What Does it Mean to be Reformed?
The hallmark cry of The Reformation centered on 5 solas – 5 statements on core Christian doctrines that define the Christian faith from the Scriptures:
Sola Scriptura -The Scripture Alone is the Standard
Soli Deo Gloria! – For the Glory of God Alone
Solo Christo! – By Christ’s Work Alone are We Saved
Sola Gratia – Salvation by Grace Alone
Sola Fide -Justification by Faith Alone
Apart from these truths, many will be led astray from the narrow path of God’s Truth. Many reformed Christians add a reminder that we, as sinful creatures, will never stop learning about the Lord – and ourselves – in this age. This reminder was summed up in the phrase, Sempre Reformanda – Always Reforming; lest anyone think he has “arrived”.
To remind us of these biblical truths and provide a clear understanding of what those within a local church have in common faith, Reformed Churches are confessional – they hold to a written confession about how key Scriptures are interpreted and applied to life. Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession; paedobaptist congregationalists have the Savoy; Baptists have two London Baptist Confessions, the 1644/46 LBC and the 1689 LBC. There are others, but one gets the idea that confessions are useful and common, at least among certain churches.
This brings me to a sticky wicket, so to speak, of holding to a confession and to the higher principles of The Reformation. Confessions are good and useful tools to codify core doctrines around which a local church can grow and have close fellowship. They are subordinate to the Scriptures, not a tool by which to interpret the Scriptures. They are documents written in a particular historical context by men who were limited in their comprehension of Scripture and somewhat blind to their own presuppositions – as are all men. Standing on and under the Word of God, resisting the siren call to rely on the traditions of men (men we love and thank God for), and ever growing in our love and knowledge of God and His Word means we may discover errors in our confessions, wording that is no longer clear, or conclusions that don’t appear as evident as they must have to those brothers 400 years ago. Our confessions as well as our personal presuppositions need to be tested in light of Scripture, always reforming for the glory of our God. Not seeking change for cultural convenience, but in response to the command that we grow as Christians and churches and hold only to that which is good – Truth as God has revealed.
How does a Reformed church or Christian keep from allowing the confession to dictate beliefs on secondary issues, as if it were the ruling document? Is this not evident in many Reformed churches – people defend their confession first, or only? Brothers, this should not be so! To cling to one’s confession of faith, no matter how sound it may be, as one’s first priority is not Reformed. Such a priority reflects the carnal priorities of all false religions, and turns a good confession into another golden calf.
As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture, apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confession says about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? If we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Sempre Reformanda we will. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God.
This does not mean that aggressive “inquiries” that appear to be meant only for tearing down confessional doctrines should be entertained. It does mean that honest inquiries from saints who want to sincerely understand how a given doctrine is defended from Scripture should be welcomed. A clear indication of trouble is when secondary documents are not allowed to be questioned, this is a sign of cultish behavior.
Change for its own sake is rarely a good thing. But change when we see more clearly from the Word of God is always a good thing. And we mustn’t allow our own wisdom or that of men who went before us to stand in the way. How can we claim to be Reformed if our confession is unchangeable? While our confessions are good and useful, they must always submit to the Word of God and we must be willing to entertain honest questions from saints wishing to understand them better or examine them in light of Scripture, with the aim of being more accurate and, therefore, honorable to our God and useful to His children.
With much love for the brotherhood and malice toward none,
I love this. Thank you for your ministry.
Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words, Brenan Duffy. May the Lord be your wisdom in all things,
You raise some very pertinent issues in that article that I relate to personally . Had I still been in the Reformed church that I grew up in , I would most likely still be reciting the Apostles creed every sunday night , and no doubt , still be listening to bible teaching filtered through the Cannons of Dort. I thank God for the grounding that being reformed gave me , but I am infinitely more thankful that I have been able to move on from that .
Outstanding post … I especially like the last paragraph!
I thought of this verse first and then many others! This though seems to me to capture that essence of always reforming seeing we are called a personal and deliberate daily relationship with God:
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 ESV)
Thank you for this. I am just learning reformed doctrine and have recently been put off from reading and learning the confessions partly for this reason. I would see somebody ask a question about something, and see others referring to A section of a confession instead of relating where we can find comfort/rebuke etc in Scripture. I disliked that, because it almost felt as though reformed people are using it somewhat as Mormons would use the Book of Mormon. So, I shy away… Thank you for the balance because I think I am missing out on clear teaching on the way.
If you think about it a better question would be, “What does it mean to be transformed?” Any one can reform a doctrine to better satisfy ones understanding of scripture but only by the power of the Holy Spirit will be able to come to the knowledge of the truth for He is the one who has promised to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
What it is it that defines Christians from every other person on the face of the earth? Christians are those who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are those who have become the sons of God, His children, His family, and members of His body, the Church (Romans 8:9-14).
May God continue to raise up men and women who will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ teaching men how to receive the gift of His Holy Spirit. When the churches of America begin once again preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ we can be sure God will keep His promise and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit and when they have the Holy Spirit we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will accomplish what God’s word has said He will accomplish and that is to guide us into all truth. Jesus was so confident of the what the Spirit would do when He came that He said this in John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
Those of us who have repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins can be sure God will keep His promise and give us the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). This is why God’s word says in Phil. 1:3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. He who has begun a good work in us is the Holy Spirit and we can be confident that as we follow His guidance into all truth that He will complete that work until the truth has set us free from sin.
Larry – “What does it mean to be transformed?” is addressing a completely different topic. Neither is bad, both are vital and useful.
Larry – Are you a member of the “Church of Christ?”
I too appreciate being exposed to reformed theology. I appreciate the depth of thought behind it. I embrace the 5 solas. I understand covenant theology. Yet I reject reformed eschatology. they violate their own hermeneutical rules to make it fit. Wow. rev. 20: 1-6 God decrees the utter absence of satanic based deception during the millennium. If there is satanic deception currently then this cannot be the millennium or God is not sovereign over Satan. which do they value more amillennialism of Gods sovereignty?
Ivan John – You misread Rev 20. It says Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, not that his influence is utterly absent. You are reading into the Scriptures, my friend. Your presuppositions cling to you.