"There is a renewal of interest in the Reformed faith from people who have grown weary of the subjectivity of the broad evangelical faith," said Pastor Stephen Donovan. "In the first 45 years of our church's existence [Escondido United Reformed Church], we attempted to plant a handful of churches. But of all these churches that were started, only one survived." Donovan said in the past five years, their church has helped start two successful churches. "For [a Reformed church] this is radical." The Reformed tradition may be best known by the name Calvinism. A central belief of Calvinism is that salvation is based on God's choice and an individual's faith is a gift from God. "People's faces light up in response to the [doctrine] of the Reformed faith. They say, 'you mean to tell me it's not what I've done but it's what Christ has done that saves me?'," said Pastor Phil Vos. Pastor Vos said there is no other faith like that of the Reformed tradition. "Other faiths all seem to have a works-based righteousness in them. Heretical movements like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons are all works-based." Vos said works-based faith can be found in many evangelical churches. Vos said the response Reformed Christians should have is a life of obedience based on gratitude.
"Arminian thought is not a biblical position," said Andy Dejager, a congregant. Arminianism is the opposite of the Reformed position of Calvinism. Arminians believe a person can freely choose or reject God's offer of salvation. "If you follow that train of thought, a person chooses Christ and merits their own salvation."
"Arminianism was condemned by the [Calvinist] Council of Dort. It's frightening that so many churches are moving to this Arminian position. This position has a weaker view of God. It also doesn't recognize the fallen state of man," said Quinton Falkenu, a congregant and student from Westminster Seminary. "I'm not saying this to be arrogant or to put other people down, but the Reformed Presbyterian church has the most accurate and complete interpretation of Scripture. Our doctrines were written during the Reformation after Luther and Calvin broke away from the Catholic Church," said Falkenu. These doctrines Falkenu holds to are expressed in the Belgic Confession (1561), Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and Canons of Dort (1619). "Our doctrine's emphasis is on the original sources of Scripture in Greek and Hebrew. These doctrines set us apart from the Evangelical church because we have a historical set of confessions. We have a strong sense of doctrine and church history. We see ourselves in line with generations past, but we don't hold these traditions higher than Scripture," said Falkenu. "This is the error of the Catholic church. Their church says their traditions are equal with the Bible. How can man's words be equal with God's Word?"
"People who join our church are saying, 'I wish someone had shown me this before.' They are hungry for the truth. In their mind, they were not getting enough [from the broad evangelical church]," said Donovan. "We are unabashedly Protestant. We protest against the deformity of the Roman Catholic Church. We represent the children of those who sought to take the Christian church back to its apostolic roots."
Dr. Derke Bergsma, a guest preacher, based his sermon on Zechariah 3:1--9. "Zechariah 3 shows a vision of Satan as the prosecutor of man. In the vision, Joshua is dressed in filthy clothes, which represent his iniquity. Satan accuses Joshua of being unworthy to be the High Priest. If there was no High Priest, no one could lead the people and offer atonement for the people's sin. The bad news is Satan is right in his accusation. But the Lord rebukes Satan because he had chosen Joshua and the remnant to be saved from the fire of hell. God takes off Joshua's filthy clothes and puts the robes of the High Priest and a crown on Joshua's head." Dr. Bergsma stopped to point out that the clothes and God's act demonstrated total depravity and God's election of people, two doctrines of Calvinism. Bergsma said that Jesus was able to remove the sin from these people when he died on the cross.
After service, the congregation dispersed to attend Sunday school classes. Of the roughly 250 people gathered for the 8:30 a.m. service, most stayed to attend classes located throughout the church campus. The campus included the church, classrooms, and Calvin Christian School across the parking lot. Literature from the school reads, "The mission of Calvin Christian School, in cooperation with home and church, is to teach the whole child from a Reformed Biblical perspective, providing children from Christian families with an excellent education for a life of Christ-centered service." Quinton Falkenu said much of the growth of a Reformed church comes from successive generations. "[Reformed families] tend to have large families. Our training and doctrines are passed down through each generation," said Falkenu.
I asked Pastor Donovan what happens to a person after he dies. "When a person dies their body goes into the dirt to await the resurrection. When Jesus returns, their body will reunite with their soul," replied Donovan. "Our new body will be like Jesus' body when he resurrected. We see in scripture that Jesus could drink and eat yet he could pass through walls. Nonbelievers will end up in hell, Hades, Sheol, for eternity
1864 North Broadway, Escondido
Denomination: United Reformed Church
Founded locally: August 26, 1953
Senior pastor: Philip Vos
Congregation size: 726
Staff size: 2 pastors, 2 secretaries
Sunday school enrollment: 150
Annual budget: not disclosed
Weekly giving: $8000
Singles program: yes
Dress: business casual to business
Sunday worship: 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 1/2 hours