You may have asked yourself, “What difference does being Reformed really make”? Our Reformed identity is much more than a set of theological principles. It’s a biblically based framework for building a life that is deep and rich, shaped by the knowledge that, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” (Q&A 1).
To answer this question, Faith Formation Ministries developed a resource that details 10 ways that our Reformed identity shapes our lives.
The short stories on the next few pages share real-life examples of how some of these 10 Reformed ideas are helping members of the Christian Reformed Church contribute to God’s kingdom around the world while also learning from the wisdom of other traditions.
These stories reflect ministries that were started by the synod of the Christian Reformed Church as a way to live out our Reformed identity in ministry. Most of them continue to be supported by CRC ministry shares today and are part of our shared Reformed ministry.
God’s Story Shapes the Story of My Life
Ronnie Lopez’s passion for the Reformed faith stems from his time growing up in the Philippines. That’s where, 50 years ago, he met Vince Apostol, Resonate Global Mission’s first missionary to this country, and became a member and seminary student in the CRC of the Philippines.
“It’s embedded in me,” Lopez said of the Reformed worldview. “And the moment you understand it, it leads you to a life of gratitude in the Lord.”
Today Lopez shares this passion for all things Reformed in the Houston, Texas, area, where he is partnering with Resonate and New Life CRC (Spring, Texas) to plant a church among Filipino immigrants.
Lopez says people who visit the church and attend Bible studies appreciate the Reformed approach to reading the Bible—as a whole story that we are also a part of today.
“I think they see themselves becoming more aware of their relationship with God and their status in him,” said Lopez. “And because of that, they are becoming more familiar with the gospel and are more willing to share it.”
Such is the case for Arnold Tamayo, also a Filipino immigrant and member of the church plant’s leadership team.
“When I first became a Christian, I felt a hunger for the Word of God,” said Tamayo. “Now I’m experiencing the same passion I had, because I’m reading and listening to the Reformed teaching.”
One great opportunity both Lopez and Tamayo recognize for their church and its members is its ability to reach people in a time of crisis. More than half of the church’s members are in the medical profession.
“People from all over the world come right here to get medical attention,” said Tamayo. “We as a church have a chance to care for patients in a Christian way.’
I Am God’s Partner in Making All Things New
Justin Van Zee has strengthened the faith of many young Christian leaders since he began serving as a missionary with Resonate Global Mission in Cambodia. Yet, taken at face value, Justin’s mentoring of a young man named Seyha looks like a failure.
“As I walked alongside Seyha, he went from youth pastor, to parachurch organization, to a job in sales,” says Van Zee, summing up their friendship. “It looks like a missionary just helped a guy quit the church.”
Seyha’s story is more complicated than that. Initially, Seyha was excited to leave his job as a youth pastor to begin work as a trainer for an international Christian organization, but as the only staff member for this organization in Cambodia, he felt isolated and alone.
“I could sense Seyha needed some more support,” Van Zee recalled. So Van Zee began eating breakfast with Seyha every week and offered a listening ear.
“I sensed that God was doing something important in Seyha’s life, a deep work of the heart. My role was to be present as the new thing emerged—to keep showing up, to eat my bacon and eggs, and to pray with Seyha.”
During this season of meeting with Van Zee, Seyha realized he could find his calling in business just as well as he could in a Christian charity. Eventually he made the difficult decision to quit his job. Seyha has since begun working in sales for a business training firm. Though he left work in a Christian organization, Seyha is learning to explore his faith and calling in other areas.
“[Seyha] recognized that he wasn’t thriving in that ministry, and so he did what he needed to do in leaving it,” noted Van Zee. “He’s making decisions for himself and seeking to follow God.”
“What I hope is that Seyha will continue to seek after God and to do that in a way that furthers his own growth . . . in Christ,” said Van Zee. “I want to be present as he goes deeper into what God is calling him to do.”
I Can Trust God’s Providence
Kari, 19, lost and drunk, was wandering on a Colorado highway when she was hit twice by high-speed traffic. Although the doctors at Denver Health Medical Center tried their hardest, she died shortly after.
Christian Reformed church chaplain Dirk van der Vorst was at the trauma bay when this scene unfolded. After Kari’s death, he comforted the doctor who had done all he could, the social worker who had tried unsuccessfully to locate her family, and finally prayed over Kari’s lifeless body.
“The blood on the gurney and walls cried witness to the trauma,” recalleded van der Vorst. “On behalf of the dedicated Denver Health staff and all who loved her, I stopped to acknowledge her short life, said a prayer, and gave her over to God’s loving hands.”
That event was just van der Vorst’s morning. The same day he comforted a family whose 8-year-old daughter was brain dead and a homeless army veteran who had no one else with him at the end of his life.
On days like this, van der Vorst said, it’s the “Reformed tendons of his faith that holds him.”
“There is no place we can go where God is not, and nothing will be able separate us from his love,” said van der Vorst, referencing Romans 8. “If this is so, I go to work in confidence. There is nothing that God cannot redeem, restore, or transform. I go to work knowing that my sovereign God has gone before me, actively engaged with his world. That the Holy Spirit accompanies me.”
“I only need to be present and available; that is my job,” added van der Vorst. “To be. Not to fix, control, change, or understand. And I can leave work knowing that all is in good hands because God has not abandoned his world or his children.”
I Recognize that Jesus Is Lord (Over Pop Culture Too)
“As a kid who grew up in a movie-loving family that also belonged to a Christian Reformed church, I have long noticed glimmers of God’s grace in the popular music, movies, and television that have been a big part of my life,” said Josh Larsen, editor of Back to God Ministries International’s Think Christianwebsite.
“But it wasn’t until I joined ReFrame Media as editor of Think Christian that I really understood how rich and expansive that grace could be—and how integral my upbringing in the Reformed tradition was in helping me recognize it.”
Larsen said that it has been rewarding to hear from Think Christian readers who have been similarly enriched, including many who are encountering the Reformed perspective for the first time.
Through the site, they explore popular culture as something that needn’t be separate from or in conflict with faith. Instead, they learn to recognize that it too falls beneath God’s sovereignty, and as such can be informed, enhanced, and—when discernment calls for it—challenged by the gospel we hold dear.
“My mind and soul were searching unknowingly for the kind of insights I find in Think Christian,” wrote Donna Millard. “Please, dear God, keep this kind of spiritual, cultural, Christian lens firmly in our reach."
At Think Christian, this “lens” is borrowed from Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, who famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
What does this mean for popular culture? Larsen answered this by saying, “That by God’s common grace, believers and unbelievers alike are capable of creating beautiful things. While appreciating that beauty, we can also ask questions particular to our faith: Does the movie I just watched echo the gospel in some fashion? Does this TV show we stream evidence our need for the good news? Does the music on my phone contradict my understanding of the world in a way that deserves a loving response?”
At Think Christian, readers have questioned the vision of womanhood offered by Taylor Swift’s Reputation; recognized how Stranger Things echoes our own world’s disarray; and pointed out that Star Wars: The Last Jedi might offer a model for holding onto faith in a post-Christendom era.
According to Justin McLain, another reader, this Last Jedi post offered the “best breakdown of [Star Wars] I’ve read yet. Awesome insight . . . but when you’re talking Jedis and Jesus in the same article, there’s really no losing.”
I Can Have Confidence That I Live by Grace Alone
Sarah Hoogendoorn has never been a member of the armed services. She’s never struggled with addiction or substance abuse. Yet her Reformed faith helps her empathize with those who have.
Hoogendoorn is completing her second year of Clinical Pastoral Education at The VA Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn. As a Christian Reformed church chaplain, she has many hard conversations with veterans who have lived the traumas of war and, as a result, struggle with both substance abuse disorder and mental health issues.
In her one-on-one conversations with these veterans, Hoogendoorn hears a common theme.
“I am not worth it.”
“I don’t deserve God’s love . . . his forgiveness . . . to be whole.”
In those moments, Hoogendoorn is grateful for God’s saving grace that is emphasized in her Reformed faith. And she knows that grace connects her to those she is talking to.
“This grace is extended not only to the drug addicts and the alcoholics, or to those who have relapsed four, five, six times, but also to me,” said Hoogendoorn. “Perhaps I’m not sailing on the same boat of brokenness, but I’m certainly sailing on the same sea.”
Hoogendoorn said she often uses a lyric from the band Mumford and Sons to explain this.
“It seems that all my bridges have been burned, but you say ‘That’s exactly how this grace thing works,’” she quoted. “It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with the restart.”
“If I am truly honest, in my own brokenness I’ve also burned all my bridges and I’ve also had to walk the long road home,” Hoogendoorn added. “It is only by God’s grace—higher and deeper and wider that I could ever hope or image—that I am welcomed to start again.”
I See God in Creation
The CRC's Climate Witness Project (CWP) includes over 600 partners from over 100 churches committed to responding to the call to care for creation through worship, education, energy stewardship, and advocacy. Since the project's beginning, CWP churches have taken on numerous creative outreach opportunities.
For instance, several CWP churches in West Michigan recently sent a letter to Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss thanking her for her support of climate change mitigation and offering assistance with creation care efforts. The letter, along with the CWP's growing presence and connections in West Michigan, resulted in CWP being asked to partner with the city to create a baseline of building energy use in the area. CWP's coordinator Steve Mulder was also formally invited to join the City's Energy Advisory Committee, providing a unique opportunity to assist the city with its energy plan.
“Our churches are uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of creation care, and CWP is designed to support congregations as they step up and take on new creation care initiatives,” said Kris VanEngen, coordinator of the Climate Witness Project.
Lindsay Mouw, a member of Central Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa, is a regional organizer for CWP.
“I joined the Climate Witness Project because I believe that my faith demands that I act on climate,” she said.
“Climate change is a social justice issue that affects the thriving of all of creation. As a steward of God’s earth, I am excited to be part of a movement in which the church is stepping up to fight this issue out of love for our Creator and our global neighbors.”
More information about the Climate Witness Project is available online.
I Am Created in God’s Image
More than 400 Muslim, Christian, and Jewish clergy and scholars came together on the eve of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. in February to declare that they will protect and defend religious minorities in their countries. Leaders from the Christian Reformed church were among those who participated in the gathering.
The gathering, called the Alliance of Virtue, was born in January 2016 when more than 350 faith leaders from around the world signed the Marrakesh Declaration in Morocco. The declaration stated that the persecution of religious minorities is contradictory to Islam, and called for an end to acts of terrorism in its name.
February's event provided the opportunity for Muslim leaders from around the world to pledge to protect
Christians in their countries, and for American faith leaders, including more than 50 evangelical pastors, to pledge to engage their congregations in fighting anti-Muslim bigotry.
The gathering made an impression on Cory Willson, professor at Calvin Seminary. "Seldom have I seen such a religiously diverse gathering of men and women coming together to work for peace and protection of religious minorities. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all drew from resources within their own traditions to work for peace interpersonally and structurally.”
Willson’s sentiments were echoed by Richard Killmer (Office of Social Justice). "I was deeply encouraged by the commitment made by Muslim leaders to protect Christians in their communities." Killmer serves on Shoulder to Shoulder, an alliance of Christian and Jewish organizations that stands in solidarity with Muslims in the U.S. The CRC has been a member of Shoulder to Shoulder since 2014.