Thursday, August 18, 2005

Who Are the Reformed Christians?

There are as many views on being reformed as there are on being “born again.” Not all of them involve Christianity – or even religion. Let me start with a description from a website called

Generally, all the churches that grew from the sixteenth-century revolt against the Roman church, can be called reformed. However, the term "Reformed" specifically designates that branch of the Reformation of the western church originally characterized by a distinctively non-Lutheran, Augustinian sacramental theology with a high ecclesiology but little regard for ecclesiatical tradition that is not traceable to the Scriptures or the earliest church. Those churches in the "Reformed tradition" are regarded as being in the line of churches that grew from the Reform in certain Swiss free cities and cantons, in non-Lutheran Germany, and in Hungary, Bohemia, and southern France in the early and mid sixteenth century.
The leaders of this branch of the church understood themselves to be "reformed" in two ways: first, they were "reformed" from what they believed to be the defective practice of Christianity promulgated by the corrupt Roman Catholicism of the day. Sometimes, this position is summed up in the phrase "Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda," which means "the Reformed church, always to be reformed." In the context of the sixteenth century (and the mind of the Reformers) this phrase does not mean that the church is always morphing into something new with the passage of time (a common misconstrual in our own day). Instead, this seventeenth-century motto is consistent with the Reformers' idea that they were not innovating, but "turning again" to the form of the church and belief originated by Jesus Christ, lived out by the first disciples and early church, and born witness to in the writings of the Old and New Testaments shorn of later additions.
Second, as implied above, Reformed means rejecting the idea that tradition can provide a sufficient form for matters of belief. Instead, the Reformers insisted that "the Word of God" was the only ultimate source of appeal in matters of faith, and that all other sources of knowledge, including a church's tradition, had to appeal to this central source. The entire article can be found here).

It is not my intention, at least in this post, to get into all the details of theology that characterize being Reformed. In fact, it is not possible, anymore, to describe a Reformed theology. There are many. Coming out of the Reformation of the 16th century, there was a Continental Reformed view and a Scottish Reformed view. The early Anglican church was Reformed (according to their foundational document, the Thirty-Nine Articles). Early Baptists, in England were all Reformed (see the 1689 London Baptist Confession. This is practically a carbon copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith written some 40 years earlier, with some obvious differences in ecclesiology). Until they were corrupted by the German liberalism if the 19th century, American Congregationalist churches were all Reformed. Each and every one of these strains of Calvinism differed in some respect from the others. Yet, each can lay claim to a Reformed heritage (sadly lacking in most of them today).

Next time I’ll take a stab at describing some of the purely American branches of Reformed Theology.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why Yes, My Child, I am a Calvinist
I was asked to write a post on the topic of “Calvinism.” Not possible.
What is Calvinism? That question is like asking “What is pasta?” or “What does an American look like? So, over a span of time I will post several short essays on the topic, unless I get bombarded with requests to stop. BTW, for those few of you reading this, I do not advertise this blog or anything. If you would like others to read these things, pass on the URL!

This is a topic on which I have great experience and some knowledge. I became a Christian at L’Abri Fellowship, in Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis August Schaeffer. I graduated from a Presbyterian – and Reformed - seminary. I consider myself to be in the flow of “Calvinist” thought.

What is a Calvinist? Depends on who you ask. There are the caricatures, of course. When I want to put the worst face on things I tell people I’m a Calvinist. They always think the worst; that I must be some unfeeling, emotion-challenged automaton who only knows the Five Points of Calvinism and the sovereignty of God – and generally hates people, the world, and kittens. There is a pretty good explanation of “Calvinism” from a non-partisan viewpoint on Wikipedia.

When I’m feeling that a question has been asked which actually seeks an answer regarding my theological viewpoints, I usually respond that I am a Christian of the Reformed persuasion. The first and most important element of my belief system is that Jesus saves. There’s a lot of freight in that one statement, but what it all boils down to is this essential truth.

After that we have to understand that the Reformed faith came out of the Reformation of the 16th century. The Church of the time (AKA Roman Catholic) was falling down under the weight of corrution and ignorance. Martin Luther was by no means the first to try his hand at reforming the church (he had no intention of leaving; he wanted the church to be better). God chose Luther's time and Luther's activities, however, to begin a cleansing movement. Following Martin Luther, John Calvin was a reformer, born in Noyon, France and best-known for his leadership of the city of Geneva during the first tumultuous years of the Reformation. At some point, I will spend a little time on Calvin's life and times, as well as that of Martin Bucer, an important influence on the entire Reformation.

Reformed theology is often thought of in reference to the acronym TULIP (see explanation in Wikipedia article) and several Confessions of faith, including The Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms, The Heidelberg Catechism, and the London Confession of 1689. Calvin was the first great systematizer of Reformed theology. His Institutes of the Christian Religion remain a wonderful explanation of theology. His commentaries on books of the Bible are still on my shelves and well-thumbed.

There are more than 700 different denominations of churches across the globe which refer to themselves as Reformed. There are at least 7 or 8 different “strands” (not a technical term!) of Reformed theology in the US at this time. Another topic for me to get into at another time.

That’s enough of an intro at this time. I’ll see if there are any responses – questions – before proceeding.