What do Reformed Christians believe about doctrine, salvation, the Bible and the covenant, and much more?
The Old Testament prophets cried out to Judah concerning the great dangers they faced: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hos. 4:6). Amos warned, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of the hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).
Our deep concern is that the situation in our day and in this land is truly similar to that in the days of the prophets of old. The Times stated in its Jan. 30, 1993 issue, “What is the true situation (in England)? Believing, worshipping Christians are a tiny handful of our nation. Ninety per cent or more of our citizens have virtually no knowledge of Christianity.” That is a sad commentary. Of that “tiny handful” there are wide divergences of belief. There is surely a great need that the Reformed faith to be proclaimed.
Why is the situation as it presently is? We live in the “last days” (Acts 2:17). During this period of time, the Word of our Lord is being fulfilled that many depart (I Tim. 4:1) and the love of many “waxes cold” (Matt. 24:12). Within the world itself, there is the gross materialism which has poisoned society. There is the mad rush for more and more entertainment—often of the most abominable sort. The scoffers continue to mock, asking, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (II Peter 3:4).
The situation in the churches is almost as bad. Apostasy abounds. There is mass defection from the “old paths” (Jer. 6:16). There are the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15). Scripture’s prophecy is being realized: “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). There is growing pressure again for union of all churches and denominations. Doctrine is considered irrelevant. “New” theologies arise. The sheep, it would seem are about to be devoured by the ravening wolves. Our assurance then can only be in Christ’s Word, “No man can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
In these distressing times, the Word of Christ comes though loudly and clearly, “Behold I stand at the door and knock …” (Rev. 3:20). Even as He once before stood at the door of the church of the Laodiceans, calling out the faithful who remained in that apostate church, so He calls still today. God’s people hunger for the Word. Many are not being fed. They are receiving “stones for bread.” Christ calls to come out and sup with Him around His Word which abides forever.
Therefore, we of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship, seek to form a link between all those who love the Reformed faith and desire still the “old paths.” We desire to establish, where such is possible, churches which will boldly proclaim the old truths.
What is the “Reformed” faith? By “faith,” we refer to the body of truth which is set forth in Scripture itself. We speak of the “Reformed” faith not as though it is some sort of substitute for scriptural faith. There is, after all, but one objective set of truths which is presented in Scripture.
By “Reformed,” we would distinguish ourselves from others who in one way or another deviate from the “faith” set forth in God’s Word. We hold to the truths of Scripture as that has been summarized systematically in the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity, i.e., the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt.
What, then, is the Reformed (that is scriptural) faith?
The Sovereignty of God
First and foremost, the Reformed faith emphasises the sovereignty of God. Does this distinguish it from others who likewise teach the sovereignty of God? Yes it does. We are convinced that the Reformed faith maintains the truth of God’s sovereignty consistently. All Christians surely would agree that God is sovereign. He rules over all. Yet repeatedly one encounters doctrines and practices which contradict the truth of God’s sovereignty. In order to satisfy human reasoning, there have been those who insist on the “free will” of all men to accept or reject the Christ as they will. There are those who present a Christ who knocks at the sinner’s heart’s door, pleading for admittance (misquoting Rev. 3:20). There are those who teach that the final number of the elect of God is determined not by God from eternity, but by the activities of man. There are those who teach that God loves all people—yet that finally He casts some into hell. Others would teach that because of the love of God for all, He can cast none into hell.
The Reformed faith consistently maintains the sovereignty of God. He has created in six literal days (Gen. 1), and continues to sustain all of His universe. He directs and controls also all moral, rational creatures. He has from eternity determined to save some (the elect) through the blood of the Lamb (Eph. 1:4) and determined that others would be cast into hell in the way of their sins (Rom. 9:22). Never does God relinquish any aspect of His rule in any sense. All of the doctrines of the church of Christ must conform to that. The church may not “adjust” the sovereignty of God to accommodate man’s idea of what is just and right. Rather, man’s confession must conform to the great truth of God’s sovereignty. (In this connection, we highly recommend the Baker edition of the stirring book of Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God.
The Infallible Scriptures
The knowledge of the sovereign God is derived not through man’s searching, but by the revelation of God Himself. The Reformed faith holds to the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, to its infallibility and inspiration. It is the “God-breathed” Word (II Tim. 3:16) spoken by Christ (John 1) so that we might know and understand that which God would reveal of Himself. Without that Word we could have no certain knowledge. With it, we have reliable and sure testimony concerning God and concerning His Son Jesus Christ, and Christ’s work in redeeming and delivering His church.
The Covenant of Grace
The Reformed faith holds to the great truth of the “covenant of grace.” We briefly state our own convictions concerning Scripture’s teaching in this regard.
The covenant of grace must be understood in light of the Trinity. The Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) eternally communes within Himself perfectly. It is a communion which beggars human description and goes beyond human understanding. Yet that truth of covenant communion with Himself is the basis of the covenant of grace. The Triune God eternally determined to reveal outside of Himself the glory of communion as it exists within Himself. He determined to show in the highest possible way a communion with an elect people chosen eternally in Christ,
A proper understanding of this work of God ties together the various wonderful truths of Scripture. The word of God shows that this covenant is “unilateral,” that is, established not between two parties, but by God Himself directly (Gen. 15:17-18). It is an unbreakable covenant in that when God establishes it with His people, it continues to all eternity (Gen. 17:7). This covenant is not some sort of arrangement whereby God gets His people to heaven, but it is the end or goal which God has in mind (Gen. 17:7). It is the covenant which God is pleased to establish in the line of generations (Gen. 17:7). It has been truly said, “He gathers His seed from our seed.” Not all born of believing parents are part of that covenant (Rom. 9:13). But the spiritual seed are saved (Rom. 9:7). God does bring in others from heathendom—but then incorporates also their spiritual seed into the body of Christ (Acts 16:27-33).
The Five Points of Calvinism
The Reformed faith often is associated with what are called the “five points of Calvinism.” Those “five points” by no means exhaust the Reformed faith. Nevertheless, these do mark a distinct difference between it and Arminianism which has infected most fundamentalist churches.
The five points are remembered by many through the use of the acrostic: TULIP. The “T” is for total depravity. This is the scriptural teaching that man is born dead in sins, unable and unwilling to any good whatsoever (Rom. 3:10). All are guilty of the first sin of Adam (Rom. 5:12). All only transgress the law of God by nature (Rom. 3:23). From this follows several conclusions. One can not “offer” to a dead sinner salvation in Christ. Nor can such a one be “invited” to accept Christ or admit Him into his heart. His state is such that spiritual activity is impossible on his part.
The “U” represents unconditional election. From before the foundation of the world, God has chosen unto Himself a people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). Together with this fact, God has also determined to cast others into hell in the way of their sins (Rom. 9:21-22). That this eternal election is “unconditional” means that God chose not because He foresaw that one would believe, but that one believes because God chose him (John 10:26; Rom. 8:29-30).
The “L” represents limited atonement. The atonement is the payment made by Christ for the sins of His people (Matt. 1:21). That it is “limited” is not to teach that Christ’s atonement lacks anything. Rather this presents the scriptural fact that atonement is limited to God’s elect or chosen ones (John 6:44).
The “I” speaks of irresistible grace. This emphasizes that when God draws His people unto Himself, they do and will come (John 6:37). They come not involuntarily, but willingly. Nevertheless, His grace is of such power that the will of His elect is made subservient to His will.
The “P” is preservation of saints. This means that one who is chosen, called, and drawn to Jesus Christ, will also remain in the faith and will surely be brought to glory. These saints can sin grievously and fall for a time into certain sins. But God brings them back to Himself. Those for whom Christ died will surely be saved (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:29-30).
The Doctrines of Grace
The Reformed faith consistently holds to the “doctrines of grace.” Again, these are doctrines of Scripture. The terminology serves to emphasize the glorious fact that salvation is wholly the work of our God—not the work of man or of man cooperating with God. We are justified by grace through faith (Rom. 3:24). Those justified have had their sins fully paid for through Jesus’ precious blood (Rom. 5:1). And those for whom Christ died were chosen from eternity by God. All of salvation is wholly the work of the sovereign God. There is then no room for boasting (Eph. 2:9).
The Reformed faith follows the practice of the baptism of believers. This has consistently been the practise of Reformed believers from the day of John Calvin. This baptism is based upon the truth of God’s covenant—established in the line of the generations of believers. Not all those baptised are saved (Esau who received the sign of circumcision was not saved [Rom. 9:13]). But because God establishes His covenant in the line of generations (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39), these also receive the sign of that covenant and of the righteousness which is by faith. This is consistent also with the practices of the apostles who baptised believers and their households (Acts 16:15; I Cor. 1:16; Acts 11:14; Acts 16:31).
The Reformed faith maintains creeds as expressions of what it confesses that Scripture teaches. Creeds are not to be regarded as infallible. They nevertheless identify and distinguish that which is Reformed from that which is not. The Reformed have written down, often after great struggles and horrendous persecutions, the truths which they believe Scripture assuredly teaches. The creeds point out how the Reformed differ from others who likewise claim to maintain Scripture. By means of the creeds, children of believers are taught the doctrines of Scripture. By means of the creeds the churches show to all in the world what they believe and teach.
The Reformed faith maintains the necessity of regular worship each Sabbath. It is not of a mind to minimise or neglect the worship of Jehovah in regular services. Rather the joy of the Reformed is to fulfil the mandate of the fourth commandment and the teachings of Scripture by gathering each Sabbath to worship God’s Name. They gather not to be entertained, but to glorify the Name which is above every other name.
The Reformed faith maintains also the scriptural teaching that the preaching of the Word must come out of the church through men called by God to serve in this important position (Rom. 10:15). The preaching is to be the central element of worship. It is called in Scripture the “foolishness of preaching” (I Cor. 1:21), but at the same time it is the God-ordained way of saving sinners and strengthening saints (Rom. 10:14).
The Godly Life
The Reformed faith does not lead men to be careless or profane. This faith does not hold that one can “sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1). Because one is chosen eternally of God, and because Christ died for him, there must evidence of godly fruit. True thankfulness must be seen—otherwise there is no evidence of eternal election. God has chosen His people unto good works (Eph. 2:10) and in order that we should be holy and without blame before Him (Eph. 1:4). There must be no alliance between light and darkness, between the Christian and the world (II Cor. 6:14). The “antithesis” must be evident-the distinction between the good and the evil is to be seen in the Christian’s life.
The Reformed faith firmly believes in the calling of the church to go out into all the world to preach the gospel. It will have nothing to do with a “hyper-Calvinism” which would neglect this great task of the church. Jesus Himself mandated the disciples, and then the church, to go into all the world to preach the gospel (Matt. 28:19). Though it is surely true that God will save His people whom He has chosen from eternity, it is likewise true that He has determined that this is to be done in the way of the faithful preaching of the gospel both within the church and on the mission field. God alone knows those who are His. The church goes forth under Christ’s mandate in order that those chosen of God may also be brought to the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Reformed faith looks forward confidently to the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ on the clouds of heaven. In Matthew 24Christ speaks of signs which precede His return. We see those signs being fulfilled today. We do not know the day or the hour of His return, but we know that it must be at hand. This ought to impress the church with the urgency to carry out its tasks faithfully to the end. It must preach the Word; it must evangelize; it must teach the children so that they may be prepared for the evil days which come upon the church. And the earnest prayer of the church is for Christ’s coming: “Even so, come Lord Jesus, quickly!” (Rev. 22:20).
The above is not designed in any way to be an exhaustive treatment of the “Reformed” faith. It should however, give a “thumbnail” description of that faith which has been held so precious through the centuries. On the basis of the glorious truths for which many gave their lives, we also would desire to seek fellowship with those who love these same truths so as to encourage and strengthen one another in the most holy faith.
From a pamphlet by Ronald Hanko, Protestant Reformed Church.