This should be the last post in this series. First, to be Reformed means you are Protestant. Second, it means you are Calvinist. Third, you are Covenantal. Fourth, remember the Reformation was a reformation of the Church. To be truly Reformed, you must be in a Reformed local church.
I have met and heard of many Christians who identify themselves as “Reformed” yet find themselves happy in a non-Reformed church. To not care about the reformation of the local church is so anti-Reformed, I am afraid it is simply another form of radical individualism that has taken modern evangelicalism by storm.
So what makes a church “Reformed”? Glad you asked:
- It is at least a church whose leadership teaches from the perspective of the Reformed traditions: Protestant, Calvinist, Covenantal- if the pulpit is not going in this direction, the church never will.
- It is a church with the right preaching of the Word- the Catholic Church believes the church created the bible. The Reformers believed that God’s Word creates the church (1 Peter 1.23). Paul believed the gospel keeps the church persevering (1 Cor 15.1-2). This is how the pulpit drives the church’s direction.
- It is a church with the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper- after God creates His people through the gospel invisibly, baptism creates the church visibly. Then the Lord’s Supper marks them off continually.
- It is a church with a robust practice of church membership- this is really the flip side of number 3, but in our day so necessary to specify. Church membership simply answers the question, “who is the church?” Unless everyone knows the answer to that, evangelism and conversion will be seriously undercut.
We have a good number of members at our church that would never identify themselves as “Reformed.” But if they believe everything I am preaching, the older lady at my church who never heard of John Calvin is more Reformed than the 25-year old 5-Point Calvinist at the seeker church down the road. May God make that church down the road Reformed for His glory, and may all Reformed churches be always reforming.
First, it means you are unashamedly Protestant. Second, it means you are unashamedly Calvinist. Third, I propose to you, it means you have a Covenantal understanding of history.
This one is mostly a historical argument. Covenant Theology is articulated in much of the Reformed Confessions from the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly the Westminster Confessions, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and, not to mention, the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. I encourage you to read those confessions, search the Scriptures to see if what they are saying is true, and see if you are not a Covenant theologian on some level.
I would also argue this is a logical necessity if you consider yourself a Calvinist. There is a lot more that could be said, but I would just point out three major elements of covenant theology, and ask a few questions to help you discern whether or not you are a Covenant theologian.
- Covenant Theology makes the gospel Trinitarian- The Father, Son, and Spirit are all distinct Persons working for the salvation of sinners, and all working in total unity with each other for the salvation of sinners. Do you believe God decreed all of history from all eternity (Isaiah 46.8-10)? And if you do, do you belive that decree is unitarian, or Trinitarian? If you say “Trinitarian,” then I say you believe in the Covenant of Redemption.
- Covenant Theology says God’s covenants frame all of the bible and all of history- from that one Covenant of Redemption flows all of the Bible. Do you believe any promises or warnings from God in the Bible fall outside of the Covenant of Redemption? Forget ‘continuity and discontinuity’; do you believe the Bible is united or divided? If you think the Bible is a unit, then I say you believe in the one Covenant of Grace.
- Covenant Theology says God has chosen to save and sanctify and bless one people from Genesis to Revelation- within the one Covenant of Grace, there is a people that the Father gives to the Son. Not two peoples. Not two plans. Not two blessings. Not a replacement of one people with another. One people that the Son laid His life down for (Ephesians 5.2). Do you believe the Bride of Christ is made up of Jews and Gentiles? If you do, then look at all of God’s promises in the Bible to His elect Bride, and I think you will find you have a Reformed view of the people of God.
I do not think Dispensationalists are heretics in the false teaching sense, at all. But I do think the classic and normative views of Dispensationalism are not Reformed at best, and are taking the focus off of Christ and His love for His Bride at worst. They can say they are gospel-centered, but when the “hope” of a Jew lay outside of the blessings for all peoples, tribes, nations, and languages– even a 1000 years of non-gospel blessings in the view of many– it no longer keeps the gospel at the center of the story.