On “Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy” by Pastor Jack W. Sawyer

Jul 29th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Jack W. Sawyer

Recently I had the pleasure of coming across an article entitled “Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy” on Ordained Servant, a Journal published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I was a member of this denomination for six years, and the title immediately caught my attention. Pastor Jack W. Sawyer’s article can be read here.

So many times on Called to Communion we have rightly spoken to the areas in which we differ from our Reformed Brethren, from which we have in a sacramental sense have broken the ties which have bound us. The issues that divide us are important, that is true. But in so many ways, as former Reformed Christians who have become Catholics, we acknowledge the light and goodness, the beauty and truth, that is found within the Reformed Protestant circles from which we left. And so with the spirit of thankfulness for what we still hold in common with Reformed Believers, I want to focus on Pastor Sawyer’s article on Christ’s Test of our Orthodoxy.

He introduces his position on what Christ’s test for our Orthodoxy is by discussing what may be obvious tests of orthodoxy, but moves to the words of Our Lord Himself. In what is not too surprising for those who know the texts of the Gospels in our heads, he moves to a point which may be surprising to our experience in our own hearts. By discussing the words of Christ which speak of people knowing we are His disciples by our love for one another, he makes this comment:

Here Jesus declares that observable love between believers is to be the hallmark of the Christian community. It is to be considered the definitive mark of genuine Christianity, a certifying badge of discipleship. When outsiders observe a Christian community, according to Jesus, they are to see a beautiful, Christ-like love evidenced in the various relationships. Thus, as they observe the Christian community’s marriages, families, friendships, or gatherings, this signature mark is to stand out as the prominent atmosphere of all the relational exchanges.

After stating the hallmark of Christian life and community, Pastor Sawyer moves to his conclusion in the article with some words of practical advice. How do we reflect the heart of Christ in a world of fractured Christians? His suggestions are insightful, and in my estimation, reflect the heart of a God who holds Love to be preeminent, of a God who is Love Himself.

Similarly, I wonder what might become of a session’s ministry if it maintained a deliberate record of, at least, remaining sincerely concerned and cordial to the most challenging people that leave its church? What if these elders saw every such circumstance as a providential opportunity to demonstrate Christ-like, cross-like love toward such sheep? What if this session firmly held its doctrinal convictions—amid all such encounters—yet it also determined that agreeing to disagree, wisely and lovingly, was also just as central a matter of Christian orthodoxy?

When I read these words I could not help but think of my own life in leaving the OPC for the PCA, which was a story in itself, and the even more “dramatic” change of growing into full communion with the Catholic Church. There have been instances, as he points out, where those who have left the Presbyterian world of the OPC for other places, the Catholic Church not being the only destination. I do not want to rehash words that have been said to me and other former Calvinists, for they bring up painful moments. And truly, there have been and there will be cases of Catholics who have not continued to love those who have left the fold of the Catholic Church for Reformed Christianity and other places. There have been instances where calls for faithfulness verge on not following Our Lord’s words to forgive even seventy times seven in a day. And clearly relativism is not the solution. But the point is that Pastor Sawyer and others are making strong calls to keep loving one another after differences have been shared, to keep reaching out, even when roads diverge into different Christian communions. How can we learn from these mistakes of a lack of love for our former homes? How can we not cease to make a Call to Communion? He concludes with these words, which speak so well for themselves. As I read those words, I used them for my own spiritual reflection on my spiritual health. It reminded me of how much I am still thankful to God for my time as a Presbyterian, because the words that he wrote ring true in my ears, even to this very day.

In conclusion, all of us are remembered for something, and leaving spiritual legacy is something we do—whether good or bad, whether we like it or not. Is your orthodoxy of community as pure as your orthodoxy of doctrine? What are you currently well known for, and what do you want to be remembered for in the future? What is your church currently well known for, and what do you want it to be noted for in the future? Jesus’s will is crystal clear: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Amen, Pastor Sawyer. Amen.

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  1. I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters, in my two former communities (and all of the non-Calvinist Protestants brothers and sisters in the community before those two), so, so much. I miss them keenly. I also trust that it is their understanding of “church discipline,” done out of love for my eternal soul, which keeps many of them in a place where they will barely speak to me, other than, in some cases, to call me “back to the (Protestant, Lutheran/Reformed) Gospel.” I hold no ill will towards them. I think of many of them, fondly, on a daily basis (and still hope to find such caring friends in daily, physical life in my Catholic circles…).

    I continue to be very, very grateful for so much that I learned in those Protestant communities about the importance of reading/studying the Bible and regularly practicng personal prayer, the urgency of evangelism, the Biblical call for Christians to practice hospitality, and the need for genuine Christian fellowship and accountability. I would not be half of the Christian that I am today if not for my years in Protestant communities. Indeed, even though many of my old friends would not understand this, they have helped me to be a better Catholic, in line with the Church’s call for all Catholics to become “saints” (in the formal sense; of course, the Bible calls all Christians “saints.”). I will always be grateful for my Reformed past, and I hope and pray for the day when many of those friendships may be restored– hopefully, here in this life, but if not, then, I pray, by God’s grace, in Purgatory and/or Heaven.

  2. This reminds me of something I wrote on John 13:34-35 a while back. The fact is that the love Christians have for one another in a denominational world is really not that remarkable.

    So if that is not what this passage means then what does it mean? What could this love look like. There are about 2,300,000,000 Christians in the world. How can we love them in a way that will convince people that it must come from Jesus? The average person can’t sustain warm feeling of affection for more than 40 people. Jesus must be talking about something that would scale up bigger than that. Remember the context of the crucifixion. So the willingness to suffer and die for each other is in view. Jn 13:1 talks about Jesus loving His own until the end. How do we love our own until the end?

    The concept only makes sense in the context of a visible church. We can’t love individuals but we can love a visible community. We can do it in a way that impresses people. The early church did it. People were willing to die for the church. Even though they have little in common with many of the people there. They were willing to give accept the most horrible deaths not because Jesus demanded it as a condition of salvation but because their suffering and death would gain a spiritual benefit for others. This inspired people to become Christian themselves. So much so that Tertullian wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.


  3. That was sincere and eloquently spoken(written), Dr. Deane. I also am thankful for those in my former Protestant faith that taught me from my earliest childhood memories of a loving God, his sacred scriptures. Just as importantly, they taught me that jlike a loving father and mother expects a certain behavior from their children, so does a loving Heavenly Father. I have wonderful memories of evening prayer services and singing hymns I still remember by heart.

    I was never Presbyterian and the first I knew of Calvinism was from my brother in law. I believe at that time he was PCA, but something happened and their church left. All I remember now is his church writing to someone in the PCA – Auburn Avenune in Louisiana – “May God have mercy on your souls!”
    They obviously didn’t leave on good terms but I don’t really remember the particulars.

    However, even though I was never Reformed/ Presbyterian/Calvinist, I DO honestly give thanks to God for that doctrine. With all sincerity, if not for my brother in law and his group in the RPCUS, I would have never found the Catholic faith I cherish more and more everyday.

    The article above was not the way my brother in law, the elders and Pastor of the Reformed Church in the U.S. (or a name or accronym similar) demostrated their Christ like love for others. I wasn’t in a “loving Christ like” frame of mind when I went in search of the “faith handed down once for all the saints”, as my BIL called his Church’s form of “pure Reformed doctrine aka John Calvin”. I realize this is an over simplification for this blog with so many Doctors of Philosphy and theology. However, it just became common sense to me.

    If Calvinism was the faith of the early Christians in practice, church government and discipline, then I was going to be shocked and/or sick. Nothing whatsoever endeared me to Master Calvin…nothing…and I am not even including the portrait in my BIL’s home library that makes him look rather like a character out of a a Charles Dickens novel.

    I kept reading further back from Calvin, Beza, etc, to Zwingli, and Luther and realized that those “reformers didn’t agree with one another and later Calvin didn’t agree with them.

    Common sense told me that if someone shared the Gospel of Christ with me as a woman in pagan Rome, it would have to be wonderful news and it would have to have some sort of emotion or passion for me to risk being a tiki torch for Nero or fed to the lions throughout different emperors and persecutions.

    To be honest, thinking of Calvin’s control in Geneva would make me want to stay pagan! The good news is you may be one of the elect…the bad news is you won’t really know…but if you get caught in sin, such as fornication, etc. as pagans are known to do, we still have to kill you…oh and nevermind that most of us are not Jews, you still are required to keep all 613 laws of the Old Covenant ( as my BIL has admonished me to no end that it IS STILL required).

    If that was the true gospel, it would be gone the way of the Marcionites! That is NOT good news! That is “thanks but no thanks I’ll stick with one of the stone gods in the big temples”.

    How awesome it was to finally realize all along the Church Fathers had known the true Gospel. They loved and believed in it’s beauty and truth so much many were martryed for it.. They gave witness to a true example and understanding of unity in St. Paul’s epistles. How had it been possible all these years to read the Bible over and over and not even take notice of how many times St. Paul and the Apostles writings of Our Lord’s own words in the Gospels were clearly about being ONE in all things. Not dividing and mutating like a cancer cell…in the Body of Christ but growing together as ONE in love as Christ and The Father are One.

    No matter what happened during the Reformation and Counter Reformation – no matter how wicked the Popes or the Church became- no matter that the Reformers couldn’t agree on “one” meaning of the Eucharist from the beginning….Over 2000 years later The Catholic Church is still standing. It’s been through bad, worse and even worse times and it’s been through wonderful times with my beloved Papa JPII. But, it is still standing no matter how much battering it has taken.

    The other Reformers started arguing almost immediately. The plain meaning of scripture should have been more plain if Sola Scriptura was going to work.

    Our Lord said “the gates of hell would not prevail against HIS Church”. He never said it wouldn’t at times look like they were almost prevailing….and yet, there it is as always, in the “Eternal City”….The Roman Catholic Church.

    I don’t know about all Reformed, Presbyterian or Calvinist churches but from what I have seen and heard in my BIL’s “pure Calvinist reformed” church, they don’t get along with those who leave or with those they have left. I am just thankful that when looking for the Church of The Apostles and first Christians there is not a doubt that it is NOT reformed/Calvinist. I thank God by HIS grace I found the truth and I pray that those who sent me on this journey may one day be more open to looking for ONE faith, instead of multiplying.


  4. My heart rather thumped when I saw the photograph at the head of this post. Jack Sawyer was minister of the Hastings Reformed Church (I think it was Hastings – maybe Palmerston North?) here in New Zealand. I only met him a couple of times. The last time I met him – around 1991 or ’92 I think – and he knew that I was very keen on Jim Jordan’s writings, he told me that if I kept on following that track, I would end up a Catholic. I scoffed and told Jack there was no way that would happen.

    Pastor Sawyer turned out to be quite right, and I thank God for it. But it was very good to see his photo – some 20-odd years older :-) – and to read his moving and excellent article.


  5. “The plain meaning of scripture should have been more plain if Sola Scriptura was going to work. ”
    I’m fb’ng that one Terri.

  6. And truly, there have been and there will be cases of Catholics who have not continued to love those who have left the fold of the Catholic Church for Reformed Christianity and other places.

    I’m not so sure about the general veracity of such a statement, as my personal experience (and those of friends I know) are replete with the complete opposite situation.

    One particular example comes to mind wherein a fellow classmate had converted from Catholicism to a non-denominational Protestant sect. Although his family, deeply devout Catholics, were saddened by his having left the Faith; they were, on the other hand, so gladdened by their son having come to such a deepened love of Christianity and his newly-found fervent devotion to Christ.

    The tragic part of the story is how the son, having singularly subscribed to the popularly held Protestant belief that the Catholic Church is apostate, firmly believed that his family were doomed to perish in the fires of Hell should they remain Catholics. Due to this, there were severe heartaches subsequently suffered by his parents because they could not in good conscience leave the Catholic Faith. Following a (mis?)interpretation pertaining to Paul’s prescription in his epistles supposedly instructing genuine Christians not to associate themselves with those who do not truly believe, the parents would scarcely, if ever, catch a glimpse of their son again should they remain apostate — unless they similarly convert to the true Christian faith (i.e., that of his church) as he himself did. The son expressed to his parents then that he would only visit them again if and only if they finally underwent such a conversion themselves.

    I suppose it’s understandably some sort of psychological tactic utilized by the guy to get his parents “saved”. Still, it just goes to show how fellowship between Protestant and Catholics have yet to survive such apparent age-old distortions and anti-Catholic propaganda.

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