Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What Does Reformed Mean?

As I use the term Reformed to descibe both my theology and the theology taught in the Bible, I feel it important for readers who may not be familiar with the term to understand what it means and in what context I use it. "Reformed" is dependent upon its context. In its first context it can describe and include the christian movement in the 16th century, headed by such lights as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox and Menno Simons, which broke away from the Catholic church in protest of its apostasy. These men by the grace of God and through the leading of the Holy Spirit came to see the Bible as teaching Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria. Sola Scriptura is latin for the Bible (Scriptures) alone. This means that true christians go by the authority of the Bible alone to the exclusion of church tradition, Papal decrees, uninspired writings or even human laws when these thing contradict the Bible. The Bible claims for itself this authority in 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20,21 and many other places. The Bible has been completed and is not being written today as there are no apostles alive today( for more on this I direct the reader to my blog on The Holy Bible). Sola Gratia is latin for Grace alone. Reformed theology believes salvation is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8,9). Man can only make it to heaven by God's love, mercy, forgiveness and unmerited favor as "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"(Rom. 3:23). Sola Fide is latin for Faith alone. Faith is the only instrument involved in man's justification and salvation. It follows regeneration and is itself a gift of God (Rom. 3:20,28 and Eph. 2:8-10). Menno Simons differed from the others in his definition of faith but he too claimed faith alone. Menno defined faith as being active and a lifestyle, as opposed to the others, for whom faith is passive, intellectual and focused on Christ, who is the next Sola in Solus Christus. This is latin for Christ alone, whose deity, virgin birth, perfect life, death on the cross, burial and bodily resurrection is the object of our saving faith (1 Cor. 15, Heb. 12:20). Menno, again looked at Christ more as an example in contrast to the others who looked on him as a substitute, earning our righteousness to be imputed to us through faith, paying the debt of our sin. Both, however, looked on Christ as Lord. Soli Deo Gloria is latin for "to God alone the Glory". This means that our salvation and all creation are intended for the glory of God (Prov. 16:4). All creation exists to glorify God.

The second use of the term Reformed is as a denomination. Of the above listed Reformers, the congregations started by Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin combined to form the Reformed denomination. Martin Luther's congregation came to be known as Lutheran, Knox's became Presbyterian and Menno Simons followers are currently called Mennonites and Amish. The Reformed denomination is exclusive and is indicative of the churches of Switzerland, and the Netherlands and in America is sometimes referred to as "Dutch" Reformed for clarification purposes.

The third and final use is the system deduced from the Bible taught in the Reformed denomination. This use is an umbrella that can cover a number of different denominations that are in agreement with the fundamental principles of the Reformed denomination. Some denominations like the Presbyterians are closer in agreement than others such as Baptists or Episcopalians but nonetheless some Baptist and Episcopal churches are considered Reformed. The main parts of the system have come to be known by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. This stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.

We hold these as Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23 "that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and in Isaiah 64:5,6 we learn we need to be saved because all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Mankind has not kept God's law and indeed cannot perfectly and therefore needs to be saved. 1 Peter 1:2 tells us we were elect for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ and not because of them. 2 Timothy 1:9 tells us we were saved and called "not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" and Eph. 2:8,9 says we are saved "not of works, lest anyone should boast". Ephesians 5:25 says Christ loved the church and died for her and this was according to the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:11). Also Christ's intercessory prayer in John 17 is not for the world verse 9 but for the present and future elect verse 20. The elect we learn are called by Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6) and are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7) according to the divine purpose (Rom. 8:28) and that this calling is destined from and for an eternity (Rom. 8:30). Finally, we elect are confident that He who has begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) for we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:39) because God is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory (Jude 24).

This third use is the use I refer to when describing myself and is the use I mean most in using the term. As indicated by the different denominations, there are differences amongst reformed scholars. Differences involving church practices(believer baptism or paedobaptism), understanding of future events(a, pre or post millenial) and Bible interpretation(grammatico-historical, redemptive-historical or other) amongst others still persist. The biblical and soteriological emphasis involving the 5 sola's and T.U.L.I.P. listed above however define and unite us.

For more information consult What is Reformed Theology by R.C. Sproul, After Darkness,Light by R.C. Sproul Jr. and By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life by Thomas J. Nettles.

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