Reformed Theology is the simple yet life-transforming truth of biblical Christianity

Reformed Theology is the simple yet life-transforming truth of biblical Christianity

Serving the Lord Jesus is truly an amazing journey, full of happiness, challenges, and adventure. It is a life that teaches us to focus on things of eternal value and to worship the almighty God of the Bible. But the craziness of today’s culture relentlessly promotes a self-centered life that is obsessed with temporal things. It causes people to listen with their eyes and think with their feelings. They exchange the worship of the almighty God for the worship of created things they can see and touch. Pleasure, pride, and self-gratification drive them forward to search for new ways to experience more and more of it.

Look at the current gender identity movement. Clearly, it is a perverse doctrine of Satan. And yet, in a few short years, millions of people, companies, and yes, even churches, now bow before it. The result can be seen in news headlines everywhere: broken people, hyper-sexuality aimed at children, shattered families, a rising epidemic of teenage suicide, and drug addiction. Make no mistake, sin is a brutal killer.

In contrast, Reformed Theology is the vibrant, inspiring, life-giving teaching of the Bible. It is a God-centered theology that places the worship of God as the primary pursuit of human existence. It places our focus first on the doctrine of God, his character, and his nature.

By focusing on God, we discover more about ourselves as men and women created in his image. We are not random, gender-fluid animals. We are human beings–men and women created in the image of God–who are dead in sin and need to be redeemed. The Scriptures teach us that through faith in Jesus alone we can be redeemed from spiritual death (Eph 2:8); we can be born again to live a life that God prepared for us since the beginning of time. This spiritual life can’t be earned by how good you are, purchased with money, or given by anyone but Jesus, our Redeemer.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Eph 2:8-9

How can you expect to dwell with God forever if you so neglect and forsake him here?– Jonathan Edwards

Reformed Theology stands on the foundation of Scripture as God’s inspired Word and divine roadmap for life, salvation, and eternal truth. It considers the teachings of the Bible as the highest authority, higher than the authority of any person, church, or government. This grinds painfully against today’s secular and corrupt religious world, yet it is absolutely true.

At the core of Reformed Theology is the gospel (the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection). At the heart of the gospel, is Jesus Christ. Tracing its roots in the teachings of the early church and the apostles, Reformed Theology teaches that the Christian life is one of saving grace, faith, and God’s sovereign power over all things: a life that glorifies God in everything, every day. How we talk, pray, worship, conduct ourselves, and treat others should all reflect the true teachings of the Bible. We are called to live as lights in a dark world. To live as servants of God and not as servants of self … just like Jesus.

If you’re someone who desires to be transformed from the crazy of this world (like I was), I challenge you to read on. Study the heart-changing doctrines of Reformed Theology and experience the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Let the pure, simple truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection set you free.

Calvin Bryant
Founder, JohnCalvin.com
Post tenebras lux (after darkness, light)

Foundation Truths
|

Foundation Truths

God’s Sovereignty & the Scriptures

What is Reformed Theology?

– Part One

What do you think of when you hear the words Reformed Theology? Perhaps you remember learning about a monk named Martin Luther nailing a list on a door because he was upset at the Roman Catholic Church. Or perhaps you have heard about the five solas of the Reformation: by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solus Christus), as revealed by Scripture alone (sola scriptura), to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). Or maybe you draw a blank?

In this four-part series, we seek to answer the question, ‘What is Reformed Theology?’ by walking you through the key themes, ideas, figures, and historical milestones of what we call Reformed Theology. We want you to get a basic lay of the land so you can know and love the richness of the historic Reformed faith and the power of the gospel found within its teachings.

Foundational Truths of Reformed Theology

There are many places to start an introduction to Reformed Theology. It is important to grasp what is known as the doctrines of grace (AKA the five points of Calvinism or TULIP). It is good to understand what theologians call the ordo salutis (Latin for the order by which people are saved from sin and death). And it is proper to learn and digest what the big conflicts were between the Medieval Church and the Reformers. We hope to begin scratching the surface on all these points throughout this series, but here in part one, we want to lay out the foundational framework that underlies Reformed Theology.

If you take away anything from this series, it should be these two principles: first, God is in control of all things (this is sometimes referred to as God’s sovereignty or providence); second, God’s word contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only ultimate guide for our lives. In these two truths, you will find the crux of all Reformed Theology—who has authority and by what standard is that authority tested.

God’s Sovereignty

Reformed thought puts God’s glory at the center of all things. God has manifested His glory in all of creation. All you have to do is look up at the sky, witness a gorgeous sunset, or watch a nature documentary to begin to see it.

All living things exist to glorify their creator. Man particularly was created in God’s image to bring Him glory. Christ died, was buried, and rose again to save sinners, but this too was primarily a testament to the wondrous glory of the Triune God.

Part of recognizing this glory is properly grasping God’s authority over all things. God controls time, space, reality, your life, the lives of the people around you, the movement of animals, the setting of the sun, the gravitational pull of the earth, the flow of the ocean waves, the paths of tornados, and on and on. Anything you can see, feel, hear, taste, smell, think, or know is governed by God. He is the supreme ruler. He has complete sovereignty over us in such a way that the Scriptures presume not a hair can fall from our heads without His knowledge and will (Lk 12:7, Lk. 21:18).

The Reformers deeply understood this and emphasized it in their teachings. Reformed Theology declares Christ’s Lordship over every aspect of life, not just salvation. This is good news. God holds everything in the palm of His hand, therefore we can truly rest. We can trust all of our lives to Him. We can put our worries, cares, and decisions in the hands of a good and righteous king. By His grace He saved us, and by His providence He sustains us.

The Authority of the Scriptures

God’s authority over all things means that we are to obey Him in all things. Fortunately, God has not left us without a word from Him. In the Old and New Testaments, we can find everything we need for salvation, obedience, and the glorifying of God every day.

Scripture is the standard by which we must measure everything. The Reformers came against a church that taught that the church itself was supreme, that it had ultimate authority over men, that it was the arbiter between right and wrong, and that it and only it could discern God’s will whether or not it matched up with the Scriptures. The Reformers put that church in its proper place and put the Bible back in the hands of the people. They said to people everywhere, “This is the Word of the Lord, live by it and nothing else.”

This is not to say that the Church as an institution is not important or that church traditions do not rightly shape and guide Christians. But the institutional Church and her traditions must come under the authority of the Scriptures.

The Scriptures are completely unique. Reformed Theology teaches that the scriptures were written by men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are God’s spoken word breathed out by Him to us. No church confession, creed, or teaching—no matter how good—can attain the status of the breathed-out word of God. In it we find God’s plan for redemption, we see the blueprints for God’s created order, we discover who Christ is, and we can finally begin to know truth. Because of its uniqueness, Reformed Theology teaches that we are to test everything—even its own teachings—by what God has said to us in His word.

In the Reformation period, there was a Latin phrase used that you ought to remember: Ad Fontes. This meant ‘back to the sources.’ The Reformers called for a renewed subscription to the Bible as the primary authority over a Christian. This means that the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, through a reliable translation, are to guide the Church and its members through all of life. It is the authority by which we are to judge all other authorities. We must always go back to it. This is at the heart of Reformed Theology—who has authority and by what standard is that authority tested?

Conclusion

So, to get a kick start on learning Reformed Theology, read your bible. Drink in the Word of God daily. Learn, understand, and apply His teachings to your life. Taste and see the richness of His love by resting in His providence.

In part two, we will provide a skeletal history of the Reformation, its key leaders, the major branches of Reformed thought, and some of its written confessions. We hope by reviewing the happenings of the 16th and 17th centuries, we can begin to see the tested truthfulness of the Reformed faith and discover why it matters for us today.

In parts three and four, we will dive into two big Reformed distinctives:

  1. Reformed soteriology – a theological term referring to the doctrine of how we are saved by God.
  2. The Reformed doctrine of worship – i.e., how we are to properly respond to God’s salvation.

The great reformed theologian John Calvin taught that on these two distinctives rest the whole of the Reformed faith. He writes:

“If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshiped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain” (Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church).

We pray that by examining these, you will have a closer allegiance to Christ, a greater love for God’s word, and an increasing desire to submit to Him and live for His glory.

The Beginnings
|

The Beginnings

The Reformation, Martin Luther & John Calvin

What is Reformed Theology?

– Part Two

When we said in part one that we would give a skeletal history of the Reformation, we really meant bare bones. The Reformation was one of the most consequential events in modern history with long-lasting effects on theology, politics, international relations, economics, and more. It was a significant movement that spanned a few centuries. Ph.D. students, historians, and theologians have yet to discover all the wealth of knowledge and repercussions of the Reformation.

We will sketch some of the Reformation’s theological footprints and leave the rest for you to discover on your own. Throughout part two, for the sake of brevity, we will be name-dropping notable Reformed theologians and moving on. Take this as an invitation to google them and dive into the richness of our Reformed heritage.

The Beginnings of Reformed Theology

The beginning of the Reformation era is popularly dated October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted his charges—commonly referred to as 95 Theses—on the door of the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenburg, Germany. There is no debate that this sparked a global movement to break from the corrupted Roman Church and get Christians back to the simple truths of the Bible. However, there were rumblings of Reformation for centuries leading up to 1517.

One could write libraries on the figures leading up to Luther, but there are two men worth mentioning briefly: John Wycliffe and John Hus. They both fought for Reformation a century before Luther. During the time when the Bible was only available in Latin, Wycliffe was passionate about translating the Scriptures into English for common use. He was named a heretic and his translation of the New Testament was banned from circulation. Hus publicly condemned the practice of selling indulgences (these were “merits of favor” one could buy from the church to secure personal salvation). He preached the Bible faithfully and explained the moral failings of the Roman Church. He was executed and killed as a heretic. These men paved the way for the giants who later challenged the authority of the Pope and taught ordinary people the word of God.

The Giants

We couldn’t do an overview of the Reformation without discussing the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin. These men are arguably the most influential Reformation-era theologians.

Martin Luther

In the 95 Theses, Luther, like Hus, taught that a Christian’s salvation did not depend on the purchase of “merits of favor” from the Church but was secured through Christ alone. Luther was convinced that man could not be saved through any type of merit or effort but only by the act of a gracious God. In his most important work, The Bondage of the Will, Luther argues that man’s will is not ‘free’ to choose God because left to himself man loves sin and death. Luther firmly believed that God freely gives His mercy and Spirit to man so that he may love goodness and life. We are never left to ourselves. Luther writes,

“I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground; but because even were there no dangers. I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success. But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God,” (Luther, The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1957, 313-314).

John Calvin

Calvin is famous for having a whole system of theology named after him. Calvinism taught that God predestined all happenings of history, including who would ‘choose’ to serve Him. Calvin never shied away from people’s concerns that predestination would imply a mean and cruel God. Instead, Calvin taught that predestination displayed God’s glory and mercy. He rightly believed that unrighteous man had no right to question the acts of a righteous and holy God.

Calvin was a lawyer and a pastor with a heart for the layman. He wrote his most famous work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, not as a theological magnum opus but as an ordinary guide to help the everyday Christian understand what the Bible teaches about what man is to believe about God and what God requires of man.

Today, Calvin’s teachings are often distilled to the five points of Calvinism. These are also known as the ‘doctrines of Grace’ acronymized as TULIP:

  1. T – Total Depravity – man by nature is sinful from birth
  2. U – Unconditional Election – man cannot earn his way into the family of God
  3. L – Limited Atonement – God in His wisdom and mercy chose a specific people to save
  4. I – Irresistible Grace – man cannot resist the call of the Holy Spirit
  5. P – Perseverance of the Saints – God will not lose any of His people

These doctrines are true and beautiful, but they do not begin to scratch the surface of Calvin’s teachings. During his time in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin wrote commentaries and preached through a plethora of Bible passages. He rebuked the abuses of the Roman Church. He designed and supported Christian governments, churches, and societies. And he left a treasure-trove of written work for us to plumb through.

Over and over, Calvin teaches that all of life is under God’s authority. In the Institutes he writes,

“The sum of the whole is this–since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the holy spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service,” (Calvin, Institutes, Book 1.18.2).

Not Just Luther and Calvin

We would be remiss if we didn’t direct you to the works of Martin Bucer, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Petrus van Mastricht, Francis Turretin, the Puritans, and more modern theologians like Herman Bavinck and our own century’s R.C. Sproul and Sinclair ​​Ferguson. These men are just drops in a bucket full of leaders and preachers we are blessed to stand upon.

As we said before, the Reformation was a huge movement with many branches and it’s hard to find an end date. Some date an ending at the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the so-called Thirty Years’ War of Religion, but this doesn’t account for the decades of reform that followed 1648. There is another Latin phrase from this time that you should remember: ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, the church reformed, always reforming.

The Providential Age

The Reformation launched a special time of faithfulness. Some call this a Providential Age. A time when interest in proper Bible translation came at the exact moment of the development of the printing press. Bibles were translated for the first time in people’s own languages and then mass produced and distributed so that the people of God could know firsthand the promises of God found in His word.

Bible reading and literacy led churches to write biblical confessions like the German Helvetic Confessions and the Dutch Three Forms of Unity. Perhaps of most note for us, is the English Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). Formed by a group of delegates known as the Westminster Divines in 1643, the WCF—along with its larger and shorter catechisms and book of church order—has become known as the jewel of the Reformation. It clearly distilled the truths of the Bible and the teachings of the Reformation into a clear and succinct guide for the aid of any church in the faithful proclamation of Christ.

Conclusion

But why does this all matter? Who cares what people in the 15th-17th centuries thought? Well, for one thing, no one today is unaffected by the impact of the Reformation. You cannot live in the modern world without breathing in the air left behind by this social movement. But on a deeper level, we should care because there is no such thing as an isolated Christian.

God designed us for communion with Him and other Christians. We cannot truly understand His word apart from His church. We learn more fully about Him through the study of the works of the brothers (and sisters) that came before us. The Reformation was a providential age of clarity and rich explanation of biblical truth, it is wise to sit humbly at the feet of the preachers and teachers of that time to more faithfully love God.

What Is Salvation?
|

What Is Salvation?

Salvation, One Sacrifice & Mediator, Union with Christ

What is Reformed Theology?

– Part Three

So far, you have read a lot about how the Reformers proclaimed and reaffirmed the authority of Scripture over all of life. This is especially true for the doctrine of salvation. In theological terms, this is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of soteriology, but it means the same thing.

What is the doctrine of salvation? Simply put, it is the teaching that explains how a man can be saved. In the Reformed Faith, particularly, the teaching explains how an unrighteous man can be accepted by a righteous God. In part three of this series, we will be walking you through the key tenets of the Reformed view of salvation.

Salvation is Outside of You

The Reformers in the 1500s battled a church that taught that man could earn his salvation. It taught that in some way salvation came from inside of you.

We’ve already talked about the purchasing of indulgences, and while Roman Catholic teaching on salvation is complex and has changed over the centuries, at the time of the Reformation the Roman Church taught that a person could buy salvation through money and good works. The Reformers directly challenged this. They instead taught that salvation was outside of the individual. That God orders salvation from beginning to end through His son Jesus Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith helpfully puts it:

“The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him,” (WCF Chapter 8, Section 5).

Christ secures our salvation apart from anything we do. How wonderful it is to know that we cannot save ourselves.

Think about this apart from the Reformed/Roman Catholic dispute. We live in a world today where people are constantly trying to prove themselves. People are hustling for the biggest paycheck, for success in the eyes of their peers, for fulfillment in a relationship, for joy in their activities, etc. They search for ‘salvation’ by making themselves feel better with anything they can find and it’s exhausting. As Christians, we do not have to worry about any of that because salvation is outside of us. Christ lived and died so that we could rest in Him.

No One Can Earn Salvation

In part two, we talked a little bit about Calvin’s doctrines of grace (you can review that here). Borrowing from him, we recall that we cannot do anything to earn salvation. There are no corporate ladders to heaven. We cannot earn salvation because we are sinful to our cores. The Scriptures teach that all people have sinned and that no one can truly do good on his or her own. We do not deserve to be saved. Yet, even though we are sinful, God still freely gives us the means to love Him. We love Him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

God chooses us. He adopts us as His own children. He causes us to trust Him. He justifies us (meaning He gets rid of our record of wrongs). God continues to work in us. He sanctifies us (meaning He grows us in godliness every day). And He will keep us in His church with other Christians until the day that we will reign with Christ for eternity. He does it all. We merit nothing.

Only One Sacrifice

But God hates sin and cannot leave it unpunished. In the Reformed Faith, there is a theological term called ‘penal substitutionary atonement.’ This simply refers to God—in both His justice and mercy–sending His son Jesus to die in our stead. It is “penal” because Christ bears a “legal” punishment for sin (Col. 2:14). It is substitutionary because Christ bears that punishment as our representative (1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 4:10). He takes our sins as His own and gives to us His own righteous deeds as if they were our own. Now we can be presented as righteous men and women before a righteous God.

Think back to the Old Testament sacrifices. In the books of the Law, God tells the people of Israel how they are to bring sacrifices before Him for the cleansing of their sins. He required the shedding of blood for forgiveness. Leviticus 16 particularly describes the day of atonement. This is when the High Priest of Israel would enter into the presence of God and present a lamb (among other things) as a bloody sacrifice for all the sins of all the people. The blood of the lamb would be shed as the representation of the people and the people would receive forgiveness. This was a shadowy picture of what Christ now does for us. The Scriptures teach us that Jesus is all at once our sacrificial lamb and our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:14). That Jesus once and for all saved us from our sins through His death on the cross.

The Roman Church taught that Christ had to be repeatedly sacrificed at the Mass for the cleansing of sins. Today’s culture tells us that we have to constantly “do better” and work harder. The Reformed faith relieves us of all that pressure by pointing us to Scripture’s glorious teaching of the sufficiency of Christ’s death to cover all our sins, faults, pains, and anxieties. Christ is enough.

Only One Mediator

The Scriptures teach that there is only one mediator between us and God, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Here again, the Westminster Confession is helpful in its clarity:

“The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man,” (WCF Chapter 8, Section 2).

Because Christ is both God and man, He is the only person that can provide us access to God. No other person can do that. The Roman Church taught that God could be accessed by praying through the Virgin Mary or through the saints. This is an unbiblical teaching. No saint, no Christian, no historical person can fill the role of mediator—only Jesus. While God has given us many examples of Godly men and women that we can imitate and learn from, we cannot look to any other person for salvation or access to Him. In Christ’s name alone do we pray. Christ is all and all.

Union with Christ

Perhaps one of the greatest emphases of the Reformed Doctrine of soteriology is our union with Christ. We enjoy all the benefits of salvation by being united to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in baptism and in communion with other Christians. The Scriptures teach that God saves us by linking us experientially with the death and resurrection of His son (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 3:27). We died with Him and put away our old sinful selves. We resurrected with Him and became a new man. Calvin writes:

“We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us,” (Calvin, Institutes 3.1).

Jesus didn’t just pay for the bad things we have done and will do. He didn’t just solve symptoms. He went to the heart of it all. He got into our skin so that we could get into His and truly be changed at the core. He took on flesh so that we could have a “heart of flesh.” We are eligible for His inheritance because He made us His own. The Scriptures tell us that He is the head and we as Christians are His body. We are inseparably united to Him and are saved by being in relationship with Him.

Conclusion

God in His grace and mercy saved us and sustains us every day by the work of Christ through the power of the Spirit. This should animate us to love and serve Him. We should look to our one sacrifice, our one mediator, and our head as an example of the life we should now live. As the Scriptures teach, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” (Col. 3:1-2).

Life of Worship
|

Life of Worship

What is Reformed Theology?

– Part Four

Remember when we said the Reformation was a historical event with far-reaching consequences on all areas of life? This was especially true in worship. The Reformers taught that a person did not have to become a pastor to properly glorify God. They taught that people could bring God glory by working hard in their professions, loving their families well, and living their everyday lives. The Reformation brought meaning to the ordinary Christian, as all areas of life became areas where we could love and worship God.

While Reformed Theology rightly recognizes that all of life is worship, it also correctly teaches that God has instituted a special time where He meets with His people. This is when Christians gather together to specially worship God by declaring His worth to Him (worth-ship). It is all about Him and His majesty, not about us or our preferences. In this last part of our series, we will be discussing four foundational Reformed teachings about this unique time of worship: 1) the Lord’s Day; 2) the Regulative Principle of Worship; 3) the centrality of the Word; 4) the place of the sacraments.

The Lord’s Day

The foundation for Reformed teaching on worship is the keeping of the one-day-in-seven pattern God instituted at the creation of the world. This is commonly referred to as the Sabbath Day or the Lord’s Day. After God created the world, the Scriptures tell us that He rested on the seventh day and set it apart from the other days of the week as a day to be kept holy (Exodus 20:8-10). The Reformers taught that Jesus’s resurrection on the first day of the week moved the seventh day Sabbath to the first day. The resurrection ushered in a new creation and with it a new day set apart for the worship of God.

There is much to be said about the Sabbath, its basis in Scripture, its benefits for Christians today, and how it can properly be observed, but what you should keep in mind for now is that God instituted in His word a special day when His people should gather to worship Him. The Scriptures tell us that we are not to neglect this important gathering (Hebrews 10:25). It is an essential aspect of the Christian life. The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck noted:

“Whoever isolates himself from the church … loses the truth of the Christian faith. That person becomes a branch that is torn from the tree and shrivels, an organ that is separated from the body and therefore doomed to die. Only within the communion of the saints can the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of Christ be comprehended,” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 1: Prolegomena).

God has created us to be in relationship with Him and with the rest of His people, and He has commanded us to keep a day set apart. This is the bedrock of true Reformed worship.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), simply put, just means that we are not to do anything in the special worship of God that He has not prescribed in His word. The Reformers taught that worship was to be first and foremost pleasing to God and not about individual human preferences. The Westminster Confession put it nicely, noting:

“The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (Westminster Confession 21.1).

At the time of the Reformation, this meant that churches would no longer keep up Roman Catholic practices of using images of God in any form or other man-made inventions. No longer would churches add things to the worship service that were not found in Scripture. Today, this means when you enter a church all parts of its service must be defended by something found in Scripture.

The Centrality of the Word

Speaking of Scripture, the Reformers revolutionized the church services of their day by making Scripture central. Reformed worship requires that the Scripture be elevated to its proper place.

Where the Roman Church exclusively read the Scriptures in the elitist language of Latin, the Reformers taught that the Word of God was to be read in a language that could be understood by the common man. Where the Roman Church diminished the importance of preaching, focusing instead on a mystic observance of religious rituals, the Reformers taught that the Scriptures were to be carefully explained from the pulpit. Where the Roman Church used music as a ceremonial display with little engagement from the congregation, the Reformers taught that Psalms were to be vigorously sung by the men, women, and children of the church.

Because the Word of Christ is to dwell richly in the church (Colossians 3:16), Reformed worship emphasizes a high view of Scripture in church services. The Scripture itself teaches us that God chose the “foolishness of preaching” as a means of making people trust in Him (1 Corinthians 1:21). Worship must be thoroughly informed by Scripture and church services should be bathed from beginning to end in the Word of God.

The Place of the Sacraments

What is a sacrament? The word sacrament literally means ‘mystery.’ In the church, a sacrament is a practice commanded by God and given to Christians as a sign and gift of grace to help them grow and strengthen their faith. It is mysterious as it is hard to understand exactly how a sacrament can bring about such growth in faith. While the Roman Catholic church taught that there were seven sacraments and that these sacraments had mystical power within themselves, the Reformers correctly taught that the Bible only prescribed two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and that these two have no power within themselves. Instead, the sacraments help Christians grow through the power of God.

Baptism is commonly referred to as the sacrament of initiation. It is when a Christian is washed with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a sign and seal of his or her union to Christ. It is a sacrament of initiation because it only takes place once and usually at the beginning of the Christian life. The Lord’s Supper is commonly known as a continual sacrament. It is where the church gathers together to eat bread and wine as a memorial of Christ’s death. It is a continual sacrament because it is to be administered in churches frequently and because it is a means that God uses to continually nourish Christians.

Reformed theology teaches that the sacraments are never to be administered without the explanation of the Word of God, and that when Christians engage in the Word and Sacrament in church services they are being taken up into the very presence of God in Heaven. Indeed, when we hear the word preached and eat and drink the bread and wine, we are joined Christ in worship. Calvin notes that “this mystery is heavenly, there is no need to draw Christ to earth that he may be joined to us,” (Calvin, Institutes4.31). Thus, Reformed worship teaches that the sacraments are to be regarded highly as they help Christians grow closer to God.

Conclusion

Reformed worship is a time when God directly meets with His people. He calls us into his presence. We respond by confessing our sins to Him and hearing His Word. Reformed worship is saturated in the Word. In a Reformed service, the scripture should be read, preached, and sung.

Reformed worship is a time when God cleans us and welcomes us as His children in the sacrament of Baptism and then continually feeds us through the bread and wine of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He then commissions us to leave His presence and begin the new week with His blessing.

The Lord’s Day, then, is the most important day of the week. On it, we rest and worship the one, true, and living God. Reformed worship places God’s glory above all things and helps shape us into people who long after Him.

What Is Reform Theology?

What Is Reform Theology?

Why should you even care?

mountains

What is Reform Theology?

To answer this question in its totality would require a good-sized tome. To try and pour it into this brief article would be like trying to empty the river Rhine into a coffee cup. So we will keep it in summary form and look up briefly at the snowcapped mountains.

First of all, before we crack open any of a thousand theology books, let us look into our history books and briefly answer the questions: what was the Reformation?

What was the Reformation?

The Reformation was a spiritual awakening and religious reform within Western Christianity, which shook every nation in Europe during the 1500s. It was a protest against the theology and abuses within the Roman Catholic Church, which held widespread control over people’s lives from the cradle to the grave.

The earliest reformers were men like Peter Waldo and the Waldensians of twelfth-century France, whose history was written in the blood of their martyrs. The Church of Rome birthed the Inquisition in this womb of time. Other early reformers were John Wycliffe of England and John Huss of Bohemia (14th century), who wanted to reform the church but were met with violent resistance by its hierarchy. The Inquisition dug up Wycliffe’s bones and scattered his ashes. Not keeping their promise to Huss of “safe passage,” they burned him alive.

Approximately 125 years later, in 1517, things were coming to a boil. Along came Martin Luther of Germany, a Roman Catholic monk, and theologian. He wanted to do more than clean up the corruption within the Church, and he went a whole lot deeper. He went to the theological root of the problem, corruption of doctrine. On October 31, 1517, he nailed up on the Wittenberg castle church door (used as a public bulletin board) Ninety-five Thesis that challenged Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. This was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Like a spark that hits dry leaves, it spread through Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Britain. Its three primary torchbearers were Martin Luther in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and John Calvin in France.

The Founder and chief of what we now call Reformation Theology was the French Pastor-Theologian-Evangelical-Pro-test-ant John Calvin. He founded the first Reformed Church in 1571.

In its earliest stages, all of the Reformation churches that spun out of Calvinism used the name Reformed. Later on, many would use titles such as Evangelical, Congregational Calvinistic, Presbyterian, etc. Their purpose was to separate themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, which as Pro-test-ants, they saw had lost the simple gospel message of salvation by grace alone.

 In the Middle and Dark Ages (500-1500 AD): (Some don’t like the word Dark, but theologically it was very much so: thick, dark, and deep). Christianity had become a religion of bowing and bending, relics and ritualism, feast days and formalities, a tangled web of dos and don’ts. The Medieval church shrouded the simple gospel in the fog of sacramentalism and ceremonialism.

The Church no longer heard the cry of the simple man and their hunger for the simple gospel. Like the cry of the unlearned gentiles who traveled to Jerusalem in John 12:21 to talk to Jesus. They said to Andrew and Philip, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” But they never did see Jesus. They left feeling like the Ethiopian who pilgrimaged over 1500 miles to Jerusalem to meet with God in the Temple. But after seven days, after all the smoke and incense cleared, he walked away spiritually empty. He did not find the personal relationship with God for which he was so earnestly searching. Philip gave him the simple gospel (Acts 8:37). Multitudes in the spiritual Dark Ages felt like these pilgrims, lost in a dark night, lost in a thick fog they feared would never disappear. Thus John Calvin, thus the Reformation Church, thus the Reformed Church, thus Reformed Theology.

The Five Pillars & The Five Solas

Before we drill down into the Five Solas of Reformed Theology, let’s be clear; Reformed Theology is not a new belief system: it does not trace its doctrine back to John Calvin, but like John Calvin, it traces its theology back to the Apostles back to Scripture. While their history as a denomination is slightly over five hundred years old, their doctrine is as old as Genesis chapter one and John chapter one.

Reformed Theology can be categorized into two main branches. The Five Pillars and The Five Solas. The Five Pillars of Reformation Theology are summarized in the acronym T-U-L-I-P. They are generalizations and by no means is Reformed Theology limited within the borders of these five pillars. The Synod of Dort crafted them in 1618-1619. The Five Pillars are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistibility of grace, and final Perseverance of the saints 

In another article, we will look through both our microscope and telescope and behold wonderful truths found in this acronym entitled T-U-L-I-P

However, In this article, we briefly look at the Five Solas (Sola simply means “Alone.”) that earmark Reformed Theology and the world-changing doctrine of the Reformation fathers.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura meaning “Scripture Alone.” This was the rallying cry of a Gideon (Judges 6:34), the voice of a John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1-12) that fell upon many who had ears to hear (Mark 4:9) throughout 16th century Europe. The Reformers could find no biblical support for praying to saints, transubstantiation, Papal infallibility, or indulgences. They could not see what was not there; the Scriptures alone, not Scripture plus tradition, are the single, authoritative Word of God. They are the divine yardstick by which they measure all teachings and practices. We do not judge the scriptures; they judge us.

Roman Catholicism likes to make the argument: Show me in the Bible where it says Sola Scriptura or “Scripture Alone. But this is as shallow as the Muslim argument, “Show me in the Bible where Jesus said, “I Am God.” There is no such verse, but the Biblical authors implied it repeatedly (Acts 17:11; I Timothy 4:6; II Timothy 3:16).

Sola Gratia

Sola Gratia, meaning “Salvation by Grace Alone.” Christ saved no one from the penalty of their sins because their good works outnumber their evil works. Salvation is totally by his grace alone. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved favor of Christ upon the unworthy sinner. Salvation is by grace alone, not by a mixture of faith plus good works. Religious leaders such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus found salvation in the same manner as did the penitent thief on the cross next to Jesus. He was as hopeless as a thief in a death cart on its way to the guillotine. The highest court had declared him deserving of death. He had no good works to brag about. Hear the cry of a repentant sinner, “Lord, remember me.” And now hear Christ’s good news of grace;” Today, you shall be with me in paradise.” They, like all sinners, were redeemed by grace alone. This means there will be no boasters in heaven. We all get there the same way, by Grace Alone.

Sola Fide

Sola Fide, meaning “Salvation by Faith Alone.” By placing their faith in Christ alone, Christ’s perfect righteousness is immediately imputed to the most unrighteous sinner making them as righteous as Christ Himself. Can you think of a thought more beautiful than that? By faith alone, the worst sinner will stand before God as righteous as God’s own Son. By faith in Christ alone, we meet God’s perfect standard. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new “(I Corinthians 5:17). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Sola Christus

Solus Christus, meaning “In Christ Alone.” Salvation from sin is Jesus Christ plus nothing. He did not die for perfect people. He died to make the most filthy, dark-dyed sinner perfect. He is the perfect sacrifice, and because his sacrifice was perfect, we cannot make it more perfect. When God the Father looks upon the vilest repentant sinner, He sees them through the lens of his Son. How perfect is that? Who can improve upon that? “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus Christ plus nothing was the salvation doctrine of the Reformers. No one else and nothing else can save us from the penalty of our sins. Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is sufficient for our justification and reconciliation with God the Father. The gospel is preached when Solus Christus, salvation through Christ alone is being preached.” He alone ends the dark night of the soul. As Noah was secure in the ark, we are eternally secure in Jesus Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria

Soli Deo Gloria, meaning “For the Glory of God Alone.” God created all things for His own glory. Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” His glory shall be our song throughout eternity (Revelation 19:6-8).

The Westminster Confession is a treasure chest overflowing with many more doctrines of theology than these five solas: but they are the heartbeat of Reformed Theology. These are the guiding lights along the runway of life that will suffice until we touch down on heaven’s landing pad. These five solas are five trumpet blasts sounding forth to keep the church from falling asleep. They are not sixteenth-century doctrines or twenty-second-century doctrines but eternal truths forever settled in heaven. As Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” His Word is the foundation of all foundations. Here we stand, here we rest, where we plant our flag. We can do no other.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Dr. Robert Bryant

End of content

End of content