Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What does it Mean to be Reformed?

The Reformed tradition is not limited to the doctrine of predestination, but is a vast biblical expression of all Christian theology and practice. Here are some of the emphases of the Reformed tradition.

Confessions of Faith. The Reformed tradition is unapologetically confessional, though it recognizes the supreme authority and sufficiency of Scripture alone, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. By articulating various articles of belief, confessions of faith make explicit Reformed theology's understanding of Scripture, and as such, are used as standards of teaching, membership, and discipline in Reformed churches. Historically, the Reformed tradition can be identified and traced by examining the confessions of faith produced by the churches that emerged from the Reformation.

Salvation by Sovereign Grace. Reformed theology teaches that God saves sinners by sovereign grace for His own glory. The Father eternally chose certain individuals for salvation, sent the Son to atone for their sins alone, and on the basis of Christ's redeeming work, gave the Spirit to unite us to Christ for regeneration, justification and sanctification. These truths humble the sinner and glorify God.

Covenant Theology. Covenant theology is at the heart of Reformed theology's Christ-centeredness. Adam failed to keep God's law in the garden covenant of works and so was cursed with death, but where Adam failed, Christ succeeded in the covenant of grace and merited eternal life for His people so that they would receive justification by faith alone. The distinction between the law and the gospel is rooted in the federal headships of Adam and Christ, and is not based on any distinction between Israel and the church or the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the Bible, there is only one moral law of God perfectly embodied in Christ, one promise of grace in the gospel of Christ, and one people of God redeemed by the blood of Christ. Both the Old and New Testaments, therefore, inform and govern Christian doctrine and practice.

The Goodness of Creation. The Reformed tradition emphasizes the fact that God's creation is good and not evil or “worldly.” It is to be used as a means to the end of worshipping and obeying God. Idolatry happens when any created thing is elevated above God and loved more than God or not for His sake. In creation, God provided a good garden to enjoy, and instituted work/vocation, marriage, and the Sabbath rest. It is good to enjoy food, drink, and all material things and physical pleasures under God's law and to His glory.

Communion with God. Reformed theology has historically emphasized a rich devotional life and personal piety by the two primary means of grace: the Word of God and prayer. These direct our thoughts to Christ the Mediator, and to continual communion with Him in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit illumines our minds to understand and apply the Scriptures in all of life. Knowledge of Christ through the Scriptures and prayerful communion transforms our thinking and enables us to live humble, gracious, and obedient lives that glorify Christ. Personal devotions and family devotions are important means of growing in communion with Christ.

The Moral Law of God. God's moral law not only exposes sin and drives sinners to Christ for salvation, but also serves as a guide, or rule of life, for the believer. God's requirement for believers is not dependent on circumstances or future revelations, but is clearly revealed in His moral law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments. Believers, therefore, live in liberty, free from the doctrines and commandments of men, and from subjective impressions, since where there is no law, there is no sin.

Faithfulness in All of Life. Practically speaking, living under the gospel of grace with the law as a guide encompasses every sphere of human existence. Love to God and love to men must govern life in the home, church, business (work/vocation), education, arts, entertainment, social service to the poor and needy, and civil government. Obedience in all of life fulfills the dominion mandate of the garden to subdue the earth and rule over it with sacrificial loving service and authority. Christians are therefore to be faithful to Christ and His gospel of grace in word and deed in every aspect of life. This is the Christian mission.

The Primacy of the Church. The local church is the outpost of God's kingdom. It is the primary means though which the gospel of Christ is proclaimed, supported, and defended, through which believers are nurtured in Christlikeness. Reformed churches are committed to an ordinary means of grace ministry, which includes the public reading and proclamation of Scripture, public prayers, the right administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, and loving fellowship. They are devoted to biblical leadership (with the goal of a plurality of elders and deacons), biblical church discipline, and regular family worship in the home. Churches are to be well-disciplined oases of love, grace, and godliness, separated from the kingdom of darkness, while bearing witness of Christ to the darkness. The church is not primarily to be oriented toward unbelievers nor is its primary purpose evangelism but worship. A faithful worshipping church, however, will be evangelistic and missional. The structure and systems of the church are to be determined and regulated by the Bible alone.

Regulated and Reverential Worship. The public worship of God must be regulated by His Word, free from human innovation, and only according to the elements He prescribes. The primary elements of worship are the Word and sacrament. Because our sovereign God is both transcendent and immanent, Christian worship should be both fearful and joyful, rooted in gratitude for redemption in Christ to the glory of the triune God. The preached Word of God is the high point and centerpiece of biblical worship.