“The Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the ministry of the Word and sacraments. He so esteems the authority of the church that when it is violated he believes his own [authority] diminished” (Calvin, Institutes, IV.I.10).
The Reformation did not seek merely to recover the gospel, but to recover the true gospel church. Therefore, there’s far more to Calvinism than TULIP and far more to being “Reformed” than embracing/defending the doctrine of election. Being “Reformed” (or at least Calvinist) means loving the local church and all her glory as our spiritual “mother”:
“For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep up under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels” (Ibid., IV.I.4).
There are no true Calvinists but church-loving (which is to say saint-loving) Calvinists. When we join a church we don’t join an abstract set of doctrines, but a sinful-yet-justified people with whom we commit to living out those doctrines (Rom 12.5; Eph 4.25). If God’s grace is sovereign (which it is) then we commit to unleashing it in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives. God’s grace is not sovereign because we argue the point better than our Arminian brothers and sisters. It’s sovereign because it really leads us to repent from sin, believe in Christ, love our Bibles, pray like mad, worship with all our might, love baptism, feast at the Lord’s Table, mourn with our brothers, and rejoice with our sisters.
I’m a committed Calvinist through and through. But our lives are not spiritually stunted because we may be Arminian, but because we love sin too much and Christ too little. I don’t need a better argument; I need a better Savior! Help me to that Savior and I’ll soon learn the sovereignty of God’s grace. Where am I to best learn of this Savior but from the authoritative voice of the Church: a mother who loves me enough to confront, convict, convince and comfort me of God’s grace in Christ!
Ask Calvin to show you a “Reformed Church” (a term that would probably confuse him) and he’ll show you a group of folks who really help one another to greater enjoyment of Jesus through Word, sacrament and discipline.