birth by the Holy Spirit, (3) reconciliation with God through the atoning work of Christ, not our good works, (4) the responsibility to share the gospel in word and deed. These distinguish evangelicals from mainline Protestants, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. Beneath these four marks, however, evangelicals share with all other Christians a belief in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other basics of the Apostles and Nicene Creed.” [Keller, “The Decline …”]

In this sense, we are, here at Faith, Evangelicals. We are not just general Evangelicals, for we are also Reformed. But we are Evangelicals.

But we would distinguish our theological Evangelicalism from an ideology of “narrow fundamentalism.” Now, again: what do I mean by that?

In a recent article Tim Keller summarizes the marks of this ideology of American fundamentalism, and we might paraphrase it like this: First, this American fundamentalism tends towards a distrust of institutions, including the institutional church, rather than seeing institutions as a form of God-given accountability for us. Second, it tends to divide the Christian life from the surrounding world so that the only two options are for Christians to conquer the culture or to withdraw from the culture, rather than to live missionally within the culture. Third, it tends to view the outcome of lives in very individualistic terms, driven almost exclusively by individual choices, rather than considering the effects of culture or systemic or institutional evils that are in need of reform. Fourth, when it comes to the Christian life, it often places an emphasis on external behavioral codes, with less emphasis on the state of the heart. Fifth, it tends to distrust scholarship in favor of “common sense.” And sixth, when it comes to culture, it tends to baptize past periods of American culture – often the 1950s – exaggerating their virtues and minimizing or erasing their sins, in order to hold them up as an ideal for Christian life today.

Now, like all ideologies, this perspective contains some good and some bad: institutions and scholarship can become corrupt, the divide between the world and the church should be real, our individual choices do matter, our behavior matters, and each age does have positive things to emulate. But this ideology, in my opinion, also has significant shortcomings and blind spots.

Having a culture of Reformed catholicity means two things. First, Christians who are fundamentalists in this sense, or who are sympathetic to fundamentalism in this sense, are welcome here. You are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we want you to be a part of our congregation and our life together.

But second, having a culture of Reformed catholicity means that our congregation will not limit itself to that fundamentalist perspective. As a community, we will be broader than that. As a church, that ideology will not define who we are. Because those views are not part of the gospel, they are not inherent to Evangelical theology, and they are not part of our Reformed doctrinal standards.

And so, when it comes to those sorts of issues, we will seek to bring to bear the whole counsel of God. Which means that in our decisions, and in our teaching and preaching, we will seek to acknowledge the possible dangers of institutions, but we will also operate on the belief that God has instituted them, and given them real authority, because we, as individuals, need such  accountability. We will seek to live out the real divide between the Christian life and the life of the unbelieving world, while also believing that Christians are called to be to be in the world, but not of it – to be God’s instruments in his mission to a fallen world. We will take the reality and the importance and the consequences of individual choices seriously, but we will also freely confess that human communities, and cultures, and social systems, and institutions are also twisted by sin, and in need of reform and repentance. We will acknowledge the importance of behavior, but the even greater importance of the state of our hearts before the Lord. We will be discerning when it comes to scholarship and the academy, but we will also seek to learn from what they have to say. And we will strive to acknowledge both the good and the bad of every age and every culture – including the virtues and the evils of every period of our own history.

Now, here’s the thing: there’s a tension in each one of those. And we won’t always all agree on how much emphasis should be placed on each end. And so, to the ears of those who lean in a more fundamentalist direction, our church might sometimes sound a little progressive. And to the ears of those who lean in a more progressive direction, our church might sometimes sound a little fundamentalist. But even as we don’t always see eye to eye, that diversity is okay. That is what it means to be committed to a culture of Reformed Catholicity in our setting, just as it did for the Christians Paul wrote to in Romans 14 and 15.

A culture of Reformed Catholicity means that we are Evangelical, but we are not narrowly Fundamentalist.

We Are Part of One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church … And So We Are Not to Be Narrowly Sectarian

A third implication of having a culture of Reformed Catholicity is that we are part of one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and so we should not be narrowly sectarian, even as we hold firmly to our own convictions.

This is, in a sense, what we confess together when we say, in the Nicene Creed, that we believe in “one holy, catholic, apostolic church.”

Now … an aside is called for, because the version we just sang actually doesn’t actually have the word “holy.” After a bit of digging, my suspicion is that this is because our sung version is based on a version of the Book of Common Prayer that may have used a version of the Creed missing the word “holy.” The historic creed, from the 4th century has “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” as do all modern versions. We may need to talk about working that back into our sung version of the Creed sometime.

But anyway: we believe that we are part of one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What does that mean?

Well, first, we acknowledge the unity of the Church: it is fundamentally one. There are not many Brides of Christ, but one. There are not many Bodies of Christ, but one. That should be reflected in the visible organization of the Church, but even when it’s not, it remains true spiritually.

Second, we confess that the Church is to be holy: it is set apart by God as holy, and that objective holiness is then to be reflected in the lives lived by its members.

Third, it is catholic – not meaning “Roman Catholic,” but simply “catholic”: it is united across time and space, drawing from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and united despite many differences.

And fourth, it is apostolic: its foundation is the gospel proclaimed by the Apostles, and laid down by them in the Word of God. [Rayburn, “Reformed Catholicity”]

We believe we are part of one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Our Reformed convictions do not negate that – they merely define our place within that one Church.

And that conviction will have implications for us historically, globally, and locally.

Historically

First, it will have implications in terms of recognizing our place historically.

A culture of Reformed catholicity means that while we recognize the Reformed tradition as especially our branch of the family tree of church history, at the very same time, we also own the entire tree as our family tree. As Reformed Christians, the Reformed tradition is, in some ways, especially close to our hearts. But as Christians, in our catholicity, we see all of church history as our church history: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In all of it, we want to celebrate what should be celebrated, learn what can be learned from, and lament what should be lamented. But all of it is ours.

We should, as a result, find ourselves admiring the faith and the faithfulness of Christians from many different periods of the Church’s history – admiring them even when we have deep disagreements with them about certain doctrines or ethical practices.

Reflecting on this fact, Pastor Rayburn has said: “It was an important moment in my life when I fully realized that there was a host of Christians who loved Jesus more than I did who nevertheless held views I believe and must believe are contrary to the Word of God.” [Rayburn, “Reformed Catholicism”]

We will disagree with many in the historic Church, over many things. But they are still our people. And their history is our history. Because confessing that we are part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church shapes how we think of ourselves historically.

Globally

Second, confessing that we are part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church should have implications for us globally.

It means that we see ourselves as part of a global church – united with believers who may be very different from us culturally, nationally, and politically – because our unity in Christ outranks those other differences.

Sometimes that means working to affirm our unity despite the fact that Christians in another setting look very different from us, or talk very differently from us, or express their faith in ways that are very different from us.

But sometimes it also means acknowledging our unity with Christians who hold to nationalistic beliefs that are very different from our own.

Tim Keller, in a recent interview, talked about when this reality first struck him thirty or forty years ago, while he was visiting believers in Scotland. He explained that one of the churches closest to the PCA is the Free Church of Scotland. And when he spent time there, years ago, he was confronted by the fact that their politics – particularly their views on taxation and distribution of wealth – were very far from what most PCA members would hold to. The temptation was to question their conservative Presbyterian credentials. And yet they took their faith and their Presbyterianism very seriously. As Keller put it at one point: “These are people that would punch your lights out if you turned the TV on on a sabbath – I mean these are real conservative Presbyterians.” But their national politics looked so different from their brothers and sisters in America. [Keller, Mere Orthodoxy, 1:05:50-1:08:10]

But even so, as members of one holy catholic and apostolic church, their unity in Christ trumped their national and cultural differences.

The fact that we are part of one holy catholic and apostolic church should shape how we view ourselves globally.

Locally

Finally, the fact that we are part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church should have implications for us locally – both as a congregation and as we interact with other churches and ministries.

First, as a congregation, while preserving our Reformed convictions as a church, we also welcome any faithful believer not only to attend our church, but to join it as a member. To do that, we have a serious distinction between what is required of church leadership, versus what is required of members.

The officers of our church are required to receive and adopt an 82-page statement of faith that includes a Confession and two Catechisms, and to approve of a 153-page document on the government of the Church.

On the other hand, to become a member of our church you need to affirm just 5 sentences, which lay out the core of Christian belief and the Christian life. As one of my former pastors used to say: You don’t need to be Presbyterian in order to be a Presbyterian. And that is as it should be. At the congregational level, when at all possible, non-essentials are not to be grounds for congregational division.

And that same commitment must shape how we interact with other Christian congregations and ministries here in Tacoma and Pierce County. While we hold to our views firmly, we must be happy to work with, to whatever extent possible, other believers and other believing organizations that affirm the core doctrines of the Christian faith. Our relationship to them is not to be characterized primarily by disputes or exclusion, but by our unity in the Body of Christ.

Because in such relationships, we need to remember, like John Duncan, that we are Christians first, catholics (in its broad sense) second. We are Calvinists third, paedobaptists fourth, and Presbyterians fifth. And we will not reverse that order in how we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Living in the Tension

Of course living this out comes with many challenges. As we strive to be “a congregation that is, at one and the same time, committed to the Reformed faith as a particular understanding of the Word of God and committed to the unity of the Christian church” we will face the temptation to let go of one of those callings to devote ourselves exclusively to the other.

Some of us may be tempted to let go of the call to unity, and embrace, instead, a “defiant isolation” This, Pastor Rayburn explains “is the spirit of those who are sure not only that they are right but that since everyone else is wrong we are better off without them. Nothing is to be received from those with mistaken theology but spiritual contamination. They are to be avoided.” So the reasoning goes.

On the other hand, others will be tempted towards welcoming others in a way that casts aside discernment and treats all theological views as equal and, failing to value the call to seek and to live out the truth that is taught in God’s word.

What temptation, most pulls at you? Which error are you most likely to fall into? Our challenge is to hold on to both truths – to both callings – and so to resist both temptations.

If we do this well, then we should expect to face criticism from those who don’t. For we will appear too lax to some, and to narrow to others. Reflecting on this fact, Pastor Rayburn writes: “I take comfort from the fact that Paul was also hammered from both the right and the left, by those who felt he was refusing to stand up for the truth and by those who felt he wasn’t sufficiently tolerant of their scruples. We expect to suffer the same fate, as must anyone who is equally committed to both theological precision and Christian unity.”

He goes on: “Our intention here at Faith is […] to be Calvinists ourselves and lovers of Arminian-Baptistic-Dispensational-Pentecostals and even Roman Catholics of a gospel orientation! We intend to maintain our position, confident as we are that we can defend it from Holy Scripture and that God taught us his truth precisely so that we would believe it and live according to it even while we cordially acknowledge as brothers in Christ folk who adamantly reject teaching that is precious to us and preach and teach truth we are quite sure cannot be established by the Word of God. […]

“And so it is that our deacons participate in ministries in town in which things are said and done that we would never say or do. So it is that our people are active in ministries in which they work side by side with folk who would probably be aghast to discover what we actually believe or don’t believe. And so we encourage and support financially Christian folk whose worship we would find objectionable in this way or in that. In other words, we aspire to love everyone and to consider a brother and sister in Christ anyone who loves the Lord Jesus, even as we fashion our lives according to the truth as God has given us to see it.” [Rayburn, “Reformed Catholicism”]

Because that is what our Lord calls us to in John 17.

Truth and unity both mattered deeply to him. And so they must both matter deeply to us.

And that is what we mean, when we say that our church values a culture of Reformed catholicity.

Amen.

 This sermon draws on material from:

Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Keller, Timothy. “The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 2 – The Decline of Evangelicalism” In Life in the Gospel. Winter 2022. https://quarterly.gospelinlife.com/the-decline-of-evangelicalism/

Keller, Timothy. “Saving Evangelicalism, with Tim Keller.” Interview with Mere Fidelity. March 1, 2022. https://merefidelity.com/podcast/saving-evangelicalism-with-tim-keller/

Ortlund, Gavin. Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020.

Rayburn, Robert S. “Reformed Catholicism – Romans 15:1-7” Preached at Faith Presbyterian Church on April 23, 2017. https://www.faithtacoma.org/characteristicsoffaith/reformed-catholicism-romans-151-7

Rayburn, Robert S. The Truth in Both Extremes: Paradox in Biblical Revelation. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021.

For more on this topic, see Pastor Rayburn’s 2017 sermon “Reformed Catholicism:

and my 2021 sermon “The Unity of the Church”:

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