Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

Last week I posted 20 Statements that if true in your life, you know you may not be Reformed. But some may ask, "What does it mean to be 'Reformed?'"

A month or so ago, Tim Challies put together a rather good posting in which he explained what (in his opinion) it means to be Reformed. I bring it to you in hopes that you might find it helpful and informative.

"Every year or so I find myself crawling back to a definition of the word Reformed that I first wrote up a couple of years ago. I find it worthwhile to revisit this every twelve months or so. With the amount of reading and studying I do in a year, I feel it is interesting to turn to this definition to see what I would change and what I would refine. I also find it humbling to see which parts of the definition I may have emphasized at the expense of others. And so today I thought I would define the word Reformed, trusting that the readers of this site will find it helpful. While Calvinism and Reformed are not fully synonymous, most people understand them to be so. Because the differences between them are subtle, I will use them synonymously.

It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament. Thus by affirming Reformed theology, a person is implicitly denying certain other theologies, such as Catholic theology (which Reformed theology rose in opposition to) and Arminian theology (which later rose in opposition to Reformed theology). While Calvinism predates Arminianism, it was only codified in the five points after the rise of Arminianism. There is a sense in which Calvinism is both a cause of and the reaction to Arminianism. Or perhaps we could say that Arminianism is a response to Reformed theology, and the codification of Calvinism is a response to Arminianism.

There are many expressions of the Christian faith that are based at least partially on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are separated into four main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Cults. Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine. We will concern ourselves today with the minority who consider themselves Reformed. These tend to be people who attend Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist Churches, though they may be found in other churches as well. Sadly, there are many churches that were once Reformed and may still use the title, even if they have long since abandoned the theology.

It is surprisingly difficult to find a worthwhile definition of Reformed. While many people claim to understand the Reformed faith and are eager to provide a definition, few seem to be both fair and adequate. Here are a couple of examples culled from a Google search:

1. A term used to refer to a tradition of theology which draws inspiration from the writings of John Calvin (1510-64) and his successors. The term is generally used in preference to "Calvinist."
2. Referring to the Reformation, its theology, and/or those subscribing to it. Also used to differentiate a) Calvinism from Lutheranism, or b) Continental European Calvinism from Scottish Calvinism, a.k.a. Presbyterianism.

Those are both concise definitions but ones that do not capture the full sense of the word. A far better and more complete definition is found at Five Solas. There Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College breaks the definition into four parts which I will expound in some detail. The first two parts define foundational Protestant beliefs and the second two are exclusively Reformed. According to Curtis, to be Reformed is:

1. To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
- Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
- Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
- Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
- Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
- The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
- The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
- The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ's love to us in our deep need.
- The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

It would be correct to say that, to this point, we are dealing with a statement of the Protestant faith more than a statement of the Reformed faith. From this list we see that Reformed Christians adhere to all the foundational beliefs taught in the Bible. These beliefs were the foundation of the early church and are based on the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by the apostles and early church fathers. Many of these beliefs were changed or lost as the Catholic Church grew in power and authority from the fifth century onwards. Throughout history there were isolated and often-persecuted pockets of non-Catholic believers who held to many or all of these points of doctrine, but they were largely lost until their rediscovery at the time of the Reformation.

We will find that Professor Curtis' definition is based largely upon a Presbyterian understanding of several doctrines. Reformed Baptists may take issue with the sacraments being signs and seals. I would suggest that Reformed believers will have a high view of two sacraments, though they may differ somewhat on just how they are to understood and how they are to be administered.

2. To confess the four solas:
- The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
- The basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
- The means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
- The merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

Again, these form the basis for Protestantism as much as they do for the Reformed tradition, though sadly the majority of Protestants will never encounter the terms. These are the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church. These four points of doctrine are based entirely on the Bible and were the theological driving force behind the newly formed Protestant movement.

3. To confess the distinctives of the Reformed faith:
In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints

These five distinct points of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible. When people speak of being Reformed these five points of doctrine are most often what they are referring to. Most evangelical (non-Reformed) churches do not hold to all of these points. Some hold to two or three (and occasionally even four), but most reject them in favor of Arminian theology which is, at heart, synergistic, relying on a cooperative effort between man and God.

4. Other Reformed Distinctives:
Professor Curtis goes on to list other points of doctrine he believes are Reformed distinctives. They include: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Covenant theology (The Church is the New Israel - we most often see an expression of this theology in infant baptism, but it also impacts eschatology and many other doctrines) and Life is religion (Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations [callings]). I would not consider adherence to these principles necessary to consider oneself Reformed and I suspect the majority of Reformed Christians would agree with me. It is these distinctions that provide some of the differences between Calvinist and Reformed.

5. Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the glory in all things.
This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.

So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible - to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith."

Kuddos again to Tim for this!

If you are interested in learning more about the Reformed tradition, here are a few resources:
- Desiring God, by John Piper
- What Is Reformed Theology?, by R. C. Sproul
- The Doctrines of Grace, by James Boice
- And for those interested in knowing of today's contemporary Reformers,

Monday, August 28, 2006

Informed, Prepared, Intentional Families; Parenting

Paul David Tripp asks in Chapter 3 (pg. 40) of his book, Age of Opportunity (P & R Publishing, 2001), "what did God intend the family to do," "what does God want us to do with our teenagers?" He reflects on the number of times he hears people telling stories of their family vacations, or their elaborate plans for a vacation or weekend getaway, and how it hit him one day "that many parents are more organized, more intentional, better researched, and more goal-oriented when planning their vacations than they are in raising their children." He goes on to say,

"Imagine how a vacation would go if I "sort of" understood what a vacation was supposed to be, but I really wasn't completely sure. Imagine how it would go if I "sort of" knew where I wanted to go with my family on vacation, but I wasn't really committed to one destination. What if I had a bit of a sense of direction, but had taken no time to really study the maps? What if I knew that vacations tended to be costly, but I hadn't really prepared financially? What possibility would there be that my family would, in fact, have any vacation, let alone a successful one? So it is with family life. It is vital that we are biblically informed, biblically prepared, and biblically intentional."

True, insightful, and sobering thoughts to take to heart. Do you see any of this lack of preparation in your own life, with your own family and/or kids? I know I do. Humbling. Challenging.

Purchase Age of Opportunity today! Also get a free copy of the Study Guide and Leader's Guide!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Knowing is Half the Battle: Well, Are You?

I recently came across this GREAT list of statements that if true in your life, then you know you are not Reformed. Kuddos to Dr. Kim Riddlebarger for coming up with this list.

You Know You're Not Reformed if:

1. You think the Apostles Creed is the guy who fought Rocky in Rocky I.
2. You think the Canons of Dort are like the Guns of Navarrone.
3. You think Ursinus is a nasal condition.
4. You think Arminians are the people who run convenience stores.
5. You think “popery” in the church makes it smell flowery.
6. You think the psalter goes with the pepper shaker.
7. You think Unconditional Election is a practice of communist dictatorships.
8. You think the Three Forms of Unity are health, wealth, and happiness.
9. You think “catechism” and “dogma” relate to pets.
10. You don't know why some people put periods in the word T.U.L.I.P.
11. You think the guy talking about Irresistable Grace must have a girlfriend named Grace.
12. You think Particular Redemption has to do with coupons that can only be used in specific stores.
13. You think the Five Solas is a follow-up album to the Three Tenors.
14. You think that Imputation has to do with data entry.
15. You think Propitiation is for hair loss.
16. You think Zwingli is a sound effect made when Wile E. Coyote fails to catch the Road Runner.
17. You think that Justification has to do with aligning the margins of a text.
18. You think Pelagianism is wrong because one should always do original work.
19. You think the Diet of Worms sounds disgusting.
20. You think Calvin is a comic strip character.

So, how many of these are true of you?

"The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on the one hand, with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God's sight as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other hand, adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners. He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him, in all his thinking, feeling, willing--in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, social, religious relations--is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist." (The Theology of Calvin, Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D., LL.D., Late Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

God Is In Control: God’s Providence

God’s Providence – That which He creates He also sustains and provides for.

Let’s take a look at 10 Truths of the Providence of God, as seen in the life of Joseph. Joseph himself, as recorded in Genesis 50:15-21 looked back over his life and the providential hand of God thereon, and recognized before his brothers (fearing he would kill them for the evil they had done to him) that what they had indeed meant for evil, “God meant it for good.”

So let’s see what Joseph saw; recognizing and heralding the truth that:

1. God is Providentially in Control Over DEVASTATING LOSS. (Gen. 37:18-28) (See also, John 15:1-2; Job 1:20-22)

2. God is Providentially in Control Over ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. (Prov. 16:4; 16:9; 16:33) (See also, Psalm 135:5-6, Eph. 1:11) *God’s will implies certainty without compulsion.

3. God is Providentially in Control Over ALL ASSIGNMENTS. (Gen. 39:1-3) *Running Potiphar’s household was preparation for running nation during time of famine.

4. God is Providentially in Control Over ALL GRIEVOUS SETBACKS. (Gen. 39:6-10, 20-23)

5. God is Providentially in Control Over BROKEN HOPES. (Gen. 40:14, 23) *Trust in Him; not in our own contrived timetables.

6. God is Providentially in Control Over PROLONGED WAITING. (Gen. 41:1) (See also, 2 Cor. 5:7)

7. God is Providentially in Control Over POWERFUL PEOPLE. (Gen. 41:1-8) (See also, Is. 40:23; Prov. 21:1)

8. God is Providentially in Control Over WEATHER, FAMINE, and CALAMITIES. (Gen. 41:25-32) (See also, Amos 3:6; Psalm 119:68)

9. God is Providentially in Control Over ALL PROMOTION & ADVANCEMENT. (Psalm 75:6-7)

10. God is Providentially in Control Over EVERY EVENT IN LIFE – GOOD AND BAD – AND WORKS OUT ALL THINGS FOR GOOD FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM AND ARE CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE. (Rom. 8:28) (See also, James 4:15) *God, who is good, is in control of all things and works them toward and for His glory.

This study was given by Dr. Steve Farrar last year during a men’s Bible study. For men living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, you may be interested in knowing that each week, beginning Wednesday, September 13, 2006, and running through May 2007, Steve leads the Wednesday Night Men's Fellowship in the sanctuary of Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas. This is a free, Wednesday night class for all men, from 7-8:30 p.m.

Let me encourage you, if you live in the DFW area, to make the trip and join us this fall under Steve’s God-honoring and glorifying study and instruction!

Finally, some great quotes on providence:

“God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy” (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i)

“By the law of providence, I mean God's sovereign disposal of all the concerns of men in this world—in the variety, order, and manner, which he pleases—according to the rule and infinite reason of his own goodness, wisdom, righteousness, and truth.” (John Owen)

“A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthly problems. It is almost equally true that a clear and full apprehension of the universal providence of God is the solution of most theological problems.” (B.B. Warfield)

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" (Abraham Kuyper)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Treasury of Devotional Gems!

I wanted to highlight some free, online devotional resources that I've had listed for some time on the right, sidebar column of this blog.

My first and primary choice of a daily devotional read is Charles Spurgeon's Morning & Evening (also in searchable format).

Another great is Oswald Chambers', My Utmost for His Highest.

To both of these, I've recently added an additional, wonderful online devotional resource authored by Baptist pastor, Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), Morning Thoughts, as well as his Evening Thoughts.

It is my hope that this highlight will encourage your perusal and use of these and other devotional resources (see the others on the sidebar).

And while I have your attention, I'm curious . . . Do you use these or any other daily devotional resources? If so, what have you found to be the most helpful and have the greatest impact on your day, or on the way you view and/or approach your day and the challenges you face?


Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Lord's Prayer: Understand it, Say it, Mean it

Prayer – your speaking to God, ascribing to him Glory, and asking for His touch in your life, is, needless to say, powerful! It must be something more than a pat-recitation, one that’s made simply as a routine. It must be something that flows out of a truly committed heart; a reflection of what’s in your spirit, a mirror of your attitude toward God, i.e., what’s inside of you.

Take the Lord’s Prayer for example. An unknown author put it this way:

"I cannot say OUR if I live only for myself in a spiritually watertight compartment;
I cannot say FATHER if I do not endeavor each day to act like His child;
I cannot say, WHO ART IN HEAVEN if I am laying up no treasure there;
I cannot say hallowed be Thy name if I am not striving for holiness;
I cannot say Thy king­dom come if I am not doing all in my power to hasten that wonderful event;
I cannot say Thy will be done if I am disobedient to His Word;
I cannot say in earth as it is in heaven if I’ll not serve Him here and now;
I cannot say give us this day our daily bread if I am dis­honest or if I am seeking things by subterfuge;
I cannot say forgive us our debts if I harbor a grudge against anyone;
I cannot say lead us not into temptation if I deliberately place myself in its path;
I cannot say deliver us from evil if I do not put on the whole armor of God;
I cannot say Thine is the kingdom if I do not give to the King the loyalty due Him as a faithful subject;
I cannot attribute to Him the power if I fear what men may do;
I cannot ascribe to Him the glory if I’m seeking honor only for myself; and
I cannot say forever if the horizon of my life is bounded completely by time.”

The reality of your prayers is that you are speaking to the sovereign ruler of the universe. Your prayers are an expression of your heart; evidence of your relationship to God. May we all be daily encouraged to keep our heart, mind, soul and spirit focused on Him, and on who He is, and who He is in us.

For an excellent study on the Lord's Prayer, see John MacArthur’s sermon series, The Disciples' Prayer.

You may also be blessed by watching the Lord's Prayer in Sign Language.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

How Clearly Is Your Contrast Tuned?

Contrast (n) 1) The state of being noticeably different from something else when put or considered together. 2) a thing or person noticeably different from another. (Compact Oxford English Dictionary)

How many of us have fine-tuned our contrast so that others would see clearly, with bright, unmistakable colors, the difference of Christ in us? Has your contrast been so tuned that others, when they look at, and speak and deal with you, know that you are noticeably different from those without Christ?

Have we so tuned, or had tuned, our contrast to conform to the true character of Christ? Consider the Book of Jude, and its example of faithful, Christ-like living in contrast to those still in darkness. Jude admonishes us of the fact that in order to stand in contrast, we must:

1. Remember the Lord's Words; True, Accurate Biblical Teaching.
Jude 17-19, But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

2. Remain in the Lord's Love.
Jude 20-21, But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

3. Rescue For God's Glory.
Jude 22-23, And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

4. Rest in the Lord's Power.
Jude 24-25, Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May you, if your are a blood-bought, redeemed child of the Savior, live a life in contrast; standing out from the background of the world and society in which you live, as a light and beacon of His amazing grace and mercy!


Monday, August 07, 2006

Hawking Jesus: Shameless.

The 2006 International Christian Retail Show in Denver, CO is the place to be if you're in the market for Virtuous Woman Christian perfume; "Follow the Son Flip-Flops" with patterned soles that leave the message "Follow Jesus" in the sand; camouflage baseball caps marked with a red cross; Gospel Golf Balls with the slogan "a great golf ball with a greater purpose;" Scripture Candy with Christian chocolate; or Queen Esther action figures or Christian pirate decals. (The Christian retail market reached $4.3 billion in sales in 2004.)

Is it just me, or has the church degraded so low that we are in effect taking the Lord's name in vain in this shameless hawking of goods, all under the banner of "Christian," for some pragmatic "greater good?" Oh, how we've so cheapened the name "Christian!"

Acts 8:18-22 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

Luke 19:45-46 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house [My NAME] shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

You tell me - Am I on the mark, or way off course?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Doctrine Divides? No, Doctrine (and Creeds) Help Define!

John Samson, pastor of Faith Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona, recently posted on the importance of, and attention that should be given to, the Creeds of the church.

He says, in part:

"'Doctrine divides!' That's the popular belief of our culture today, as its sails on the shifting sea of modern day relativism. Our generation shouts out, 'It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere,' yet the Bible portrays a very different message.

We have to admit that doctrine does in fact divide. It divides truth from error, the true prophet from the false prophet, and the real Christ from the counterfeit.

Some say 'all I want is a relationship with God' not some dead creed or theology. I am all for knowing God intimately, but we need to know the difference between the real God and the many false ones. If someone wants to know Jesus, they first need to make clear which 'Jesus' they are referring to: the 'Jesus' of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) who is the spirit brother of Lucifer, the result of God the Father's sexual union with Mary?; or perhaps the 'Jesus' of the Watchtower organization (Jehovah's Witnesses) who is a created though highly elevated god?; or perhaps the 'Jesus' of Islam who was never the Son of God but merely a highly esteemed prophet, who was whisked away from the cross and never suffered death? Exactly which Jesus - for there are many out there?
. . .

Lets remember that the Judaizers in the Galatian church had many things right. They were probably very orthodox on a whole number of issues. They would no doubt affirm belief in the one true God, and that Jesus Christ was the long awaited Messiah. They wished to be included in the Christian assembly and I feel sure that they would have spoken about Christ with very affectionate terms. Yet, they added just ONE thing to the biblical Gospel (happened to be circumcision in their case) and the Apostle Paul pronounced the anathema (eternal curse) of God upon them (Galatians 1:6-9), calling them "false brothers" (Galatians 2:4) - not merely 'brothers who have a different perspective with whom we agree to disagree' but in fact, people who looked and acted like brothers, but who were nothing of the kind.
. . .

Many in our own day are able to speak favorably about God and about Christ, but exactly which god and which Christ? If they are not honoring the one true God, then they are honoring a false one, and the sad reality is that false gods cannot save for the simple reason that they do not actually exist.

In this ocean of change, there stands a bedrock that has stood the test of time. It is an ancient creed that offers a sure and safe haven, and is an anchor in a theological world adrift and deceived. Christians throughout the centuries have built their lives on it, believing that its statements are merely reflections of what the Bible teaches about God, His Son, Jesus Christ, His atoning work and the life the Holy Spirit brings to His Church."

Very well said, Pastor Samson. Thank you!

For more on creeds, please see my earlier post: Study of Church History: Critical and Essential.