Elder, Agros Church
In this age of the blogosphere, the question often arises among Christians: What is Reformed Theology? A popular belief is that holding to TULIP, or being a Calvinist, fills out the whole definition for what is meant by the term, “Reformed”. While this is a vital aspect of the Reformed tradition, there are many other components to it that often go overlooked. In this primer, I hope to introduce Reformed Theology by means of its historical roots, and provide a basic background and definition for what has historically been defined as the Reformed Christian tradition.
A Brief History
Reformed Christianity describes not only a particular doctrine of soteriology, or manner by which man is saved, but also provides a rich means of religious life and practice. On October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg (pronounced Vittenberg), Germany, an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther posted 95 theses, or debate points, onto the church door. The church door is where all announcements were made, so imagine it being like a community announcement board. Martin Luther’s students took his 95 theses, written originally in Latin, and translated, copied, and distributed them throughout the city, and before the end of the week it had become a massive controversy.
The 95 theses were largely a protest against the Roman Catholic sacramental system that had grown predatory and abusive, particularly relating to the selling of indulgences to people to pay for time out of purgatory for themselves and loved ones as well as a correction regarding penance, which Luther pronounced to be an incorrect understanding of the text, “do penance” (Mat. 4:17). Luther held onto several Roman Catholic practices such as a form of transubstantiation that his understudy Philip Melanchthon later solidified in the Augsburg Confession. That branch of the Reformation ended up being the starting point for Lutheranism
Just before Luther nailed his theses, Desiderius Erasmus created a translation of the Bible into Latin from the Greek, also wildly controversial at the time. This led to his collation of a New Greek Testament, which he called the Novum Instrumentum - New Instrument. This Greek New Testament was published in 1516. It was later revised and updated by Stephanus and Theodore Beza and was the starting point for the Textus Receptus - the received text, the primary text used to translate the King James Bible. It was this project that fueled the fire Luther started in 1517, and with the help of the printing press and men like William Tyndale, freed the Word of God which had laid locked up in Roman Catholic libraries for 1,100 years in the form of Latin Vulgate, a 5th century translation of the Bible. Since the common people did not read Latin, the Roman Catholic Church had functionally forbidden the Word to be read. For his part, William Tyndale’s goal in producing an English translation of the Bible was so that even the common boy who plowed the fields would know more Theology than a Catholic priest.
During the Reformation period (16th century), protestant religion exploded. Men like Ulrich Zwingli produced his own 67 articles, which further solidified the protestants’ rebellion against the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic church responded quickly, and in 1545 held the Council of Trent, the counter-reformation council. As a result, the authorized persecution of men like William Tyndale was set in motion; he was captured and executed. Despite this, almost 90% of Tyndale’s english translation of the New Testament now lives on in the King James Version of the Bible.
The Five Solas (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria) became the battle cry of the reformation. These five pillars declared that salvation came by grace through faith alone in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9), to the glory of God alone, and that all matters of faith and practice were to be derived from Scripture alone. In the unbridled distribution of the Word of God to the people of God, the church realized that God did not need Papal authority to be saved. Justification found its proper home in the church as an act of God upon men, and salvation did not require the man-made sacramental maintenance of grace, which can only be offered by the Roman Catholic church. Jesus was exalted as the author and finisher (Heb. 12:2) of faith once again by the people of God.
With the Word of God unleashed into the world, the number of trained, protestant Theologians exploded. John Calvin released his first edition of “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” in 1536 and began the systemization of Christian doctrine in print. John Knox in Scotland influenced the covenanting of the entire nation to Christianity. William of the House of Orange in the Netherlands established a legacy of Reformed churches for the following three centuries, which produced men like Petrus Van Mastricht, Wilhelmus A Brakel, Geerhardus Vos, Herman Bavinck, and Abraham Kuyper. The Dutch Reformed church produced a long lasting confession of faith in 1561, the Belgic Confession, which is still the standard for the Dutch Reformed church, alongside of the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort, which form the Three Forms of Unity.
At the beginning of the post reformation period (17th Century), Reformed churches throughout the world sought to solidify protestant doctrine in the form of confessions of faith. As a result, the Westminster Confession of Faith was produced in 1647 and the second London Baptist Confession of Faith in 1689. The Savoy Declaration was also drafted by a committee led by Thomas Goodwin and John Owen as a congregationalist response to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith are the long-lasting doctrinal products of the Protestant reformation. The goal of the framers of these confessions was to create a doctrinal representation of Biblical teaching for the ages to come.
Reformed Christianity has a rich and fascinating history that is calvinistic, confessional, covenantal, centered on both church life and home life with catechism.
The Five C's of Reformed Christianity
T - Total Depravity (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 8:7)
U - Unconditional Election(Eph. 1:4,5)
L - Limited Atonement(John 6:37,44,65)
I - Irresistible Grace(Rom. 8:29)
P - Perseverance of the Saints(Phil. 1:6)
TULIP, or the doctrines of grace, describe a Biblical model of salvation - that men and women are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Man is (T)Totally wicked apart from God from the time they are born due to the first man, Adam. God in His goodness and by His pleasure, (U) unconditionally elects man unto salvation before the foundation of the Earth, not according to any merit of those He saves, but purely according to His own will. God's unconditional election is (L) limited to only those whom He elects and those Jesus died for on the cross. Outside of Christ there is no salvation. When God unconditionally elects a totally depraved person, they are changed in heart and mind by the power of the Holy Spirit and having a new heart, (I) cannot resist the grace that has been showered upon them. God, in His goodness, gives assurance to those who believe, and by His mediation and intervention, causes the believer to (P) persist until the end of their life in the faith. The believer thus is secure in their salvation, being equipped for every good work, to God's glory and their enjoyment in Him.
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Synod of Dort
The people of God have set their beliefs in stone from the beginning of time, by God's command to Moses first in Genesis, continuing on throughout history. We find early forms of confessions and creeds in the New Testament in the Epistles, the Apostolic Church Fathers with the Regula Fidei, and of course the Creeds of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Later on, as a product of the Reformation, the church set in stone a Body of Divinity in the confessions and catechisms. The confessions that were produced and have been used by the church for hundreds of years include the Westminster Standards, the Belgic Confession, the Savoy Declaration, the London Baptist Confession of Faith, and many other similar documents. These confessions and creeds are not above Scripture in authority. In fact, they are the strongest tools the church has to defend and protect a pillar of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone. The confessions provide a comprehensive exegesis of what Scripture says, with Scripture proofs, so that the believer can be fully equipped (2 Tim. 3:16-17) to handle any question or challenge to their faith. Confessionalism is rich, time tested practice of Reformed believers all over the world.
God has always operated through covenants with His people. In the garden He gave Adam and Eve a covenant of works, one whose sole requirement was to abstain from the fruit of one tree. Having broken this covenant, Adam and Eve are the first in a pattern of covenant breaking by God's people, yet God proves Himself a faithful covenant keeper. After Adam and Eve violated the covenant of works, God, by His good pleasure, applied to them a curse that would affect all of their children, instead of killing them outright as he had warned (Gen. 2:17). In this transaction, God makes another covenant, a covenant of grace. The covenant of Grace is the only covenant by which man is saved. In Genesis, God, through the covenant of Grace, continues His pattern of relating to man by means of covenant, promising that by the seed of Eve, a savior will be born that would crush the head of the serpent. This savior is Jesus Christ, from eternity to eternity. Proceeding forth from that point on, we see scripture tell a covenantal story of God promising salvation to His people by means of washing them clean. He gives this promise in various forms to Noah (Gen. 9), Abraham (Gen. 15), Moses (Ex. 20), David (2 Sam. 7), and finally, Jesus, the faithful covenant keeper (Hebrews 7:22). Covenant Theology is simply the product of viewing the Bible as a story of redemption, a story that points to Christ in every page.
The Church, being composed of both those who are partakers in the covenant of Grace (internal) and those who are associated by family (external) to those who are partakers in the covenant of Grace, respond in obedience to God by meeting on the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath, first instituted in creation on the last day of the week and made new on the first day of the week in Christ. On the Lord's Day, Reformed Christians put aside all matters of recreation and work to honor the rest that they have in Christ, who has done the work for them. Reformed Christians celebrate the Lord's Day by faithfully observing the regulative principle of worship, which is restricts the practice of the church during service to what is prescribed for worship in the Bible. The regulative principle of worship requires faithful preaching from the text of Scripture by qualified elders, the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19) in accordance to the Scriptures, such that the congregation may be heard singing over the volume of the worship leader, the participation in the sacraments (Communion and Baptism) administered by qualified elders, the reading of Scripture, and praying congregationally, also led by qualified elders. Activities on the Lord's Day are centered around fellowship, which means that before and after the church service, additional instruction is given by means of Sunday School and evening services.
Catechism is a daily practice in the home of a Reformed believer. Reformed Theology extends past the corporate worship service on Sunday and into the homes of the members of Reformed churches. Catechism includes daily reading of Scripture and the confessions, the memorization of catechisms, prayer, and singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Historically, a man would not be able to take communion if he was not leading his family in this daily endeavor. For instance, Wilhelmus A. Brakel, a Dutch Reformed pastor, would not administer communion at his church until he had personally visited each home in his congregation to ensure catechism and family worship was being practiced in his church. This is practiced by single men and women by training themselves in such practice, either under the leadership of their father, or under the leadership of elders at their church. Catechism is the means by which the leaders of households equip their families to provide a defense of the faith, be emboldened in personal devotions, and be outfitted with a body of divinity from an early age.
Reformed Christianity: A Historically Rich Tradition Founded in Biblical Truth
The Reformed faith has a history dating back to the 1500’s, and a Theology dating back to the Apostles and the Prophets. The combination of a strong belief that God has worked in history through covenants with mankind, Calvinistic soteriology, adherence to a confession and catechism, and a focus on church life and fellowship makes the reformed tradition a complete system that enriches the life of the believer in private, family, and corporate devotions. This tradition seeks to provide a structure to devote not just the heart to God, but the whole being (Deut. 6:5).
All Agros Biblical Theology Book Review Church Church Government Ecclesiology Ethics Faith & Certainty Grafton Liturgics Log College Press London Baptist Confession Lord's Day Ministry Pastoral Theology Pastorate Presbyterian Presbyterianism Puritans Reformed Theology Sabbath Sacrifice Second London Baptist Confession Southern Presbyterians Sunday Sunday Worship Theology Thomas Witherspoon Westminster Westminster Confession Of Faith William Gurnall