Sometimes you will come across a church who describes itself as being Reformed. What does this mean? Is it significant in understanding who or what this church is?
The answer to the latter question is Yes, it is significant to the identity of a church and you might want to understand what it means to be Reformed.
The term Reformed is taken from the time of the Reformation in the early 16th Century, when Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church due to the increasing excesses and corruption of theology during the middle ages. It began with Martin Luther nailing 95 discussion points (theses) on the church door at Whittenburg in Germany 31 October, 1517 entailing points of ecclesiastical practice that were at odds with Scripture. That got the ball rolling and the protestations of Luther and others spread across Europe and Britian.
German, Swiss, English and Dutch Reformers gathered strength and over the years returned to a more orthodox view of the Christian Scriptures in faith and practices.
Five Important Stands--The Solas
Briefly let me just point out five Latin "catch phrases" of the Reformation that the Reformers took stands on:
Sola Gratia - means by Grace alone. It brings the idea that salvation is not something that can be attained by anyone doing something to attain it. Salvation is a free gift of God and cannot be earned or deserved.
Sola Fide - means by Faith alone. This implies that God saves us by declaring one declared justified by God, which is a fact of history that is received by the individual by faith and without the need of any works by an individual to qualify for salvation.
Sola Scriptura - means by the Scriptures alone. This asserts that scripture must govern over church traditions and interpretations which are themselves held to be subject to scripture. All church traditions, creeds, and teachings must be in unity with the teachings of scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God.
Solus Christo - means by Christ alone. This means that Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between man and God, and there there is no need for a priestly class of clergy or saints or sacraments to initiate or control intimate communion with God.
Soli Deo Gloria - means to the Glory of God. It stands in opposition to the veneration of Mary the mother of Jesus, the saints, or angels. It understands that all glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action — not only the gift of the all-sufficient atonement of Jesus on the cross but also the gift of faith in that atonement, created in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. The reformers believed that human beings —even saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy— are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them; that is, one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God who is the author and sanctifier of these people and their good works.
Five Important Points
In response to anti-Reformed teachings of the day by a Dutch theologian named Jacobus Arminius in the early 1600's, Dutch reformers came up with five points of repudiation that form the basis for how the Reformation Churches understood the work and salvation of God in the atonement of Christ Jesus.
Total Depravity Of Man - Belief that all mankind is tainted with the original sin of Adam via his federal headship and that all of mankind is prone to committing sin from birth. This sinful nature is innate in all of us and thus mankind is incapable of finding or reaching out to a Holy God for redemption. They are truly dead in their sins and trespasses, unable of themselves to seek God.
Unconditional Election - The idea that God has determined for himself a people that he would save from before the foundations of the world. This group of elect people are saved unconditionally without any reference to present or future deeds or works such as would merit salvation.
Limited (Particular) Atonement - God has chosen from eternity those whom he will bring to himself not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people; rather, his choice is unconditionally grounded in his mercy alone. God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen. Those chosen receive salvation through Christ alone.
Irresistable Grace - The saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved. The purposeful influence of God's Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. This is not to deny the fact that the Spirit's outward call (through the proclamation of the Gospel) can be, and often is, rejected by sinners; rather, it's that inward call which cannot be rejected.
Perseverence Of The Saints - This asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).
While the above sections may be adopted by churches and denominations that often refer to themselves as Reformed, it is only so as far as go the doctrines of grace and the atonement of Christ. The historic Reformed faith included an understanding of God's covenanting with mankind on the conditions of the relationship between God and man where the Lord God said, "I will be their God, and they will be my people."
God made a covenant with Abraham because of the faith that he had. In it he promised that Abraham would be given the Promised Land (of Canaan), that his Descendants would be numerous and powerful, and that from them would come a Blessing to the Nations (See Genesis 12, 15, 17). The rest of the Bible is the fulfiling of these promises to Abraham, not only in prominent localised contexts, but also with fuller and future fulfilment in the kingdom of heaven in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
This covenant with Abraham was sealed with the rite of circumcision of the foreskin of all Israelite males and babies who were eight days old. This was a perpetual command for all of Israel for all time as a reminder that God keeps his promises.
The covenant with Abraham was later codified with God's revelation to Moses in the tablets of stone (The Ten Commandments) and the Law of God that surrounded them. The Law's purpose was to instruct Israel in how they should live before a Holy God. Because of the sinfulness of mankind and Israel, God later purposed an upgrade of the covenant where he overlaid the previous covenant with Abraham the same promises, but where the means for employing the Law of God was shifted from outward forms of the Law, to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in individuals who hold the same faith as Abraham.
With this new covenant, the sign of the covenant changed from circumcision to that of water baptism, performed in the well-known practices of the Mosaic Law as an act of purification and cleansing. The significance of water baptism is that it remains a sign and seal of the Covenant that God has made with us, to keep his covenantal promises.
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