In the introduction of his book ‘What is Reformed Theology’, R.C Sproul says
‘The Protestant church is under assault more than ever to give up the biblical distinctive that made the Reformation a necessity. Unfortunately, most evangelicals don’t know when the Reformation occurred, don’t know what it was about, and don’t understand the debt they owe men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. So the question “What is Reformed theology?” has become a critical question in my lifetime, not a mere marketing-savvy title to grab your attention’.
In light of the coming Reformation Day on the , I thought it would be appropriate to engage on what it really means to be ‘Reformed’. If you have visited our Facebook page you would notice a big banner written ‘Reformed’ and maybe you’ve been wondering what we really mean by that word. You may be familiar with denominations such as Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist or other. One of the ways in which some of these denominations identify themselves is by calling themselves ‘Reformed’.
Reformed theology gets its name from theological emphases of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, which was an attempt to recover the apostolic faith from Roman Catholicism. Although believers in the Reformed tradition highly regard the specific contribution of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox and particularly John Calvin, they nevertheless also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, in persons such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of the Lord Jesus. ‘Reformed theology’ has also been widely known as ‘Calvinism’ because of one of the Reformers, who was at the theological forefront in the Reformation, John Calvin.
This is unfortunate because this theology is much older than Calvin. Many of the church fathers taught it, especially the great Augustine. The reformed tradition carried on through British, American, Scotland, and Netherland preachers such as John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, and John Knox. Later preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones became prominent in this tradition.
But- what does ‘Reformed’ mean in practice today?
Reformed Christians hold to doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, the atonement, the new birth, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the requirement for Christians to live godly lives, the Great Commission, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, the final judgment and eternal life. They hold other doctrines in common with all evangelical Christians, such as the inerrancy of the Bible and justification by faith alone. These may be the similarities that we may share with other evangelicals but let us now look at some Reformed distinctives.
For most Reformed Christians the chief and distinct doctrine in their belief system is the Sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God means that God rules over his creation with absolute power and authority.
He determines what is going to happen, and it does happen. God is not alarmed, thwarted, frustrated or defeated by circumstances or by the sin or rebellion of his creatures. The Reformed Christian is ‘God-entranced’. Reformed Christians see the glory of God as the goal of all life and eternity and God’s purpose in all His work. It is of immense and ultimate comfort to the believer that God is Sovereign in creation and providence (Gen 50:19.20; Isa 46:9-11) and in salvation (Acts , ; John , Jonah 2:9; Eph 1:3-11)
Reformed Christians understand that God, in creation, made us; in providence, governs us, and in salvation He saves us.
All evangelical theologies will agree that salvation is solely by God's grace, but Reformed theology alone says that grace is sovereignly given to whomever God chooses to grant it. “The doctrines of grace,” or the Five Points of Calvinism, are summarized by the popular acronym TULIP:
Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. We might add that Calvinism stresses the five great doctrines rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Solo Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory).
Reformed theology has also defended its views of Scripture for centuries from liberals and cults. Reformed Christians have always affirmed these 4 things about Scripture.
Authority of Scripture: ‘The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God’ Grudem.
Clarity of Scripture: ‘This is not to say that everything in the bible is perfectly clear. But that the basic message of salvation is sufficiently clear that anyone can understand it himself or by using ordinary means of grace, such as talking to a fellow believers and elders’John Frame.
Necessity of Scripture: The necessity of Scripture simply means that we are in the darkness without God’s Word.
Sufficiency of Scripture: ‘Sufficiency means simply that in Scripture we have all the Words of God we need. We should not expect God to give us further revelation of the same authority as the Bible’ John Frame.
Another distinctive of Reformed Christians is that we also hold a high view of the Church. It is the body of Christ. If we hold Christ as precious, the Church must also be precious. We are drawn together by Christ, therefore we regard our assembling together to be special. Reformed Christians believe that even our worship, when we gather together, should be governed by God’s Word.
That idea is called the Regulative Principle, that everything we do in worship should have a biblical basis. So Reformed worship will usually consist of: the Word of God read and preached, praise, and the Lord’s Supper. Worship is also to be rational, simple and Christ-centred.
Reformed theology also lays special attention on the cultural mandate, which means the obligation of Christians to permeate society and work for the transformation of the world and its cultures. We are called to be in the world and not to withdraw from it. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and such things. Yet, the chief needs of people are nevertheless spiritual, so that social work is therefore no adequate substitute for evangelism. Examples of Reformed Christians who have exemplified this include George Muller, Abraham Kuyper, William Wilberforce, and more.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at Reformed theology but I hope it would spark an interest to find out more about it. This is what Township Reformation is about and we look to spread this love for biblical theology to all of our South African Townships.
Soli Deo Gloria!