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What Does 'Reformed' Mean? [Ecumenical Thread]
Banner of Truth ^ | July / August 2013 | Mostyn Roberts

Posted on 07/13/2013 7:14:26 PM PDT by Alex Murphy

You may be an evangelical and be an Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Brethren or other. You may be Calvinist or Arminian. But we generally need more agreement on points of theology and worship if we are to live and serve together as a church.

One of the ways in which churches identify themselves is by calling themselves ‘Reformed’. So - what does ‘Reformed’ mean?

Historically the name comes from the period of the Reformation: ‘Reformed’ churches were those that followed Calvin rather than Luther. It is broadly accurate therefore to say that ‘Reformed’ is equivalent to ‘Calvinistic’. Men who studied under Calvin or his successors in Geneva brought the Reformed faith back to Britain where it took root in Scotland under John Knox and among the ‘Puritans’ in England and Wales. Other countries in northern and eastern Europe were influenced as well, such as France (where the Reformed were called Huguenots), the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary. In the seventeenth century the Puritans took Calvinism to the USA and in the eighteenth it was the theology of great revival preachers such as Jonathan Edwards in New England, and George Whitefield, Howell Harries, Daniel Rowland and many others in Britain.

Some argue that if to be Reformed is truly to be Calvinistic, then Baptists have no right to call themselves Reformed. Baptists in the seventeenth century however would have disagreed vigorously, for the stronger branch of Baptists at that time was the Particular Baptists who in 1689 produced the Second London Confession of Faith (the first had appeared in 1644).1 This was consciously drafted to show that on all major theological points Baptists were very close indeed to the Presbyterians of the Westminster Confession (1646)2 and the Congregationalists of the Savoy Declaration (1658). There were of course differences — such as on baptism and church government. But ‘Particular’ Baptists were so called because of their commitment to ‘particular’ redemption (the Reformed doctrine that Christ’s death is saving in its effect for the elect only). Their successors today believe that the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is not a false one.

But — what does it mean in practice today?

Key words for understanding Reformed Christians are ‘radical’ and ‘consistent.’

1. We are radical because we trace biblical truths to their depths. We are not content with superficial definitions. ‘God’ must be explored for all he is worth. He is not an object of scientific study, but in his Word he has given us so much information about himself that not to analyse it and synthesise it as rigorously as possible would be an affront to his condescension and kindness. In what follows I shall indicate other areas where the Reformed Christian is radical. We want to get to the depths of ourselves, the depths of the way of salvation and the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

In practice we want to live our faith. Reformed Christians have therefore been at the forefront of battles for liberty of conscience and have not infrequently been a revolutionary force in the church and the world. Any idea of ‘Reformed’ that sees it as a synonym for staid, boring and predictable is a travesty.

2. We are consistent in that we work the truths of Scripture through to their logical conclusions as far as possible. In this sense we are heirs of Calvin who was one of the most penetrating and systematic theologians of all time. We believe the Bible is the revealed Word of God and therefore has an internal consistency which does not have to be forced but is to be discovered. However, if there are two apparently opposing or apparently contradictory truths revealed in Scripture — the most obvious ones being the sovereignty of God and the free will and responsibility of man — we leave them to stand together and do not force them into a false harmony. In this we are like Calvin himself who was always insistent on allowing Scripture to have the last word even if he could not make logical sense of it. In this, too, we are unlike some other traditions, such as hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism, which make the mistake of putting logic above Scripture.

Let us now look at some Reformed distinctives. It can be seen that while we share the ‘big issues’ with other Evangelicals, our radicalism and consistency contribute to making Reformed Christianity the clearest and strongest formulation of Christianity that the Church has yet attained.

1. Scripture

Conviction of its authority is shared with others but we have a further emphasis on its:

a. necessity. We are in darkness without God’s Word to us. ‘By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God . . .' (Heb. 11:3). Reformed Christians begin with a conviction of human spiritual blindness. This is a consequence of our greater insistence on total depravity.

b. sufficiency. We need nothing other than Scripture. This provides a bastion against the temptation of mixing Scripture with philosophy such as Roman Catholic ‘tradition’ or modern claims to ‘prophecy today’.

c. internal consistency. As stated above, Reformed Christians have been foremost in systematising Scripture. We develop doctrines and from them Confessions. The great Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are of course Reformed. These provide great strength for Christian living derived from doctrine.

  1. Presupposed is the unity of Scripture as God’s Word. ‘Men spoke from God’ (2 Pet. 1:21) and acted freely in so doing, but God superintended their thinking and speaking so that what he wanted written they wrote. Can we grasp this ‘dual working’ with our minds? No, but we believe it and it is entirely rational. As a result the Bible is a unity, the work of one Mind.

  2. Presupposed too is the importance of the human mind as a receiver of revelation and the way reason can grasp revelation. God spoke and the universe came into being. He made man and woman in his image to respond to him, to glorif’ him and to enjoy him for ever. Integral to this is the human mind. By it we receive God’s Word, we speak back to him (in prayer) and we speak God’s Word to others.

  3. The importance of the mind in living the Christian life cannot be overemphasised - truth comes to us through the mind in conversion and as we love and understand the Word of God so we will grow as Christians.

  4. But Calvinists insist that the mind must always be subordinate to the Word and when we cannot understand we must not distort or ignore Scripture to fit our systems.

  5. Typical of the Calvinist sense of the unity of Scripture is the development of the theology of covenant as the unifying structure of Scripture, and of God’s self-revelation in the twin doctrines of Law and Gospel. Law and Gospel comprise a conversation throughout Scripture between God’s demand and his provision, between his righteousness and his grace.

  6. Covenant, Law and Gospel, as all else in Scripture, are fulfilled and culminate in Christ.
d. dependence. We depend on the witness of the Spirit in the reception of truth. He confirms our faith in Scripture as God’s Word.

2. The supremacy of God in all things

The Reformed Christian is ‘God-entranced’. We see the glory of God as the goal of all of life and eternity and God’s purpose in all his work. It is of immense and ultimate comfort to the believer that God is sovereign in creation and providence (Gen. 50:19, 20; Isa. 46:9-11) and in salvation (Acts 2:23, 4:28; John 6:37, Jon. 2:9; Eph. 1:3-11).

3. The utter dependence of man in all things

We are utterly dependent though not merely passive or inactive. Although we have a deep conviction of man as totally depraved and work this out more consistently than other evangelical traditions, we do not have a low view of man as created. He is glorious, created as the summit of creation and his glory makes his fall only the more tragic and culpable.

In creation, God made us; in providence, he governs us; in salvation, he saves us. He made us alive in Christ when we were spiritually dead.

A combination of these views of God and man leads to the ‘Five Points’ of Calvinism which are not by any means all there is to Reformed Christianity, but Reformed Christianity is certainly not less than the five points: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.3

The same combination of views gives us a profound dependence on the Holy Spirit in living the Christian life. Calvin was called the ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit’.

What is not so commonly understood about Reformed Christians is that they also hold

4. A high view of the church

It is the body of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). If we hold Christ as precious, the church must be precious. We are drawn together by Christ. We regard our assembling together, too, as precious.

a. The marks of the Church are: preaching (Christ exercising his prophetic office among us); the sacraments (Christ exercising his priestly office) and discipline (Christ the King among us).

b. Our worship is to be governed by God’s Word. The ‘regulative’ principle is that only what is prescribed in God’s Word or clearly implied in it is acceptable in worship services. This liberating principle frees the church from human laws, for example the tyranny of Roman rites, or of human imagination such as in modern man-centred worship, or entertainment-style worship.

So Reformed worship will usually consist of: the Word of God read and preached (1 Tim. 4:13; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 4:2); prayer (1 Tim. 2:1; Acts 2:43); praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Matt. 26:30); the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23- 26).

The regulative principle is biblically based on the necessity of revelation to enable us to approach God and the sufficiency of Scripture for approaching him. In particular we look at the Second Commandment with its emphasis on spiritual worship, and at Leviticus 10:1-3 where Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were severely punished for offering to God not what had been forbidden but simply what had not been commanded. See also Deuteronomy 4:12-15; 23-24.

c. Worship is also to be rational, simple and Christ-centred.

d. The task of the church in relation to the world is to obey the great commission — to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. It is in this way more than any other that we obey the ‘cultural mandate’ of Genesis 1. Historically Reformed Christians have been in the forefront of experiencing and praying for revival as the great means by which God advances his kingdom.

5. The Christian life

a. It begins with evangelical experience. The experience of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-3) though in itself unique also provides a great model for conversion — conviction of sin, cleansing by the sacrifice of Christ and glad response to his call to serve him.

b. It is lived ‘before God’ - coram Deo - a motto of the Puritans. Reformed Christians will have a grateful and positive attitude to God’s law — seeing it not as an imposition or as something from which the gospel and the Spirit release us, but as the form of life which we are now to live - ‘O how I love your law’ (Psa. 119:97). We have been delivered from the bondage of law-breaking to enjoy the freedom of law-keeping. That includes the Fourth Commandment.

c. It embraces all of life: home, politics, work, studies, culture, arts, sciences. The ‘cultural mandate’ (Gen. 1:28) still applies to man. This means witnessing, in word and life, to Christ’s Lordship over all things. Reformed Christianity engages with all creation.

  1. The Renaissance and Reformation of the sixteenth century opened up scientific discovery, and Calvinism in particular made the gospel a real force in the world. In For the Glory of God, American historian Rodney Stark argues that though one cannot say that the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century was a particularly Protestant movement, it is indisputable that it emerged in western Europe and nowhere else at that time. It can be persuasively argued that a faith that presented God as rational, responsive, dependable and omnipotent and the universe as his personal creation provides a solid basis. A rational and stable structure is in place awaiting human comprehension. It is this framework that makes science possible. See A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925). The emphasis is again on reason ‘thinking God’s thoughts after him’. In no way has Christianity been an enemy of science. Calvin wrote, for example, ‘. . . There is need of art and of more exacting toil in order to investigate the motion of the stars, to determine their assigned stations, to measure their intervals, to note their properties’ (Institutes, 1.5.2) and again, ‘If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself nor despise it wherever it appear . . .’ (11.2.15).

    God’s laws undergird everything. They give consistency, order, reliability, predictability. Nietsche gave a back-handed compliment to Christianity when he said, ‘I fear we have not yet thrown off belief in God for we still trust grammar.’

  2. The Calvinist principle of ‘vocation’ gives honour to every human enterprise however humble because God called you to it and you do it for his glory. ‘Vocation’ is not a preserve of the clergy.

    Christians are being renewed in the image of God and should be foremost in subduing creation to the rule of Christ. We do so as we live obediently to his will in our calling.

  3. The Christian life centres on seeking after God and communion with him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John Owen’s books Communion with God and The Glory of Christ reflect the dynamic of the spiritual life. Again, we are wholly dependent on the Spirit in this.

  4. There is a proper perspective on life - our ‘short and uncertain pilgrimage’ to the ‘city that has foundations’ yet we are to seek ‘the welfare of the city’ on earth to which God has called us.

  5. We are longing for Christ’s return and believe in revival. Whatever our framework for the last things (and Reformed Christians would differ: most would be ‘amillenialist’ or ‘postmillenialist’ and have confidence in the flourishing of the gospel in this age, even if we do not all hold to the optimistic views of many of the Puritans or Jonathan Edwards) we look to Christ’s return for the ultimate demonstration of his glory, our own glorification with him, and the completion of his work of redemption.

  6. The Reformed Christian is always reforming. ‘Perfecting holiness out of fear of the Lord’; pursuing that ‘holiness without which no-one will see, the Lord’ (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:14).


Notes:

1. Available from the Trust as a Gift Edition Pocket Puritan titled The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689.

2. Available from the Trust as a Gift Edition Pocket Puritan titled The Westminster Confession of Faith.

3. See, for example, W. J. Seaton, The Five Points of Calvinism (London: Banner of Truth, 1970); R. C. Reed, The Gospel as Taught by Calvin (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009); John Cheeseman, Saving Grace (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999).


TOPICS: Evangelical Christian; History; Mainline Protestant; Ministry/Outreach
KEYWORDS:
Historically the name comes from the period of the Reformation: ‘Reformed’ churches were those that followed Calvin rather than Luther. It is broadly accurate therefore to say that ‘Reformed’ is equivalent to ‘Calvinistic’. Men who studied under Calvin or his successors in Geneva brought the Reformed faith back to Britain where it took root in Scotland under John Knox and among the ‘Puritans’ in England and Wales. Other countries in northern and eastern Europe were influenced as well, such as France (where the Reformed were called Huguenots), the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary. In the seventeenth century the Puritans took Calvinism to the USA and in the eighteenth it was the theology of great revival preachers such as Jonathan Edwards in New England, and George Whitefield, Howell Harries, Daniel Rowland and many others in Britain.

Some argue that if to be Reformed is truly to be Calvinistic, then Baptists have no right to call themselves Reformed. Baptists in the seventeenth century however would have disagreed vigorously, for the stronger branch of Baptists at that time was the Particular Baptists who in 1689 produced the Second London Confession of Faith (the first had appeared in 1644).1 This was consciously drafted to show that on all major theological points Baptists were very close indeed to the Presbyterians of the Westminster Confession (1646)2 and the Congregationalists of the Savoy Declaration (1658). There were of course differences — such as on baptism and church government. But ‘Particular’ Baptists were so called because of their commitment to ‘particular’ redemption (the Reformed doctrine that Christ’s death is saving in its effect for the elect only). Their successors today believe that the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is not a false one.

1 posted on 07/13/2013 7:14:26 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
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To: Alex Murphy

Pretty good summary.


2 posted on 07/13/2013 7:16:04 PM PDT by Gamecock ("Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God." ¬óR.C. Sproul)
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To: Alex Murphy

“Ecumenical” means “Play nice, y-all.”


3 posted on 07/13/2013 7:19:26 PM PDT by Lee N. Field ("What is your only comfort, in life and death?" "That I an not my own, but belong, body and soul...")
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To: Alex Murphy

bookmark.


4 posted on 07/13/2013 11:49:31 PM PDT by dadfly
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To: Alex Murphy
Good points that bears repeating:

The differences between Reformed Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and other reformed groups centers on interpretation of nuances of scripture. It isn't out of the ordinary for our Presbyterian church to support (and even have speak) a pastor from another reformed denomination. In fact, last week a Reformed Baptist made a joke about the Presbyterians view of baptism. What has impressed me the most is how much consistency between the reformed groups there is.
5 posted on 07/14/2013 5:21:14 AM PDT by HarleyD
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To: Lee N. Field

There are worse battle-cries. In these days of all encompassing secularism, aggressive atheism, muslim immigration and a vivid comeback of paganism the Church universal needs to stand together as never before.


6 posted on 07/14/2013 5:24:59 AM PDT by Vanders9
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To: Alex Murphy

Reformed implies Swiss rather than Lutheran . Zwingli is often ignored, because he died so early on, but The Reformed Churches and most Calvinists follow his doctrine of the Eucharist rather than Calvin’s, and ignore Calvin’s indifference to forms of Church government. In Calvin’s correspondance with Polish reformer as well as with Cranmer, he was quite willing to accept bishops, provided they did not claim the same sacerdotal powers as catholic or orthodox bishops.


7 posted on 07/14/2013 12:41:30 PM PDT by RobbyS
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