Solidly Reformed, Strikingly Small

Here in Brazil the majority of Reformed and conservative pastors have small congregations, from 80 to 120 members. This fact is well known and has often been leveraged as criticism against Reformed doctrine. If Reformed theology is so biblical and good, the thinking goes, why can’t its preachers and defenders convince people? Why do so few attend their churches? And why can’t these churches grow or get many young people to attend their services?

I know Reformed churches in Brazil that are dynamic, growing, evangelistic, missions-minded, and relatively large. But they are exceptions. By “small churches” I’m referring not only to size but also to vision and involvement in evangelism and missions. I have in mind churches that have stayed small for a long time. In some cases, they’re even losing members. This bothers me because it’s happening in a country where millions are becoming “evangelicals,” where there’s significant freedom of speech and religion, and where the soil is fertile and the doors open for gospel proclamation.

Though I am myself a Reformed pastor, I’d like to make six brief observations on this worrisome trend.

1. By rejecting the idea that, in terms of church growth, the numbers don’t say everything, many of us forget they say something. Can we really say it’s okay for a Reformed congregation to grow 1 percent in the last 20 years—a much lower growth rate than the population in Brazil and even its evangelical churches? In a country where evangelicals aren’t persecuted by the state and the opportunities are wide open before us?

2. Equally unfortunate is the attitude that justifies the tiny size with the argument of God’s sovereignty. Clearly, as a Reformed believer I understand it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). But I also believe that before we place any “respectful blame” on him, we should ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Is our church well located? 
  • Is the service warm and inviting? 
  • Has the church developed frequent and consistent efforts to gain new members? 
  • Is preaching aimed directly to convert sinners? 
  • Is it intelligible to any unbeliever who happens to be there? 
  • Are church members aware and ready to use all opportunities—and even create them—to witness to unbelievers? 
  • Is there spirited prayer for the conversion of sinners and church growth? 

I fear many Reformed pastors blame God’s sovereignty before doing their homework.

Why would God want Reformed congregations to be uniquely small, to fail to thrive in a free country where other evangelical churches are growing dramatically? Did God predestine such churches to be doctrinally correct but tiny in size, and the others to grow despite unfaithful theology and methodology? Has he not predestined Reformed pastors to be soul winners, evangelists, church planters, and heralds of the kingdom?

3. Perhaps the problem with many of us conservative pastors is that we aren’t open to changes in our services, attitudes, and postures—however small—in order to show a more friendly face to people. Being warm, inviting, attractive, and interesting isn’t a sin and doesn’t contradict Reformed confessions. Reformed pastors need to think of ways to make their church grow rather than simply rationalizing that “small is beautiful.”

It’s true many evangelical churches grow through the use of questionable strategies and methodologies that attract people with promises of material blessings and healings that cannot be fulfilled. To criticize these churches’ size and point out their theological and methodological errors, however, don’t justify our tiny Reformed churches. What prevents us from laboring with faithful methods to be large churches?

4. What scares me most is the proud way some small-congregation pastors quote Jesus’ teaching that “many are called but few are chosen.” “True believers are few,” they say. “I’d rather have a small church with solid members than a huge, crowded, superficial, and self-serving congregation.” Well, if I had to choose between the two I’d prefer the little one as well. But why must there be a choice between the two? Is it possible to have Reformed churches brimming with people who are there for the right reasons?

5. Reformed pastors generally tend to consider sound doctrine the most important aspect of church life. But in our quest to reinforce certain truths, I fear we give undue attention to others such as biblical spirituality, prayer, and planned evangelism. I believe doctrine should always be evangelistic, and evangelism should always be doctrinal. “Preaching,” as Charles Spurgeon put it, “is theology coming out of lips on fire.”

Some Reformed pastors feel so hamstrung by the doctrine of total depravity that they don’t know how to invite sinners to trust Christ. The ghost of Charles Finney, popularizer of the altar call, haunts and torments them; they reach the end of their message without a clue how to apply it to the lost—lest they give the impression they’re making an altar call. They also fear being too animated lest they look like Pentecostals. However, I believe if Reformed preachers looked more human, natural, and comfortable in the pulpit, they’d elicit greater interest.

6. I think, finally, that in reacting against the excesses of Pentecostalism, many Reformed pastors are fearful of praying too much and seeking great spiritual revival in their churches.

I have no easy solutions for the ecclesiastical dwarfism of Reformed congregations. However, I do believe we need genuine spiritual brokenness among pastors—to humble ourselves before God, to probe our lives and ministries, to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and to desire God’s glory above all else.

* * * * * * * * * *

Editors’ Note: Lopes will be leading a workshop on “Why the World Needs the Gospel” at The Gospel Coalition 2013 Missions Conference on Sunday, April 7. Additionally, there will be a special gathering of leaders and workers from Brazil on Monday, April 8, at the National Conference. This event will be hosted by Bill Walsh, TGC director of international outreach, and Rick Denham, executive director of Editora FIEL. If you’re from Brazil or engaged in ministry there, we invite you to join us for an informal time of encouragement and networking. We will meet at 9 p.m. in Suwannee Rooms 18-21. You can still register for this rapidly approaching five-day event. All main sessions will be translated into Portuguese. We’ll see you in Orlando!


  • Timothy Durey

    I think I understand the author’s intent in trying to help people see that growth is a seemingly natural byproduct of God’s Word, but I also wonder about his argument on God’s sovereignty.

    In my wrestling through this topic, I believe more now than ever that that there are good big churches and good small churches. And, there are bad big churches and bad small churches. Instead of talking about church size and then calling leaders to see their sinful pride in their smallness (which smallness is not a sin, per se), maybe we simply need to focus on what we ought to be doing and call people to see if they’re fulfilling the Scriptural mandates. Then, by making those statements, one could make applications like: “Are you merely wanting more people? Could it be that your large numbers aren’t a blessing, but a curse.” Or, “Do you have a genuine concern for evangelism? Is your church experiencing numerical growth through new converts at all or are you stagnant in your numbers? Could it be that your small church has become ingrown?”

    At the same time, when an argument takes this form, we can also rightly encourage the good small and good large churches by reminding them that God is sovereign over His church. He will build it as He sees fit. He ordains small and large for His glory.

    Just my two cents, and I know that’s not a lot. I addition, I want to say thank you to the author for writing this piece. We need good, fruitful dialogue on this. And, our hearts need to be confronted in the way he confronts us. Great things to be praying through and asking for God’s wisdom to discern where we are being sinful.

  • Bob Brownson

    This very condition of many Reformed churches has been the topic of concern, discussion, contention, disagreement and sadly division. Being a Reformed church should not be observed as “elitist” or exclusionary by the local society surrounding that church. In the real world of maintaining a church as a healthy organization there is always a delicate balance of having enough members to be viable and not becoming a social club where there are never any fiscal concerns. I cannot believe that it serves God to allow attrition of any sort to simply kill a church, Reformed or other. And no, my concern is not just the finances. If we believe that time on Earth is measured and eternity is beyond, then the obligation to spread the Gospel locally and to the ends of the Earth is clear. As in Point 4 above, we cannot or should not simply say to ourselves that all is well, we are in and those who are supposed to be here will somehow find us, no need to concern ourselves. Every church has the opportunity and the mandate to prayerfully and enthusiastically assess the spiritual needs of the local surrounding population and aggressively meet those needs.

  • Kyle Howard

    Thanks for the article brother, I think your last point is actually the most pertinent of the issues you’ve discussed. I also believe it kind of hearkens back to all of the other issues you discussed, as well. Wether you are a cessationist or not (I am not Pentecostal), I believe that Pentecostalism was the first of a third wave of Reformation to hit the church. The first reformation was doctrinal. The second reformation was ecclesiological (baptistic), and the third (beginning with puritanism) dealt with vibrancy in the common Christian life. I believe that all three elements are necessary to have a healthy Christian and church life. As we look at church history, we can see examples of what happens when one of the three elements of reformation is missing.

    In the Protestant Reformation, we had doctrinal reformation but still a desperate need of reformation in ecclesiology and the Christian/church life. During the Puritan era, we had another reformation dealing primarily with Christian living and doctrine, however, church ecclesiology was found wanting and the movement didn’t last. Pentecostalism was the first attempt within a reformation movement that has been coined the Charismatic Movement. This movement has sought reformation in the Christian life. However, it focuses primarily on the reality and role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s as well as churches life. Unfortunately, Pentecostalism has been found wanting in both doctrine and polity. However, there has been much progress within the Charismatic movement (the reformed branch). My exhortation to reformed pastors would be to not so quickly dismiss the Charismatic Movement as a whole. Recognize that there was and is a severe lack of spiritual vitality in our churches and The Reformed Charismatic Movement has sought to heal that. I am not saying you must join them, I am simply saying learn from them.

    Now Of course I don’t mean by these thoughts that we must necessarily begin to run up and down our church aisles, speak in tongues, etc. However, most reformed churches claim the Power of The Spirit but have such rigid schedules that what is observed by out-siders is a shallow formalism. We claim we are passionate about the word of God yet out-siders see a monotone lecturer and not a man on fire behind the pulpit. We claim the sovereignty of God, but prayer consists of 3-5 minutes of general formal prayer before service, and that’s all. The primary issue as I see it is that many Reformed pastors have sound Systematic Theology, but they have not yet learned or allowed for their theology of the mind to reach and overflow from their hearts. There is a disconnect between Reformed Doctrine and life. We are stereotyped as being one of the most graceless Christian groups. 

    Reformed Christians have both doctrine and effective polity (for the most part) to safe guard them against excess. If only we were willing to shed the rigid structure, formalism, and intellectualism we are known by in so many of our churches. I truly believe we will see God move more in genuine growth and spiritual health if we are able to do this. We really can learn something from Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement in general. Unfortunately, I think many of us are more concerned with being seen as “charismatic” than being seen as people with a robust theology that is lived out in away that makes us more like Christ and the early church in Acts.

    P.s. I am all for tradition and structure. I am only criticizing strict rigid structure that gives no room for the Spirit to move apart from a man made structure for him.

    Just some thoughts… I’m ready to be rebuked :^)

    • Eugene

      I liked all you wrote, just saying.

  • Stanley Neuhaus

    The notion of God’s sovereignty used as a scapegoat to escape thinking about “why” a church may be small is a point that I feel is understated. In my limited experience it is not simply commonplace, but ubiquitous among the Reformed to dash away all responsibility to actually minister to the culture by blaming God for their inadequate impact on their community. I am happily Reformed, confessional, and enjoy my participation in a very conservative reformed Church, however it is disheartening to me to see the blindness in many of our leaders who willingly hide behind sovereignty to excuse their nominal impact. I don’t believe this means throwing the Trinity Hymnal away or doing away with the liturgy. I do believe it may mean tweaking things to be a bit more transferable to 21st Century people, so getting rid of Elizabethan english and explaining things rather than just doing them may be helpful. Moreover, beyond how we conduct our services but also how we do community needs to be rethought. Christian radio, Christian schools, home schooling, christian business directories, christian clothing, christian music, christian diets, christian health centers, christian counselors, christian colleges, christian art, christian EVERYTHING can only serve to put us in a bubble wherein the majority of Christians have little to no interaction with unbelievers. I know too many reformed bros and sistsers who rarely, if ever, have regular interaction with unbelieving people. How can we hope to see conversions if we aren’t actually in the world? Reformed people not only use God’s sovereignty as a way of avoiding ministry, but we also use our pursuit of righteousness and pursuit to not be worldly as a means to avoid all opportunities for ministry – so we are left ministering only to strangers! This is insanity. If the reformed movement has any hopes to move beyond mere awakening in the ranks of the young people in failing mega-churches into the lives of unbelievers to see them saved, then we must as this author has pointed out, ensure we tweak our approach – not the message, but actually make an effort to reach people.

  • http://@erickdelima Erick Lima

    Hi Nicodemus how are you doing?
    First of all, as a brazilian I feel honored by the picture, thank you.
    Let me tell you a story, a few years ago I watched a sermon(a very legalist one)by a famous preacher. This sermon is famous on youtube, it is called in portuguese, shocking sermon. Well, after that sermon I started, in a very excited way, preaching hard, not to say legalistics, sermons, just like the one I heard(note that I´m criticizing a sermon not a preacher). I in my intimacy with God felt I was not pleasing the Holy Spirit whatsoever. I had no peace on those preachings though the intention was good(Zechariah4:6). This didn´t last long, because it didn´t take me long to understand I wasn´t where God intended me to be and I promptly attended His call to retrace. But in those days, a brother shared a dream that God had given him, that dream was very important to my decision, here’s the dream;
    “He was on a shallow lake(water up to the knees), and he was fishing, but instead of a rod he had a piece of wood, like a baseball bat. With that bat he was hitting the fishes. All of a sudden a Man(representing Jesus)came to him and taught him how to fish, He threw a fishing net to catch the fishes”.
    You see, I grew up on a church that was the type of church that fishes with a piece of wood, it hurts the fish, you can fish like that in your church, but it´s going to be a small church, and your fishes are all going to be hurt, it takes a long time to heal from legalism, in somecases it never heals. But this is reformed churches, most of them are not legalists.
    The reformed churches, they fish with fishing rod. The fishing rod is made to fish, but it is not as effective as the fishing net. You see, it takes a long time for a person to understand all that theology before this person can get saved. Salvation is simple, faster than a burger.
    In Jesus’s Theology, He worried with people’s personal needs.”What is it that you want? Your faith just saved you.” Jesus mastered the art of saving by attending people’s personal needs, no wonder churches that imitate Jesus on this are so effective in saving souls to Christ.

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
    Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

  • Emerson

    I definitely agree with the points the author makes, however, I think there is a substantial dimension of his premise that needs consideration.
    Reformed churches do not exist in contexts absent other Christian churches, and thus people have a choice between various churches. The author assumes that all things are equal, and a lack of growth in many Reformed churches in contexts where other churches appear to be thriving suggests a potential problem with the Reformed churches. Therefore, his list.
    However, it is possible that many Reformed churches do not grow like other churches in the same context precisely because the other churches offer an experience that is much more familiar to their life. In other words, in the market-place of churches, the non-Reformed churches win because they are more accessible.
    It is possible that Reformed churches cannot thrive in this context as long as other churches create a context for a type of Christianity that lacks the robust discipleship Reformed theology demands.
    Who will choose the healthy restaurant when they can eat fast food for less right next door?

  • Rick Owen

    • Invite people to church more frequently.
    • Speak up and share the gospel wherever you go.
    • Practice hospitality.
    • Get involved in social, civic, educational and political groups.

    Here’s another angle, related to our mindset and church practices, which affects our spiritual health and growth:

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  • John

    I reject the presupposition, that reformed churches do not reach out and are not caring and open. The fact is natural man rejects sound doctrine, including God’s sovereignty. Many pay lip service to God being sovereign but the fact remains we like being in control. We claim we are God’s workmanship but we somehow find his workmanship faulty and we know how to improve it.

    It is true you can fill up large buildings if you provide entertainment and sinner centered advice. However, if you are going to preach the whole counsel of God, telling them they are transgressors of their Creator’s law, that he does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, that he does not need anything from us. In fact he gives us life and breath and everything. The time of ignorance is over and God commands (not invites) all people everywhere to repent, because he has established a day in which he will judge them. Their judge will be Jesus and God guaranteed it by raising him from the dead.

    The only way I know that man will accept this is by a divine supernatural act of our sovereign God. He tells us to plant and water and he will give the increase. Yet…yet we always know better–the fruit looks very good–eat and we to can be like God.

    Pastors preach the Word in season and out–salvation is of the Lord–it is of the Lord!

    • curiouser and curiouser

      Your dismissal of the author’s argument is illogical and shows little grace. In rejecting one “presupposition” you have revealed an unwillingness to examine your own presuppositions.

      With regard to your comments on the “fake acceptance” of God’s sovereignty, we must be careful not to confuse sovereignty with fatalism. We are not called to a life of passivity lived through the excuse of God’s sovereignty. The author is in no way belittling God, but rather pointing out how we often can belittle his sovereignty ourselves in our desire to hide behind it.

      In your second paragraph, you say, “it is true you can fill up large buildings if you provide entertainment and sinner centered advice (by which you seem to mean seeker-friendly)”. Nowhere in the article does the author call for “entertainment” to be brought into the service. In addition, churches in which the Gospel is the focus are not seeker-friendly, but are indeed sinner-friendly. What could be more joyful news to the sinner’s ear than the revelation that God does not need anything from him? The sinner has nothing to offer. Christ gives “life and breath and everything”. Nowhere do you mention the importance of the preeminence of grace; rather you seem bent on focusing all on our sinful failures (and breaches of God’s law) without any mention of the savior who has obeyed the law perfectly in our place. This is the message of preaching with an aim to convert sinners (point #2) and refresh the believer.

      In your third paragraph, you accuse the author of inviting Christians to play God, which is a blatant misinterpretation of his point.

      Your closing statement might be in a different circumstance be a joyful exhortation, but following your argument, it falls into the trap of “respectfully blaming God” as the article puts it.

      As the author says, “Being warm, inviting, attractive, and interesting isn’t a sin and doesn’t contradict Reformed confessions.” Churches and their leaders should remember this as they conduct their services, endeavor to preach the Gospel, minister to unbelievers, and even pick music.

      As the author says, ” I do believe we need genuine spiritual brokenness among pastors—to humble ourselves before God, to probe our lives and ministries, to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and to desire God’s glory above all else.”

      We need to question our own presuppositions, humbling ourselves before God, probing our lives and ministries, before we thoughtlessly reject this response to a relevant issue.

    • DML

      I “get” the article as I am a member of a small (and shrinking) Reformed church. Sadly, your response is one I would not be surprised to hear from one my church’s pastors, and yet they are the ones I hope would read it with thoughtful consideration. While I am not accusing you of using it as an excuse, many Pastors would use your quote “Pastors preach the Word in season and out–salvation is of the Lord–it is of the Lord!” to excuse the poor content, quality or tone of their preaching. We are all called to do our jobs well, mine in the secular world and Pastors in theirs. We should all be humble enough to ask ourselves how we can do our jobs better no matter our calling.

      I think few of us in Reformed churches are seeking entertainment, nor did I see a call in the article for Reformed churches to “provide entertainment”. Finally, being something of a major sinner myself, I am not sure some “sinner centered advice” might be helpful for me if it were done in a biblical manner and with some grace. Salvation is of the Lord as thankfully so is Grace.

  • Ricardo B. Marques

    Excellent text, Rev. Augustus Nicodemus.

    I was reborn in Jesus Christ in a very small Baptist church (there were fewer than 50 people), and I witnessed all the changes that have transformed this church in a community of about 4000 people, today. I know, in my own experience, the causes and consequences – good and bad – of a small church and the vision and practice that usually lead to this (but we need to consider that a church is not always small because its members are doing something wrong), and I know the causes and consequences – good and bad – of a large church as well as the vision and practice that often characterize it.

    There was not any kind of “Pentecostalization” of our church, or contamination with speeches of prosperity and / or fund raising. There was, rather, a lot of love, commitment, empathy, evangelism and dynamism. However, I must also confess that many points that I think are precious and necessary for a Christian community were lost in the process, and that today it has made me rethink this current model – as I was forced at the time to rethink the model we had before the current one.

    Finally, you should know better than I, there are positives and negatives, both in small churches and in large churches, as well as a diversity of views and types of small churches, and types and visions of large churches. What needs to happen is to seek in prayer and sincerity of purpose, what is best for the Kingdom of God, His Will, and for the salvation of souls, not for human preferences and convenience…

    Thank you for your words and for reflection.

  • Preston

    I appreciate Stanley Neuhaus and Emerson’s comments. Challenging thoughts throughout the entire article.

    These 2 points of application in #2 concern me from the author.
    •Is preaching aimed directly to convert sinners?
    •Is it intelligible to any unbeliever who happens to be there?

    My question concerning this (A.Nicodemus): Is the local church to gear itself for attracting unbelievers? Are we to abandon equiping and building up the saints ‘for the work of ministry’ in order to attract unbelievers who do not have the Spirit of God which gives the ability to understand the things of God? This seems to be the fad of many churches and begs the questions of spiritual maturity and discipleship. Is the Corporate worship service to be evangelistic centered? If so, then how should communion be applied? It seems when the pulpit becomes the evangelism tool that the members are then sent out to invite people to church to “experience” thier worship.

    Thanks for pushing where it hurts

    • Stanley Neuhaus

      The questions you pose are helpful. I am convinced that much of the present day inflexibility that exists in Reformed circles is simply an over-reaction to Seeker Sensitivity, Finneyism, and Emergent Contextualization. We have seen the attempts of many Churches go so far into considering the lost that they lose the identity, purpose, and mission of the Church. Luther said it best: (I’m summarizing here), orthodoxy is like a slipper saddle; when you see your on one side in an attempt to get on the saddle we slip off on to the other side. Very simply many reformed people in the name of God’s Sovereignty and “Just preach the Bible” have used “faithfulness” as something to hide their lack of passion to reach people in inudulging their paralyzing fears of being like those Emergent Seeker Sensitive folks. Anytime we develope doctrine or method in response to error, as opposed to exegesis from Scripture, we are destined to the opposite error we oppose. A simple reading of Scripture commends us to see the Church’s primary task as feeding, shepherding, and caring for the Sheep. The penultimate task – not ultimate, but certinaly nominal distinction – is our consideration of the lost. Was not one of Paul’s concerns in the proper use of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 borne out of a desire to not look like drunk fools to the outsider? Yes, the stress on intelligibility and relatability is central to an argument on the exercise of gifts for the Church in the presence of unbelievers. This passage alone is sufficient evidence as to why we should be concerned about the outsider’s ability to “get” what’s going on in Church. Much more can be said here, but I’ll digress.

  • JohnM

    As a non-Calvinist and a non-Brazilian let me offer a thought and a question that occured to me, for whatever you decide they’re worth:

    1) If the apparent evangelical growth in Brazil really is only “…through the use of questionable strategies and methodologies that attract people with promises of material blessings and healings that cannot be fulfilled” perhaps that DOES explain the small size of more faithful churches. Perhaps the real growth rate of The Church in Brazil is about 1 percent in 20 years, no matter how many people attend the fun “churches”. Or not, just a thought.

    2) Brazil is a big country. Who exactly is flocking to the pentecostal churches (and not reformed churches)? What is the demographic? Would knowing the answer to that be helpful?

  • the Old Adam

    Whenever someone tells me that their church is “growing like crazy”…I ask them, “what are you doing wrong?”

    The Christian faith has never really been all that popular.

    • Kyle Howard

      Brother, in all love I gotta tell you that is a terrible way to look at the issue. The early church in Acts was doing something wrong? The church in China, Africa, and S. America are doing something wrong? But bless Gof we Americans never get anything wrong so lets judge the rest of rhe global church bu y our position. Brother, the Kingdom of God advances around the world and it so happens that we are living with a famine in our land. Solid churches aren’t small because pastors are doing something right and large because they are doing something wrong. Many churches are small because pulpits are now filled with men on fire preaching a gospel that is a reality to them. There are certain men by the providence of God who will be Isaiah’s and Jeremiahs who will not see much growth in their ministry but that is not the norm for Christ’s church. The bible ad history shows a vibrant christianity that explodes on scenes and converts the multitudes. Whitfield said the greatest judgement that God can poor out on a nation is to ake away their spiritual leaders. The bad preaching and doctrine that saturates this land is a judgement and faithful men are having to pastor through it. That does not mean we should judge the world by our situation. The gospel is thriving everywhere else. However, as this article points out, why is it not thriving in the reformed churches abroad? What blind spot is the reformed church operating with. Us reformed guys are not the only ones with the gospel.

      Love you brother

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  • John

    Kyle, peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to you.

    I can’t speak for others but, I do not see the question as big or small churches. The point I believe is that our brother in Brazil made some sweeping statements (and I have read many others on this site) that indicts Reformed churches of:

    Not being warm and inviting

    Not making efforts to gain new members (evangelizing?)

    What he feels is bad preaching (is the brother talking about sound preaching of Christ’s word or a pastor jumping around like a chicken with its head cut off?)

    That our members do not share the gospel (evangelizing?)

    We do not pray for conversion of sinners and church growth (I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that we are to convert sinners or does the brother mean to make disciples)

    That we are too rigid in our doctrine (Scripture tell us in many places to, protect your doctrine and keep it pure)

    Etc…etc…ad nauseam.

    If one is going to be an indicter of other brothers (many of whom you do not know) I think you need to have more evidence than just the size of a church. Especially if you are comparing their Reformed churches to other confessions or churches with no confessions.

    I also don’t think it is a good idea to do it by telling brothers to stop giving all the glory to God. God said he will not share his glory with anyone.

    If one makes a statement that other brothers are just lazy, and all they do is cover it up by blaming it on God’s sovereignty, that is a bold indictment in my opinion.

    Also there is nothing new here, just a rehash of the old saws against Reformed churches. We had large Reformed churches in the USA and where are they now? What gospel do they preach now? To be sure they are shrinking but they still dwarf all the Reformed churches in the USA put together. I believe the PCUSA alone has around 2.6 million members and all the churches that make up NAPARC might add up to 500,000 members. Should we conclude from this that we should be more like the mainline churches? I hope your answer is no.

    I guess this is just a long way of saying, I would not feel comfortable dragging out old ad hominem attacks against other Reformed folks without more specific evidence to back up my charges. I pray that this is taken with the love in which I share it.

    The peace and grace of Christ be with you.

    • Kyle Howard

      Thank you so much for responding brother. I am Reformed, confessional, and baptistic and so I agree with you regarding the importance of doctrine. As a ethnically diverse reformed christian however I understand a lot of what the author may be getting at. I am mixed with chinese, jamaican, African American, Native American, and White. I am very familiar with the reformed church, which is predominately made up of my Caucasian brothers, and their methodology to church life. There is a certain methodology that is practiced amongst the majority of “white” reformed churches that is exported to other countries. I am not talking about doctrine I am talking about western congregational traditions that many white reformed churches prop up like doctrine. These are exported along with sound doctrine and because many of these churches refuse to contextualize to their new over seas context the born again christians are flocking to other denominations such as Pentecostalism, which more suits their ethnic tastes.

      For example, most South Americans love to dance and wave hands and sing with joy in congregational worship. The Reformed churches that are planted in these regions many times try to enforce a more rigid formal form of worship upon an energetic people group and the people group kicks against it. Instead of having to conform to western reformed church ideals they simply go to Pentecostal churches to worship. Many are there not because of doctrine but rather because they feel more comfortable worshiping there and they prefer a preacher who shows more passion when preaching (not hootin and hollering, just simply passion). Unfortunately the Pentecostal churches offer another extreme but because many are new converts they are willing to compromise a certain level of doctrine for the sake of feeling comfortable in congregational worship. This is also why Reformed Baptists typically have an easier time than Presbyterians in international church planting. Baptists are generally not as stiff (no offense to my Presbyterian brothers) as the Presbyterians. I have ministered to and discussed this issue with many Hispanics as well as people of Asian decent. The statistics support what I have heard from the mouths of these people. Many of the hispanics, Brazillians, and other groups I have talked to about this issue have all said this same thing. Many of them are a lot more Reformed than they all Pentecostal. They fit more in line with Wayne Grudem than they do with traditional Pentecostal doctrine. Unfortunately, others due eventually get indoctrinated into Pentecostalism. The Reformed Church loses its chance do to unwillingness to contextualize.

      On another note, you cannot make a disciple until a person is converted. We are clearly called to preach the Gospel to every person. As they are converted we are to continue the process by making them disciples. This may just be semantics but how do you define evangelism. Are you only interested in discipling those who have made a profession of faith or do you concern yourself with Evangelistic preaching? I don’t think this is a stretch but you seemed to take issue with the idea that we are to seek to share the gospel with sinners in anticipation of them being converted by the Spirit.

      Also, as a reformed confessional believer, we are all aware of the stereotypes. However, I also didn’t grow up in the church at all. I came to the church without any Christian background and so as a person who has been outside the reformed church and came into it by choice- A lot of those stereo-types have a tendency to be true. Calvinism has led many churches to hyper-calvinism. Not by any means all or most but some. Your statement on evangelism however had a hint of hyper-calvinism in it which is why I wanted to ask you what you meant about not seeking conversions but rather only discipleship.

      FInally brother, I don’t believe the writer of the article said anything that was inaccurate. This is a blog article and so it is not intended to be comprehensive. He assumed that he was writing to people who understand reformed theology as well as the issues the reformed church is facing regarding growth. He is then simply offering some ideas to why he believes this may be the case. I happen to think his ideas are interesting (see my previous post on Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement). Especially the tendency reformed people tend to have towards Pentecostalism. Reformed preachers love to criticize Pentecostal preachers for being pulpiteers and over dramatic. Many of them may be but some of them may just be more passionate about God and what he has done through the cross than we are. Some of them may just be more passionate about the word of God then many reformed guys who have turned it into nothing more than a textbook. I am currently at one of the worlds largest Reformed Southern Baptist Seminaries and I have to say that I know some Pentecostal Preachers who I would rather have in my pulpit than some Phd students here. It’s easier to tame the flame of a man whose burning than to ignite a fire in a man who has lost his spark. This isn’t an indictment on all reformed guys at all! just some. I’m just saying…

      P.s. By Contextualization I am not referring to any alteration of the message itself at all. Rather, adjusting methodology to one that is more suitable to conditions so that the gospel is the only offense and the scriptures are the only measuring rod for church life.

  • John

    Kyle thank you for your well reasoned reply with which I say amen to many of your points. I also share a mixed ethic heritage and therefore, think stereotypes and caricatures should be avoided.

    I agree with you that wherever churches are planted they should not have to conform to someone’s extra biblical form of worship. But in the US context it makes mixed congregations problematic and I have no answer for that. I’m still looking for how to keep mixed generations worshiping together (the music thing). I’m guessing you are quite a bit younger than me so we would probably differ on music style. I have seen churches torn apart over such things. However I digress.

    Let me clear up a few things I did not communicate well. I’m am not a hyper-calvinist which I reject as being any kind of Calvinism. I think John Calvin would feel it was an insult. I interact with nonChristians on a regular basis and have shared the gospel with thousands however, I don’t take credit for converting any of them. Jesus said that is what the Holy Spirit does (you would think a man with the name Nicodemus would get that one). I also agree with Charles Spurgeon when he said the elect do not have a yellow stripe down their back so we freely offer the gospel to everybody. That is all I meant when I said the Bible does not give man the responsibility for converting sinners.

    I believe the super apostles accused Paul of lacking passion and oratory skills. So I wouldn’t use that as a standard for faith or a good preacher. Also I don’t think having those skills shows a lack of faith or a bad preacher either. I won’t give you my opinion of Phd’s. Other than I did not run into many in the places I traveled.

    I have traveled to many countries, including those in Central and South America, sharing the gospel as much as I could. So I know many a faithful brother that have toiled faithfully in small and large churches because that is where God put them. As you say you can always find some churches that are like the author of the blog claims but that is a far cry from from making his indictment true or accurate. I can always find some _________. You fill in the blank. However, that does not make it true of the vast majority of Reformed churches out there.

    Well brother it is getting late here and as I said I am not a spring chicken anymore. I hope this helps clear up somethings you may have misunderstood about me.

    May God bless your studies at seminary and bring you much fruit.

  • carlos

    A text that expresses the reality of the church and it shows some accommodation for those who think that being small is spiritual and blessed. Another side, other movements that value growth. Where is the balance? In faithfulness to God. To know the time and motivation divine. We must understand that preaching bears fruit. Word bears fruit. So we preach and meet the people always. People fed, knowing the Word of God, will always have more hunger and thirst. Where will fetch? In church. So how good food center, the church tends to grow, knowing that there boma find food. Moreover, we hope that every day God adds those who will believe. For every convenience.

  • Michael Snow

    “5. Reformed pastors generally tend to consider sound doctrine the most important aspect of church life.”
    This can lead to the loss that Spurgeon saw clearly: “…it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept”**

  • Haydee Torres

    I read this article with an open mind and heart. I’m a Pentecostal and my church is orderly and has sound doctrine also, but we don’t hesitate to pray for the sick and do make altar calls. We do need to make an open profession of faith. Jesus called men to repentance as well as the disciples did. In being too intellectual, you lose the spirituality. It’s all by faith, in the Lord and in HIS WORD! There’s nothing wrong with being a little animated and fervent for the Lord! People are being saved and moved by the Holy Spirit. The proof is in the people that have been saved and transformed. Many of these people have been liberated from addictions and lives of crimes, etc. For those that say that it’s only a passing thing, it isn’t. I know Pastors and ministers that have truly been delivered and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Alessandro de Lucena Alves

    Parabéns Pr. Augustus Nicodemus pela retratação da situação da igreja reformada em solo brasileiro. Então, diante deste artigo, devemos respondê-lo com oração e trabalho em prol do Reino de Deus. Acredito que todos nós, conservadores, vivenciaremos o avivamento tão esperado na nossa “Pátria Amada” quando coletivamente experimentarmos a experiência de negar-se a si mesmo, de tomar a cruz, de seguir a Jesus e de escolher a Sua companhia (Mateus 16.24).

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