As I am new church planter in Minneapolis, Daniel Hyde's Welcome to a Reformed Church is the first book I reach for on my shelf. Many of our visitors are new to Reformed theology, and Welcome to a Reformed Church is a tool we will use for discipleship in Bible studies and new members classes. Like many of our visitors, I did not grow up in a Reformed church; and while reading Hyde's book, I felt as if he were describing my own pilgrimage. Many of my friends and family are very skeptical of this strange thing called "a Reformed Church," and my hope is that they will read this book and perhaps for the first time begin to understand the history of Reformed Protestantism.
Hyde does not write as an ivory tower theologian. This book is for the dairy farmer who spends his day in the mud and for the busy homemaker who can only get twenty minutes to read quietly at the end of a hectic day. However, Welcome to a Reformed Church is not a fluffy read. On the contrary, it is packed with a well thought out historical defense and explanation of Reformed theology. The book challenges our presuppositions and draws us outside of our narcissistic ways to consider Christ's church through the centuries.
Hyde's thesis is summarized in three basic points. First, Reformed churches are Christian churches. Second, Reformed churches are Protestant churches. Third, Reformed churches are just that’Reformed churches (xxv-xxvi). In order to clear up any misunderstandings people have about Reformed theology, Hyde helpfully explains terms such as "catholic," "Protestant," "evangelical," and "Reformed." Sometimes these terms are thrown around as catch-phrases, but Hyde wisely explains what they truly mean in an effort to show that Reformed churches do not teach novel doctrines.
The book also discusses church history, confessions, Scripture, covenant, justification, sanctification, the church, worship, preaching, and sacraments’thoughtfully explaining each of these important topics from a Reformed perspective. Overall, it is readable and edifying as Hyde shows that Reformed theology engages the head and the heart.
Welcome to a Reformed Church helps us to avoid what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." There are historic and theological roots to what we believe. We are Christian churches who confess the Apostles', Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds. We are Protestant churches who "protest" the false teachings of Rome and uphold the five solas of the Reformation. We are "evangelical" in the historic use of the term as we believe and preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are "reformed according to the word of God," and we confess to believe the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.
As you read Welcome to a Reformed Church, I hope you see that to be creedal and confessional is not to be stuffy and snobbish. Rather, it is to be united in heart, soul, mind, and strength with what the Word of God teaches us about the doctrines of God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, the sacraments, and the last things (14-15). To be Reformed is to be confessional’and to know what we believe, a person must read the creeds and confessions of our churches, which is our summary of the teaching of the Bible.
When it comes to Scripture, Hyde defends sola scriptura ("Scripture alone"): the Scriptures are the final and highest authority in the Christian church in all areas of its faith and life. In fact, the canon created the church and not vice versa as Roman Catholics claim. The canon of Scripture is a great drama of redemption. As Dorothy Sayers once said, "The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man’and the dogma is the drama." From Genesis to Revelation, Christ is the center of this drama. We are often so vain that we think the Bible is all about us, but in reality the Bible is about the person and work of the God-man.
Hyde goes on to explain that it is the concept of covenant that unifies the acts in the greatest drama ever staged (52). The four acts of this drama are creation, rebellion, redemption, and consummation (53). The unity of the covenant of grace is seen in that while there are sixty-six books in the canon, written by forty authors over sixteen centuries, there is one main message (45)’namely, God's plan to redeem a sinful people for himself through Christ.
The central message of the Bible is about how God has condescended to his creatures in Christ to save us from guilt, wrath, and hell. The most profound question we will ever ask is: "How are sinners righteous before a holy God?" (Heidelberg 60). Hyde says this question gets at the heart of what Reformed churches are all about.
Sadly, this doctrine of justification is under attack in many circles today. Anything other than the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is a "different gospel" (Gal. 1:6), which brings with it an eternal anathema (Gal. 1:8-9) (108). In his chapter on justification, Hyde defends the gospel, which is the good news that Christ's active and passive obedience imputed to the sinner is the ground of our justification. Christ's active obedience is his obedience to the law of God in thought, word, and deed from the moment of his conception through the end of his earthly life (82). Christ's passive obedience speaks of his sufferings in his life and death. As J. Gresham Machen said on his deathbed, "Thank God for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."
Hyde grounds his defense of Reformed theology in a proper understanding of guilt, grace, and gratitude. This is the structure of the book of Romans as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. Hyde says, "The law is to be preached in all its terror, while the gospel is to be preached in all its comfort as that which the law cannot do" (Rom. 8:3-4). The Word of God kills and makes alive through the law and the gospel. While our good works have no standing before God for our justification (91), the moral aspect of the law of God is now a guide for us in living a life of gratitude. Reformed churches are certainly not hotbeds of antinomianism!
Hyde encourages his readers to seek to join an assembly of God's people that practices the outward marks of a true church. According to Article 29 of The Belgic Confession, these marks are the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline (105). It is also important that as we gather on the Lord's Day, "we come to worship on God's terms, not ours; that we do in worship what God wants, not what we want" (115). We are to worship according to what God has commanded in his Word, which is called the Regulative Principle of Worship (Heidelberg 96; Belgic 7). As God's people gather together, we "participate in the glorious reality that we have already entered God's rest (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:10) and that we await the experience of the fullness of this rest in eternity in the new heavens and new earth" (Rev. 21-22) (124). We worship as a colony of heaven on earth. The age to come breaks into this present evil age, and our hearts are lifted to heaven by the Holy Spirit as we worship on the Lord's Day.
Another important Reformed distinctive is that the primary way God saves and nourishes his people is through Word and Sacrament. These ordinary means of grace are anything but ordinary as they are God's ordained "media" to sustain and sanctify weary pilgrims (141). Through the preaching of the Word of God, the Spirit converts, convicts, comforts, and challenges his people. Through the use of the Sacraments, we can see, smell, taste, and touch the visible gospel.
Welcome to a Reformed Church helps us see that doctrine leads to discipleship, which then leads to doxology. The more we study the truths of the "faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), the more we will seek to live a life of gratitude to God for the redemption accomplished by Christ and applied to us by the Holy Spirit. The deeper we delve into understanding the history of the church through the creeds and confessions handed down to us, the more we resound in praise to our Triune God.
Hyde concludes his book with two very practical appendices. The first is aimed at answering questions about the practices of Reformed churches, and the second is a basic bibliography to help the reader explore more about Reformed theology. From beginning to end, Welcome to a Reformed Church is a refreshingly clear, concise, and cogent introduction to the beliefs and practices of Reformed churches. I joyfully recommend it as a resource to pass on to visitors, new members, and weary pilgrims who are wandering in the wilderness of this fallen world.