What I Mean by “Reformed”

It can sometimes be hard to call anyone “Reformed.” The new resurgence across denominations, namely the “New Calvinist” movement, has contributed to this confusion.[1] Honestly, I am not a member of any confessional Reformed church, I belong to a non-denominational and evangelical church. It is sometimes asked, what I mean when I use the term “Reformed” to refer to myself. I would like adding that with regard to some things, I am not a staunch cessationist, I find the hermeneutic of cessationist theology to be arbitrary and eisegetically inferred upon the texts of Scripture, this within itself does not mean that I deny the sufficiency of Scripture as some have tried forcing upon me. I do believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and that is indeed why I reject cessationism.[2] So what?


The outcry of many in the Reformed tradition, whether Anglican, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, or Reformed Baptist is found in the fact that one is not Reformed simply because they hold to a Calvinistic/Reformed soteriology; to be it simple—the five points of Calvinism does not mean you are Reformed. So what does? I continue to use the term “Reformed,” not because I am a Calvinist (even though I am) but because of my theological approach to the Scripture and Christian life. I believe it is hypocritical or shallow to assert that we never have a theological tradition or framework, to some degree or the other—we always do.

What Makes Someone Reformed?

Initially, the term “Reformed” probably referred to a “reforming” of Catholic theology, so in a loose sense, anyone who “broke” from the Catholic church would be Reformed, and to a degree any Protestant theology is Reformed, meaning that we move or divert away from Catholicism.

  1. General Orthodoxy/Catholicity

Tim Challies, has an article dealing with what makes you Reformed, that can be found here. Challies begins by listing these things are being essential to the Reformed faith:

“Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.

Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.

Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.

Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.

The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.

The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God[3], ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.

The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.”

The above however in many instances could generally extend to any Evangelical church. This within itself does not mean you are Reformed, but is a good place to start.

  1. The Five Solas

Challies mentions the “four solas” as being essential, since he extends the common “fifth sola” which is “to God’s glory alone” as being the conclusion of the Christian life. I would encompass all five to this:

  • The authority and finality of the Scriptures, as the final standard, and completely infallible: sola scriptura (Scripture alone), per 2 Timothy 3:16.
  • The basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone). I need to add here that when considering Luther, Calvin, Knox, and all Reformed professions of this, they believe in the sufficiency of grace, that is grace does not make salvation possible but it saves completely and infallibly therefore any system of synergism and Arminianism is by definition ruled out as a possibility (John 6; Ephesians 1-2; etc.).
  • The instrumental means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone). This goes with the preceding sola, in Reformed theology, God’s soteriological grace guarantees the outcome of faith (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 6; 1 John 5:1; etc.)
  • The merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone). Christ makes salvation infallible, not merely possible. He saves to the uttermost those who draw near unto God through Him (Hebrews 7:25; 10:10, 16).
  1. Doctrines of Grace

You cannot legitimately claim to be historically Reformed if you deny the five points of Reformed soteriology. As to where this does not mean you are Reformed, it is definitely necessary. Why? It is true that Arminianism is within orthodoxy, and were identified as “the Reformed Arminian Faith,” but historically the “Reformed” title referred to the Calvinistic systems of Protestant Christianity. The five points of Calvinism being – total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement/particular redemption, irresistible grace/sovereign grace, and perseverance of the saints. There are other forms of Calvinism, whether or not they are consistent are not my points of contention (I do not believe they are, but I would give them the benefit of the doubt).

Another reason this is crucial to being Reformed, because it is what we perceive as being the only consistent polemic against Roman Catholicism. Dr. James White, a Reformed Baptist theologian, has given a presentation on this issue that can be watched here. The contention I believe is this—synergism’s view of Christ’s intercession is that it does not perfect those for whom it is made. Justification is yieldable, it can be lost, this is found in both Arminian (not all varieties of Arminianism) and Catholic theology. The best polemic is found in only a Reformed soteriology.

  1. Covenant Theology

I hold to Reformed Baptist Covenant theology, and it can be defined as this, taken from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:

“1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. ( Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8 )

  1. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. ( Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

  2. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. ( Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11:6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 ).”[4]

This is an integral part of Reformed theology; we reject dispensationalism, and progressive covenant theology. We believe in ultimately only one covenant people of God, the elect of God. The churches, or rather invisible church is that elect people of God throughout the ages. This has direct implications of soteriology and eschatology.

Furthermore, we strongly reject antinomianism, the belief that the law has been abolished or “fulfilled” as to the point where the moral law of God has been done away with. We believe in the full Decalogue being valid today, sometimes Reformed people are Christian Reconstructionists (theonomists) who believe in the civil law continuing with the moral law.

We furthermore believe that the Sabbath is not abolished:

“7. As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished. ( Exodus 20:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 )

  1. The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. ( Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13 )”[5]

We celebrate the Lord’s Day as a fulfilment of the Sabbath commandment; notice now that the important part of this is that the Sabbath principle continues not necessarily which day—some have argued for theological evidence of Sunday rather than Saturday being that day. This is one of the distinctive differences between progressive/new covenant theology, and classical forms of Covenant theology whether Presbyterian and/or Reformed Baptist.

  1. Reformed Confessions

Not necessarily essential, but Reformed pupils would argue someone to be reformed according to a particular confession. I loosely hold to the Second London Baptist of Faith of 1689. Other confession of faith would include:

  1. The Belgic Confession
  2. Heidelberg Catechism
  3. The 39 Articles of Religion
  4. The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646
  5. The Savoy Declaration of 1658
  6. The Belhar Confession of 1982

The Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism with the Canons of Dordt, forms what is called “the Three Forms of Unity.”  These confessions can give one an understanding of some of the key things in Reformed theology. Among Reformers, there are notable differences; covenant theology seems to be a uniting theme.

  1. Regulative Principle of Worship

Finally, the Regulative Principle of Worship revealing one’s attitude to worship. On Wikipedia (forgive me), it gives a rather legitimate definition:

“The regulative principle of worship is a Christian doctrine, held by some Calvinists and Anabaptists, that God commands churches to conduct public services of worship using certain distinct elements affirmatively found in Scripture, and conversely, that God prohibits any and all other practices in public worship.”[6]

Ultimately, these are some of the defining characteristics of Reformed Theology. As for myself, my statement of faith can be summarized to a large degree by the confessional standard of the London Baptist Confession of faith, and Baptist Covenant theology, and the Regulative Principle of Worship.

I am Reformed, because this is what I ultimately believe is the teaching of God’s word. I believe this is the one universal faith of the Church in the Bible.

_______________________________________________________________________________

[1] Many would put me in this camp, I am not opposed to this. However, the on-going New Calvinist movement generally differs, and so the term within itself can refer to Evangelical Reformed Baptists, a Calvinistic flavour of continuationist churches and theologians (Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, Adrian Warnock, RT Kendall, etc.). Most of these figures propose a New Covenant/Progressive Covenant theology, which I reject.

[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith, and many Reformers (John Knox, Robert Fleming, etc.) ranged from soft-cessationism and continuationism leaving open the possibility and working of the Spirit, such as prophetic words or “private spirits,” and “special providences.” This did not challenge their high regard for Sola Scriptura.

[3] Challies admits that Reformed Baptists might take issue with this, considering their Zwinglian Sacramentology.

[4] http://www.arbca.com/1689-chapter7 — this taken from the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America’s site; I do not propose everything in here (especially not cessationism).

[5] http://www.arbca.com/1689-chapter22

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulative_principle_of_worship

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