What is the Reformed Church in the United States?

By  Rev. Frank Walker

THE fact that you are reading this text shows that you have some curiosity regarding the Reformed Church. Perhaps you are looking for a new church and want to see what we have to offer. Maybe you are just curious about the meaning of the word reformed in our name. Or, possibly, you thought the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) ceased to exist in the 1930s, and are somewhat surprised to find otherwise. In any case, we hope to answer your questions.

BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY

The most important thing you should know about the RCUS is that we base our teaching and practice solely upon the Bible, which we believe to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God. In fact, the word Reformed in our name means exactly that; it refers to the sixteenth century Reformation, when God raised up many great men within the church to restore it to Biblical Christianity. Among the reformers were Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and many others. Without any intention of boasting, we say that we follow in their footsteps.

For us it is a simple matter of fact that the Bible is God’s Word, for this is what the Bible says about itself. Every ‘Thus saith the Lord’ shouts divine inspiration, but the following verses are unmistakable:

Isa. 40:8. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

John 17:17. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

2 Tim. 3:16, 17. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

And 2 Pet. 1:20, 21. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private origin, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Because the The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession of Faith and the The Canons of Dort accurately summarizes the teachings of Scripture, we have adopted them as our confessional standards.

THE GLORY OF GOD

In our day, many churches claim to preach the Bible. The sad fact is that few really do. Man-centered theology (Humanism) has too often replaced God’s glory. But instead of asking, How can God best serve me? our church asks, How can I best serve my God?

Prior to the 1930s and 40s, the RCUS was one of the largest denominations in the United States. Today we are one of the smallest. At that time, most RCUS congregations merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America and, by doing so, compromised our Reformed heritage. Though the world holds large, unbelieving churches in high regard, we do not believe that such churches honor God or his Word. This why a handful of churches, mostly from the Dakotas, refused to participate in the merger; these, plus others that have since joined, constitute the RCUS of today.

Although it has been more than half a century since the mergers began, our commitment to the truth of the Scriptures is just as firm as ever. But our commitment to inspired truth is not the only way that we glorify God. We also glorify him by living lives of thankful obedience, by worshiping him as he has taught us in Scripture, by fellowshiping with each other in Christ’s love, by properly celebrating Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by exercising loving discipline toward any of our members who may stray.

Being the sinners that we are, our attempts to glorify the Lord are always imperfect; yet, this is our goal in life. The apostle Paul wrote, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

THE LORD—AUTHOR OF SALVATION

Because twentieth century thinking stresses the value and dignity of man, it is often assumed that man is the author of his own salvation. God sent his Son to make salvation possible for anyone who wants it, but it is man’s prerogative to choose or not to choose.

Such theology appeals to the pride of man, but it is not Biblical. To the contrary, the Bible teaches that man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), that he has done and can do nothing that merits God’s favor (Isa. 64:6), and that man’s depravity is the result of Adam’s fall (Rom. 5:12-19). Thus, there can be no truth in the idea that man saves himself. To the contrary, the Lord said through Isaiah the prophet, I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior (Isa. 43:11). Likewise, Jesus said, No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44); and later in the same chapter, Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father (v. 65). Even the ability to believe that God sent his Son, not to make salvation possible for all men, but to procure complete salvation for those whom God chose to eternal life (Mark 10:45) must come from God himself (Eph. 2:8). The Triune God works together for the salvation of the lost (1 Pet. 1:2).

May the great name of God be forever praised!

CHRIST IS HEAD OF HIS CHURCH

Since the church belongs to Christ and he is its Head, it must be governed according to his will, that is, by the precepts of the Bible. Christ never commissioned a Pope to rule as vicar in his place. In fact, Peter, whom many claim to have been the first Pope, wrote that this kind of church polity is bad (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Neither is the government of independent churches much better; lacking mutual accountability, pastors of these congregations tend to usurp the headship of the church just as much as the Pope.

The type of church government that pleases Christ, which Christ himself commands, is rule by elders who are mutually responsible to each other. In Acts 15, when the church was confronted with a serious question of practice, the elders of the local congregations met as a synod and passed resolutions based on Scriptural precepts which were binding on all congregations. Today we call this type of government Presbyterianism, or Reformed polity.

Not all Presbyterian denominations are pure; not all of them believe the Bible. The unbelief of many has excluded them from the true church. But, even among those Presbyterian denominations that teach and preach sound doctrine, once in a while poor decisions are made. But this cannot be used as a reason for discarding Reformed church polity. For one thing, we must keep in mind that Presbyterianism is the polity Christ commanded; we are not free to change it. Secondly, can we reasonably suppose that independent or episcopal churches are free from such errors?

If you are looking for a church that caters to man’s ego, you won’t be satisfied with the RCUS. If you want a church that doesn’t take the Bible seriously, you ought to look elsewhere. In everything from doctrine to practice, beliefs to worship, we submit to the Bible alone—not because the Bible appeals to our sinful nature, but because the Bible is the Word of God to man—our only hope of eternal life.