Systematic Theology

On being a Reformed, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Name-it-and-claim-it, Transformationalist.

Earl Rodd

June 1993

First of all, there are two competing principles which need to be balanced in order to achieve the goal of a correct, firm, and living faith in the Lord. One is the need to avoid following a man rather than God - this is balanced by the exhortations to hold fast to what we are taught. Let us look at these in detail.

Paul exhorts us to avoid following a man:

I Corinthians 1:10
10. Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's {people,} that there are quarrels among you.
12. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ."
13. Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14. I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15. that no man should say you were baptized in my name.

Just as today, we are prone to associate ourselves with a man's teaching, so in Paul's day, people said they were Paulists or Apolloists or Cephasists.

We all have a desire for unity which I believe is given us by God. This desire to be a part of something leads us to the desire to associate with one or another of the great teachers of history. This applies to men of old such as Calvin or Wesley or modern teachers. The same danger lies in both. When we follow a modern teacher and become a 'whatever-ite', we have the obvious danger than our idol is shown to have feet of clay. We all know people who have placed their lives in the hand of a man, a great preacher, who later turned out to to full of sin. When following men of old, we have somewhat more safety because we have the witness of years with which to judge the man's character. Still, we have the danger, when we are lured into following the man, that we start accepting all parts of his theology just because it is what he said. Then we face the rude shock of discovering an error in one or another parts of his theology. If we have truly followed a man, modern or old, we face a difficult decision when we discover his mortality (errors). We must choose between following our hurt heart and rejecting all we learned from him (even though he offered much truth) or swallowing our pride and allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the self-inflicted betrayal while keeping the truth. Those who follow a man and are then disillusioned because of one problem, and then go on to follow another man become those,

Ephesians 4:14
14. ...children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

The Holy Spirit will guide us. However, if our starting point is not the love of truth, we are in danger,

II Thessalonians 2:10
10. and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

It is obvious that reading, studying, listening to, and being taught by men with God's wisdom is good and proper. Thus the argument above is not an argument for hiding away and refusing to read or listen to or be taught by any other believer. This leads us to the balance of the need to avoid following a man.

The Scripture exhorts us to hold fast to two things:

  1. The head:

    Colossians 2:19
    19. and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

    Revelation 2:13
    13. 'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

    Philippians 2:16
    16. holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

  2. What we have been taught:

    I Corinthians 15:2
    2. by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

    Revelation 3:11
    11. 'I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.

    Revelation 2:25
    25. 'Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.

    I Thessalonians 5:21
    21. But examine everything {carefully}; hold fast to that which is good;

    Titus 1:9
    9. holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

I know that these Scripture refer to the teachings of Paul or the apostles. Still, the principle is, I believe, a correct one that we should know the teachings of great men raised up by God in order than we can hold fast against winds of doctrine.

To me, this is a primary reason to know church history. That is, when we know the history of Christian thought and life, we see:

It is a dangerous 20th century position to go in our own pride thinking that if ideas or theologies or doctrines were not invented in the 20th century, they must not be very good.

It is in balancing these two factors, not following a man but yet being taught so that we can "hold fast to what we are taught" that allows us to continue to grow in wisdom in the Lord and not continue to "go round the mountain" again and again. Some of us are more prone to the "be of Apollos" syndrome and others of us are more prone to ignore history and go out on our own.

Next, I want to try to elaborate on a phrase I have used glibly from time to time but which I mean seriously. I have said that I am a "reformed, anabaptist, pentecostal, name-it-and-claim-it, reconstructionist." (I later changed reconstructionist to transformationalist.)

First, "Reformed". I believe that the reformers (Luther, Calvin, and others) were great men of God. They risked their lives to proclaim the great truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the shadow of a hostile government/church alliance. The great doctrines of salvation by faith, not by works of men or paying indulgences etc. and man's sin nature in contrast with the magnificent grace of God are foundations we are thankful to live with. All of the basics we accept so readily with regard to salvation as a supernatural work of God are doctrines lost to most of the world until the reformers brought them to light. Yes, there were always true believers, often persecuted, but the reformers risked their lives and followed the call of God on their lives to bring these truths to many.

However, the reformers were not divine. I believe I must start with their foundation and then continue to seek truth. For example, Luther never overcame the culture of his day by continuing to believe that the church consists of those who live in an area rather than those who believe.

I use the word "reformed" because I do not believe that I can ignore all the the Scriptures using the word and concept of "elect". Surely, God is sovereign.

One tricky problem in some branches of reformed practice in history is a view of children which I do not accept which says that children need to be taught only that they are sinners, (with too little emphasis that they are creations of God - Ps. 139), and that they cannot be seen to be of the elect until they are of age. This view makes a household of young children a very strange place because it is treated as a household with primarily sinners among a couple of elect believers. This theology in an age of abortion seems to have some scarry mis-uses.

Next "Anabaptist". The original anabaptists were persecuted by the reformers who in some cases did to the anabaptists the very things which were done to them. With regard to doctrine and theology, I am anabaptist because I believe in baptism as a sacrament chosen by the believer. Biblical precedent for believer baptism is over-whelming. Furthermore, the anabaptists seemed to maintain a vibrant faith. They were more successful than the reformers in focusing on the head, that is, Christ and keeping away from purely political means to spread the gospel (i.e. state churches).

Furthermore, I say "anabaptist" because I cannot ignore all of the Scriptures indicating that men make choices to repent and that God has given us a free choice and that God wants a people who chose to worship him. The dilemma in being a strict "elect" person or a strict "free will" person is that you have to ignore some Scripture. Whenever this dilemma arises, it tells me that the truth lies elsewhere. In this case, I believe it lies in the mystery of eternity. Try as we might, our human reasoning is not going to come to terms with how God thinks with regard to foreknowledge, free will, and eternity. Perhaps this is a thing to be understood in glory, and perhaps it is one we will understand as our minds are renewed and taught by the Holy Spirit. Even then, I doubt that our own internal peace about what the Holy Spirit has taught will be able to be taught to the natural mind of others. The the mystery remains. Knowing that Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father", I look a lot at what He did and said. Jesus, as far as I know, did not try to explain this mystery. He did tell many what to do ("repent", "go and sin no more", "heal the sick", "feed the poor", "ask, seek, knock", He told Paul great revelations as He told him how much Paul would suffer for the Gospel).

Anabaptists seem often to have carried through the teaching that children are to be taught only their sin nature and that they cannot choose to repent until they are "of age". We have seen this idea show up in some Menonite textbooks. The theology seems to be inconsistent with Jesus' treatment of real, living children. Remember, Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." I believe that when we allow for "growing in grace", or as is said of Jesus, "grew in wisdom and stature", then we can see that the Holy Spirit can make young children new creations.

Next, "Pentecostal". The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit as the living teacher of truth, and the Holy Spirit as truly God are important parts of the Christian faith.

I Corinthians 2:1
1. And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
2. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
3. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
4. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

Speaking in tongues is not eternal life, but it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. I fear the pride of my own intellect - the gifts of the Holy Spirit are a constant demonstration that without His work, I can do little.

While not strictly a pentecostal teaching, a crucial part of the faith I lump in here is spiritual warfare. Whenever we attempt to explain all goodness, evil, and temptation in terms of God or men, we must come up with some creative non-Biblical explanations. The truth is that as we grow in grace, we have an enemy out to "kill, steal, and destroy", or in the words of the parable of the sower, "steal the word".

Next, "Name-it-and-claim-it". There is so much truth in faith teaching,

Hebrews 11:6
6. And without faith it is impossible to please {Him}, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and {that} He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Faith is at the core of the reformers breakthrough - that eternal life itself comes by faith. It is easy to throw stones at faith teachers, yet Jesus was a faith teacher. The apostles were men of true living faith who knew the intervention of God in their lives. I know that "name-it-and-claim-it" is a poor choice of words because it ignores the first principle of answered prayer, praying according to His will!

I John 5:14
14. And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
15. And if we know that He hears us {in} whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

Still, I use the term to make the point that faith is one of the great joys of Christianity.

Finally, "Transformationalist". Without the truths of the reconstructionists, we are left to flounder with no way to demonstrate the Gospel to the world. I believe that I fail God when I know so little of God's Law and ways that I would not be able to take advantage of opportunities when they arise for influencing the way things are done at work, in the community and in government. We have begun using "transform" rather than "reconstruct" to make the distinction that we seek to transform the world to come into conformity with the will of God rather than to reconstruct some previous period of history. This is consistent with what we understand of the teaching of the so-called reconstructionists.

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit is truly the teacher. Yet God gives us teachers. And why not learn faith from a faith teacher, learn how to be Godly in the world from reconstructionists, learn the way to walk in the power of God from those who do, and learn history from a reformed thinker. The Bible says,

I Corinthians 12:20
20. But now there are many members, but one body.
21. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
22. On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
23. and those {members} of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly {members come to} have more abundant seemliness,
24. whereas our seemly {members} have no need {of it.} But God has {so} composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that {member} which lacked,
25. that there should be no division in the body, but {that} the members should have the same care for one another.