What does it mean to be Reformed?

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Without just simply quoting in its entirety the brief, but excellent article written by the late James Montgomery Boice, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia,1 let me try to succinctly explain the essence of being reformed. At its simplest, to be reformed is to look to the religious movement of the sixteenth century known as the Protestant Reformation. In one sense, to be reformed is to be Protestant. However, such a simplistic definition does not do most people any good in differentiating someone who calls themselves reformed, from others who do not.

The first point is that to be reformed is to be Christian. Believers who accept the label of reformed in describing their Christian niche believe and hold to all of the great doctrines of the faith which all true believers hold. Such doctrines as the Trinity, justification by faith, the virgin birth of Christ, His deity and His substitutionary atonement, as well as second coming of Christ are an integral part of the reformed faith. So, you can Christian without being reformed: but to be reformed is to be Christian.

The next distinction about being reformed is that we hold as being critical, what is known historically as the five solas. The word sola is a Latin term that means “alone” or “only.” These five solas encapsulate what was taught by those church leaders that gave life to the reformation. They are as follows, 1) Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone; 2) Solus Christus, Christ Alone; 3) Sola Gratia, Grace Alone; 4) Sola Fide, Faith Alone; and 5) Soli Deo Gloria, God’s Glory Alone. These five affirmations summarize what undergirded the teaching of the reformation and what, therefore, undergirds reformational teaching today.

The Third aspect of being reformed is the centrality of the doctrine of grace to our thought. These doctrines came to the forefront in summary fashion of the thought of a man named John Calvin as he wrote about salvation. He was one of the primary personalities involved in fueling the reformation. In response to critics, known as Arminians, who rejected Calvin’s teachings, a group of church pastors and leaders drafted as summary of the church’s basic beliefs on saving grace. These doctrines, sometimes summarized by the acronym T.U.L.I.P., are as follows: 1) Total Depravity; 2) Unconditional Election; 3) Limited Atonement; 4) Irresistible Grace; and 5) Perseverance of the Saints. As reformed people we believe this is an accurate, yet very concise view, of God’s saving grace.

The fourth and final facet of reformational thought as we understand and affirm it here at Berean Bible Baptist Church is that to be reformed is to believe and hold to the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the sole, sufficient means for changing a person from being sinner to being a saint. The proclamation of the gospel is the ministerial means to salvation.

How does divine sovereignty and human responsibility fit together? This question is particularly difficulty to answer for those who believe the Bible to teach both. On the other hand, some individuals wrongly hold to one of these truths over and against the other and in so doing end up in practice affirming the one and denying the other. This manifests the tendency to think that these two ideas as contradictory to each other. Such a conclusion is unacceptable because the Bible affirms them both. They can be brought into synthesis with each other. To do so, one must understand the biblical and theological framework for the discussion.

First, the biblical framework. You will notice throughout the teaching of Jesus that He affirmed both of these realities. In this regard, one should take note of John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Yet a couple of verses later, He noted, “39 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (6:39-40). In 6:64 of His followers He noted, “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” But right after this, He said, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (6:65).

Regarding those who refused to place faith in Him in John 10, Jesus stated, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me” (10:25). However, in direct contrast to this He noted, “26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (10:26-27). However, it was not just Christ who held these two seemingly contradictory realities as complementary truths. The apostles, the founders of the church, also believed that these doctrines in actuality complemented rather than contradicted each other.

Peter, in the first message preached in the newly founded church, stated regarding Christ, “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Ac. 2:23). Luke, the blessed author of the book of Acts, although not an apostle himself, held to this apostolic dogma. When describing what took place in Pisidian Antioch from the apostle Paul preaching in that city for two consecutive Sabbaths, he wrote, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Also, the apostle Paul, himself, in discussing Christ in what he referred to as “my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8), reminded Timothy, “9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God, the gospel, is not imprisoned. 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (italics added) (2:9-10).

These passages are just a small sampling of the Scripture’s continual connection of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The church should not consider these realities as being in disagreement with each other, but as important complementary doctrines that flesh out in a holistic manner the doctrine of salvation that is so dear to us as believers. Theological they fit together as follows. Although chosen, Ephesians 1:4-5, when you heard the gospel, you believed, Ephesians 1:13. Both of these must be adhered to in order to be Christian in your beliefs and thus, both must be defended with a passion. The doctrine that binds these two truths together is regeneration. Those whom God has chosen, by grace are regenerated at the preaching of the gospel and are given faith (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 2:4-5;Col. 2:13-14), with the result that they repent and then exercise that faith, thereby through that faith believing unto eternal life.

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