Monday, July 4, 2011

What is a Reformed Church?

Thankfully, over the past few decades, the Reformed faith has been making a comeback in the religious world. Many young evangelicals today are embracing Reformed theology, to the extent that Time magazine has ranked it number three on its list of ten ideas that are changing the world. (2009)
* But what is a Reformed Church? Or – What are the vital elements that make a church Reformed?
Of course Reformed churches are those that have their roots in the Protestant Reformation – therefore in the Five Solas of the Reformation. Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, to the glory of God alone.
1. A Reformed church believes that the Bible is the very word of God. We believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture. Scripture, being God’s own Word, is the perfect or infallible rule of faith and practice. We hold to – Sola Scriptura – that Scripture Alone is divinely authoritative in the church. By what means do we determine the faith and practice of the church? The Bible alone is the standard by which the church is ruled. The Bible is sufficient for life and godliness, therefore we need not look for any new special revelations of the Spirit. 
2. A Reformed Church believes that salvation is accomplished by Christ alone and therefore is found in Christ alone, apart from human works or merit. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification.
Heidelberg Catechism Q29: Why is the Son of God called "Jesus," that is, Savior?
A29: Because He saves us from our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in any other.
Westminster Shorter Catechism Q21: Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?
A21: The only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.
3. A Reformed Church believes that we are saved by Christ by grace alone. We believe in the depravity of man which means that God owes us nothing except judgment. Anything else is grace – a free gift. God was not obligated to save one sinner. That he chose to do so is due only to his free and sovereign grace. As Scripture says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” That leads to the next sola – sola fide, or faith alone.
4. A Reformed Church believes that we are saved or justified through the instrument of faith only. What must I do to receive what Christ accomplished on the cross? We receive the benefits of Christ’s redemption by faith alone.
SC, Q30: How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A30: The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
5. A Reformed Church acknowledges that God alone deserves the glory for our salvation. Romans 11:36 says, ‘to Him be the glory forever! Amen.’ These words follow naturally from the preceding words, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” We agree with Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory.”
Besides these Five Solas, what else marks a Reformed Church? Besides the Five Solas, we would agree with what is commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism.
6. A Reformed Church holds to the Five points of Calvinism, better known as TULIP.
Total Depravity – we are sinful, lost and incapable of saving ourselves.
Unconditional Election – God chooses his elect for his own reasons and for nothing in us.
Limited Atonement – Christ died particularly for the sins of the elect.
Irresistible Grace – When God calls by His Spirit, His elect come to Christ.
Perseverance of the Saints – We cannot lose salvation, but by grace will persevere to the end and be eternally saved.
Of course the Reformed Faith is not limited to the Five Solas or the Five Points.
7. A Reformed Church is God-centered. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” We exist for His pleasure. He created us, sustains us and has redeemed us. Our purpose is to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Reformed churches typically do not focus on the “felt-needs” of man. We understand that if our focus is on God, and if we seek first His kingdom, all our needs will be met. This is the pattern we find in the Lord’s Prayer. We are God-centered in that we believe in the sovereignty of God over all things. He has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This includes the salvation of souls. Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Mt 16:18) We do not have to resort to man-centered, manipulative methods in order for people to be saved and join the church. We rely on the sovereign God, who works when and where He pleases. If we are not consciously God-centered, we will become self-centered.
8. A Reformed Church emphasizes the “ordinary means of grace” in its ministry. The ordinary means of grace are simply the ways and means God has given us in Scripture for the health and growth of the church, especially the preaching of the word, prayer and the right administration of the sacraments. We are called to a faithful use of the God-ordained means of grace, and not to innovation or invention of our own means.
Ligon Duncan writes:
In sum, there are basically three views of Gospel ministry. There are those who think that effective cultural engagement requires an updating of the message. There are those who think that effective ministry requires an updating of our methods. And there are those who think that effective ministry begins with a pre-commitment to God’s message and methods, set forth in His Word.
Thus, liberalism said that the Gospel won’t work unless the message is changed. Modern evangelicalism (and not just in its “seeker-sensitive” and postmodern permutations) has often said that the Gospel won’t work unless our methods are changed. But those committed to an “ordinary means” approach to church life and ministry say the Gospel works, and God has given us both the method and the message.
9. A Reformed Church is committed to worshiping God on His terms as prescribed in Scripture. We must not “worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.” (Heidelberg Catechism) “But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will.” (Westminster Confession of Faith) This is called the “regulative principle of worship.” In John 4:23-24 Jesus said, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." Reformed worship, therefore, is plain and simple. Unlike the largely external worship of the Old Covenant, our worship is more spiritual and inward, though we still observe one day in seven as a Sabbath to the Lord. Our motto is found in Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”
10. A Reformed Church is committed to upholding the moral Law of God as summarized in the 10 Commandments. The law serves three purposes: 1) To show us our sin, and therefore our need of a Savior, 2) As a restraint on evil in society, and 3) As a guide for the Christian, to show us how to please the Father. The law leads us to Christ and Christ leads us back to the law as a guide to demonstrate our love for Him. We must not compromise the moral law as other churches are doing in the area of marriage and sexuality. The moral law is God’s perfect rule of righteousness. “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.” (WCF) We stand against antinomianism, which weakens, rejects and distorts the law of God.
11. A Reformed Church holds to Covenant Theology. The Westminster Confession of Faith identifies two covenants:We understand that throughout the Bible God always relates to man by way of covenant. We see that the idea of covenant is the common thread that unites all of Scripture. The Scripture refers to two main covenants, what we call the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was broken by Adam and as his descendents we are all covenant breakers. The WCF says “Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ.” There were various forms of the covenant of grace throughout the OT, which all signified Christ to come, and culminated in the New Covenant established through Christ’s shed blood on the cross. There is one church of the ages, which has existed both in the age of promise (the Old Testament) and in the age of fulfillment (the New Testament).
12. A Reformed Church seeks to apply a biblical world and life view to all areas of life. Because our Reformed faith teaches us that Jesus Christ is king of the whole world and over every area of life, reformed Christians therefore seek to subject the entire created order to the lordship of Christ. We see all of life from God’s perspective and we serve Christ in all areas of life. All of life is sacred.
13. A Reformed Church holds to the biblical view of marriage and family. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life. Husbands and wives have unique biblical roles to fulfill in the bond of marriage. Parents, especially Fathers, are to bring up their children in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Reformed churches have therefore placed an emphasis upon Fathers leading in family worship in the home as well as the teaching that takes place throughout the ordinary course of life.
14. A Reformed Church holds to a Presbyterian form of government. The church is ruled by elders, who serve as God’s representatives. They are to shepherd the flock of God. Deacons assist the elders and serve in practical ways for the good of the church. Church discipline is practiced. Discipline is seen as one of the vital marks of the church. Without it, a church cannot be faithful to Christ.

15. A Reformed Church believes in Evangelism as the duty of the whole church.
Evangelism occurs through the teaching and preaching of the Word on the Lord’s Day and through all of our teaching ministries. All believers are engaged in sharing the gospel with those outside the church. Reformed churches have always been involved in sending foreign missionaries and supporting them in their work.
16. A Reformed Church is confessional. That is, we have a written confession of what we believe. Because of the sinfulness and deceitfulness of the human heart, all believers and churches have a propensity to drift from the truth of God’s Word. To guard against this, we believe it is necessary to hold to an open and written confession of the doctrines which we believe are given to us through the Holy Scriptures. All man-made statements of faith posses no authority in and of themselves, only to the degree which they reflect the truths revealed in Scripture. The statement of faith which we hold to as a community of believers is the Westminster Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.


Jim said...

Great post. Thank you. Would you consider adding an explicit statement regarding the sufficiency of Scripture under point #1?

Anonymous said...

Great article! Can we have permission to share this on our blog, Thanks!

Mark said...

Sure. Post away.