Guest post by Charles Vaughn
When I reflect back on my life as a Christian, Paul’s thoughts in this verse come to mind: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he [Jesus] appeared also to me [Paul]” (1 Corinthians 15:8 ESV). I too was late to bloom. I came to the “job” for the same wages as the rest, but right near closing time (i.e. Mt 20:6). Paul at least had some continuity with the Messiah who appeared to him on that road. I, however, was not instructed by a famed teacher of a religious school—I was as gentile as they come. My story had a great mom and dad, but without the religion. I never went to church growing up. I was a mere pagan in America without any sense of anything greater.
Coming to Faith
It was a preaching series through the book of Job and the weekly presentation of the gospel (followed by the alter call) in the midst of some hard life situations that finally converted this stiff-necked rebel. The church was Calvary Chapel and the only Christianly thing I knew. Sure, I went to some youth groups with friends in my teens to meet girls, but I was an adult now, married and with children! We were there for about two months before it was declared of me: “born again.” Amazingly, I really didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that I walked down and said a prayer. Nevertheless, eternal life was assured of me and that the Lord Jesus would be my all in all.
I rapidly consumed the bible from this time forward (but did not notice the well-known “sinner’s prayer” that I had prayed). I was oblivious to this new Christian life. All I wanted was to digest the word of God, which the church helpfully reminded me of, and for that I am thankful. After some time, our family eventually moved. We ended up at another Calvary Chapel, where I got baptized. I also began employment at a non-denominational church in the video and graphics ministry. It was here on staff where I would finally begin to experience some growth in the faith. We had weekly meetings and devotions with prayer time, bible studies, and the occasional retreat. My family began to get “plugged in” to activities, small groups, and serve where needed. My life was good, really good (ode to Nacho Libre).
The Gospel Awakening
After a great renovation project of the sanctuary-now-Worship-Center, the church began to hold large Christian concerts and special events. One such event was the Gospel Tour. Two pastors were coming whom I had not heard of, one of them, Matt Chandler. I began to Google and research – the grand inquisitor that I am. The term “Calvinism” began to appear. I cross referenced this information with some familiar pastors and teachers, mostly affiliated with Calvary Chapel. Key words in the discussion were immediately dismissed: sovereignty, doctrines of grace, TULIP, election, depravity. Free will and man’s ability had been ingrained in my thinking to this point, but I continued to study and search for answers.
The switch occurred when I encountered two new teachers and one familiar name. *Flashback* Years before this upheaval in my thinking, I received a John MacArthur Study Bible from my brother- in-law for Christmas. It was with this copy of the New King James version which I read all 66 books of the Bible for the first time.*
I re-acquainted myself with Dr. MacArthur during my theological searchings, watching some of his preaching and lectures alongside a para-church organization called Ligonier, where I first “met” R. C. Sproul. Lastly, I became familiar with the YouTube channel of James White. He was a stern, no nonsense debater, and when it came to some basics of “TULIP,” he was well learned.
One thing mightily struck me about some of those YouTube videos of Mr. White. He would often point the listener/watcher back to Scripture. (This was contrary to what I heard from certain teachers and pastors in their claims against the dreaded Calvinists.) James would discuss Romans 9, cover the 5 Solas along with five points, but concluded with the exhortation to carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully read the bible – tackle the issues head on in Scripture – and I did. And like the proverbial scales falling from my eyes, I could see it––everywhere! I became fully convinced of what God had revealed in his word. This Calvinism was on to something. The gospel never shined so clearly. In some famous big-screen words: It was true… all of it (ode to Hans Solo).
This Pilgrim’s Progress
I had five points down. Reformation Solas, check. What was next? I continued to read Scripture, but now, in light of Scripture. It was all connected. There is a history of redemption, a history of theology, and a history of the church doing theology. Church history was a new avenue of study now. In our non- denominational, American churchy context, the church throughout the rest of the world over the span of time doesn’t receive much attention. So naturally I began to read some of these Reformed confessions and catechisms along with the Protestant Reformers.
I was finishing up my undergraduate studies and was beginning to wonder about certain “presuppositions” held since my years in Calvary Chapel and the non-denom world. Such big theological words like Ecclesiology, Eschatology, and Sacramentology were under review while I read through volumes of treatises. A piercing question I had was, “What is with these covenants and the theology surrounding them?” Simultaneously, our family began going to a “gospel-centered” Acts 29 church.
While we were at this church, which on paper was an RCA church (Reformed Church of America) affiliated with Acts 29 and pastored by a Baptist commissioned in the RCA (I came to find out later how peculiar this was), I began to take a deeper dive into the Reformed tradition. I can remember thinking at one point, “Wait. You mean there are Christians that baptize their babies, other than Roman Catholics!” Wow, was I in for a surprise! I could not believe that most of the church throughout history included the children of believers, the Christian household, within the life of the church demonstrated by the holy sacrament of baptism. The difference is in how Scripture is read. And as I went back to Scripture, it was all making sense.
After our first year at this church, I began my seminary studies at Westminster in Escondido, California. I went into summer Greek and that first year, “Paedo-curious.” Being absolutely sure of the truth of infant baptism through Reformed covenant theology did not take very long. After a whirlwind of Summer Greek, the Fall opened up with an introduction to Historical Theology and the early church, Reformed hermeneutics and Biblical Theology in the Spring, and by the end of the first year, I was fully convinced of God’s gracious promise to be a God to his people and their children. My deep dive into Reformed Theology continued from this point on baptism specifically, towards the Sacraments in general, and into finer points of the Covenants, the Law/Gospel distinction, and the Trinity’s sovereign rule over a twofold kingdom. I found that the beauty of the Reformed faith, piety, and practice was a holistic approach to all of the Christian life and worship of our triune God (ode to Dr. R. Scott Clark).
The last year and a half of seminary saw Covid and church shake-ups. During this time, I also determined to be a confessional Christian in the Reformed tradition. That entails the ecumenical creeds, the Reformed confessions and catechisms, and a Reformed liturgy. Over time and Covid dwindling, our family has moved from visiting churches, to attending a Presbyterian church (PCA), and to getting involved in the church life and seeking membership. God is so good.
The journey to this point has been a fascinating one. My Christian life started out self-discipled. It continued to be helped along, limping at times, by some faithful men in my life who pointed me to Christ, to be in the Scriptures, and to love my family well. My progress continued by reading the “dead guys” throughout the history of the church, reading the Word of God seriously, and being under the tutelage of devout churchmen and theologians. Coming to the understanding of Reformed Theology has changed my Christian life. I have been blessed. Perhaps your journey is similar? Are you “reforming” as you read Scripture along with the church? There are far too many sources to list here, but they are there. Help and direction is just a click or tweet away these days. The Reformed faith is a beautiful expression of Christian theology and doxology of the triune God of creation, redemption, and consummation. To answer the rhetorical question of J. Gresham Machen, “Isn’t the Reformed faith grand?” – yes, Dr. Machen. Yes, it is.