When I’ve discussed Reformed theology in the past with people, I normally get two reactions. I either have a conversation with another Christian who is genuinely interested in what Reformed theology is or a person who only knows a caricature of it. I want to spend some time focusing on what Reformed theology teaches and what some people think that it teaches. For illustrative purposes, I’ll refer to this person as Joe.
We will talk about our friend Joe later in the series, but first, I need to explain to you what people generally mean when they say that they have a Reformed view of the Bible. When the term “Reformed” is used, it is a reference to the theological views that lit the torch of the Protestant Reformation from 1517 to 1648.
A young and budding thirty-three year old Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood in Erfurt, Germany in 1507 and would eventually become a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in 1512. Martin Luther penned his 95 Theses in rejection of Roman Catholic doctrine and nailed it to the door of All Saints Church in the town of Wittenberg in 1517.
The Reformation continued and her heart cry was contained in five Latin slogans that summarized the Reformers’ basic understanding of the biblical teachings of salvation apart from works in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of salvation by works. These five principles were referred to as the Five Solas. The Latin word sola means “only or “alone”. These Reformational points of doctrine were phrased as:
Sola Fide, by faith alone
Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone
Solus Christus, through Christ alone
Sola Gratia, by grace alone
Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone
Branching over to another realm of the Protestant Reformation, in 1619 the Dutch Reformed Protestants wrote a confessional article called the Canons of Dort. The confession was written at the Synod of Dort; a gathering which took place among the Dutch Reformed Church in the town of Dordrecht in the Netherlands. Those gathered at the synod were addressing a doctrinal stance referred to as Arminianism, which was a rejection of God choosing who will receive salvation and who will not.
A portion of this Dutch confession touched based on the nature of God’s sovereignty in salvation which would later be nicknamed the Five Points of Calvinism (also called the Doctrines of Grace) in reference to the Reformer, John Calvin, who was a vocal proponent of Reformed theology. There is much more to this theology then defining how salvation works. Nonetheless, these five pillars are still important to understanding a Reformed view of the Bible. A little acronym was coined in the 1900’s called T.U.L.I.P., which conveyed the following:
What It Means to Be Reformed
Some other distinctives of having a Reformed view of Scripture are contained in the historical views that were prevalent in the first five centuries of the church. In his article, Tim Challies agrees that these attributes are congruent to the Reformed tradition:
Christ, the God-man, the one mediator between God and the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and who will come again.
Reformed theology is also defined by what is stated in the historic creeds of the Reformation such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechisms, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession. There are an abundance of Reformed Christians that subscribe strictly to these historic confessions and ones who also do not. We as a ministry and church take the second position and don’t take strict subscription to the Reformation confessions. We are in general agreement with a large majority of what is stated in them, but we more so see them as influential systematic theologies and helpful summaries of biblical Christianity rather than creeds to take strict adherence to.
As defined above, Reformed theology is centered on God’s grace as stated in the Five Solas and contingent upon God’s sovereignty from the Doctrines of Grace, adapted from the Canons of Dort. We also concluded that having a Protestant and Reformed heritage means focusing on Christ’s substitutionary death, the recognition of needful people being made in the image of God, seeing the sacraments as a means of God’s grace, and the Christian life being characterized by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The Reformed theological stream is also summarized in it’s historic theological confessions.
This definition of the Reformed tradition’s theology isn’t an exhaustive one, but it is a sufficient starting place to begin to understand the ground work of it.
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