by Steve Jolley & Ryan Wassel
Did you know that Santa Barbara Community Church is a “Reformed” church and stands in the Reformed tradition? Do you wonder what that means for SBCC’s Bible teaching, for her understanding of worship, and for her theology? Have you ever had questions about the “five points of Calvinism?” When we say SBCC is “Reformed,” how does that relate to being “evangelicals?” Maybe you could care less about these questions and have already decided to skip to another Community News article! Don’t do it. Keep reading.
For the next 14 months, (yes, we are well planned), Ryan Wassell and Steve Jolley will be writing a series ofCommunity News articles exploring Reformed theology and its implications for our church. Since the last Sunday in October is “Reformation Sunday,” it seems natural to begin this series in this month’s Community News.
The sixteenth-century Reformers were not attempting to create a new religion or to start their own novel brand of Christian faith. They were seeking renovation, not innovation; wanting reformation, not revolution, believing that the Catholic church of its day had strayed far from Biblical faith. This is why Reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther relied upon and quoted the Church Fathers so frequently. They knew the church did not begin in the sixteenth-century. The Reformers envisioned a continuing reformation as successive generations of Christians passed on the apostolic tradition to the next generation. The work of reformation was never complete. The church, they believed, is called to be semper reformanda, or “always reforming.” The Reformation was essentially a revival that had as its goal the renewal of Biblical faith.
Every church reflects its own traditions along with its surrounding culture. Santa Barbara Community Church is no different. While SBCC is Reformed in its theological convictions, we also stand in the Free church tradition, which means we are not connected to a denominational structure. (See below on the Baptist General Conference) Living in a particular culture and geographic setting, we are attempting to live out our faith in a very “hip” and beautiful beach town. Not a bad place to be a disciple of Jesus. Santa Barbara is a long way from Calvin’s Geneva or Luther’s Wittenberg. Were John Calvin to come to a Sunday service at SBCC he would probably be shocked at much of our worship style which reflects our moment in history and particular cultural setting. At the same time, he would be pleased to see a church that is committed to the Scriptures, the sovereignty of God in all things and salvation by grace.
The term “evangelical” became widely used during the Reformation. Protestants were evangelicals and evangelicals were Protestants. The two terms are essentially synonyms. While the name evangelical was applied to many different groups, and eventually to denominations, it spoke of a dual commitment all of these groups shared. First, was a trust in the authority of the Bible. Second, was a belief that salvation was received by faith in God’s free gift of grace found in the cross of Jesus.
Next month in “Re-forming the Reformation 0.2”, we will discuss the Reformers commitment to sola gratia: salvation by grace alone.
Addendum: What is the Baptist General Conference?
Santa Barbara Community Church is a part of an association of churches called the Baptist General Conference. The BGC also goes by the missional name, Converge. People are often confused over the difference between a denomination and an association of churches. A denomination usually has some measure of centralized authority over its churches. The level of authority varies among various denominations. In some organizational structures, the denomination owns the church property, appoints its pastors and directs many of the affairs of the church. The BGC is not a denomination, but rather is a voluntary association of churches who are joined together for missions, church planting, mutual support, and encouragement. There is no centralized authority exercised over the participating churches. Baptist churches are known for two central commitments, First, they assert the autonomy (freedom) of the local church. (Some have quipped that trying to organize Baptists is like trying to herd cats!) Secondly, they are committed to the believer’s baptism.