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.