Category Archives: What does “Reformed” mean?

Calvinist

What is a Calvinist?

Many Christians would equate Calvinism with Reformed Theology. They are not one and the same. All Reformed Theologians are Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed. If you are a Calvinist, cool. But if you do not hold to some form of Covenant Theology and/or if you are not in a Reformed church, then you are not Reformed. And hey, it’s ok, who cares about labels? Just, if you are going to use labels, use them rightly.

The word “Calvinist” comes from the name of the great Reformer, John Calvin, and Calvinism is a summary of his teachings on the doctrine of salvation. Please remember that the historical term “Calvinism” only has to do with the doctrine of salvation. John Calvin has taught me about as much theology as anyone in the history of the Church, but I disagree with him on a few things. Calvinism does not mean you believe all things John Calvin.

Calvinism was also a consensus of teachings among many pastors in Europe in 1618, in response to a guy named Jacob Arminius, whose teachings started becoming popular. This was about 50 years after John Calvin died, and it is worth noting that Arminius thought Calvin was a fabulous teacher. But the point here is Calvinism has come to us historically as a polemic against Arminianism, which is why the way the teachings are often worded sound strange to a lot of Christians. Here is a brief explanation about the five points of Calvinism:

  1. Total Depravity- mankind is wholly (totally) unable to make any move toward real righteousness without the grace of God (Genesis 6.5; Psalm 14; Romans 3.9-20).
  2. Unconditional Election- how then can anyone be saved? As I just said, they need the grace of God. And God has graciously chosen to save many people from before the foundation of the world, not because He foresaw anything good in them (it is unconditional), but wholly by grace alone (Deuteronomy 9.4-5; Romans 9.1-18; Ephesians 1.4)
  3. Limited Atonement- God then sent His Son to purchase those elect to be His holy bride. The purpose of the atoning death of Christ was to actually purchase their salvation. He paid the penalty for their sins, bought the work of the Spirit for them, bought their new hearts for them, bought their justification, sanctification, and glorification. In other words, this is an actual atonement. Limited Atonement is a little bit of a redundant phrase in that you simply have to understand what “atone” means to understand this work is not on behalf of every single human being, but rather for the incredibly large number of undeserving sinners God chose before the foundation of the world (Jeremiah 31.31-34; Luke 22.20; John 10.11)
  4. Irresistible Grace- God then sent the Spirit to draw all those Jesus paid for to Himself. He effectually calls them to salvation through the preaching of the gospel. It is grace in that it is undeserved. It is irresistible in that this is a reference to the mysterious work of the Spirit to blow on whomever He wishes, but when He blows, people are awakened to spiritual life (John 3.5-8; John 6.44; Romans 8.30)
  5. Perseverance of the Saints- All whom the Spirit truly regenerates will grow in sanctification until they become perfectly like Christ on the last day. Anyone who professes faith but falls away– and never returns to Christ– was never born again to begin with (John 6.44; Romans 8.30; 1 John 2.19)

If you want to find out more about these great truths, and about a growing movement of Christians in America who are upholding these truths, come watch the Calvinist documentary with us tomorrow at 5pm. I am a Calvinist, and you should be too!

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Why weekly Lord’s Supper

We recently moved to weekly Communion on Sunday mornings. The two best reasons I have ever heard for not doing it weekly:

  1. It will become less special
  2. In order to really guard the Table, we should do it less

Regarding number 1, is there really anything else that we treat like that? Regarding number 2, is there really anything else we treat like that? For both, I think the answer is to just do it well every time. I try to kiss my wife goodbye everyday when I go to work. As long as I really mean it, I think it is a valid kiss. And even sometimes when my mind is not as fully there as it should be, it is still a good thing.

To those I will add one more possible reason for not doing it weekly: in Calvin’s Geneva, the civil government did not allow it. Ok, maybe in that case, that is a good reason to not do it weekly.

Outside of that, there are a lot of reasons to do it every time the church gathers for worship on the Lord’s Day:

  1. It appears to be the NT pattern (Acts 2.42, Acts 20.7)
  2. As often as you do it, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11.26). I repeat, as often as you do it, you proclaim the death of Christ!
  3. It forces Christians to examine themselves every week
  4. It helps non-Christians in attendance see who the Body of Christ is, and understand they are not a part of it yet
  5. It is the central benefit to church membership- anyone under the discipline of a church should be barred from the Lord’s Table; taking the Lord’s Supper once a month is like barring everyone three times a month

I could go on and on. It really comes down to what you think “this is my body” and “this is my blood” really means. Unless you say “I think Jesus meant this is not his body and blood,” I think you always give up a good thing if you do not practice it on any given Sunday.

Why is the mode of baptism so important?

Lord willing, and to the praise of His glorious grace, we will be baptizing two young men in a  couple weeks. At our church, we make sure we completely immerse someone in water. Unless someone is completely immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I am inclined to say it might not be Christian baptism. Many of my professors from seminary would say it much stronger than that. And I understand. Either way, everybody should think the mode, or the method or the form, of baptism is important.

Why do Baptists care about the mode of baptism so much?

  1. Westminster Confession of Faith says “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”–mind you, it was Presbyterians who wrote this, who largely disagree with Baptists on the mode of baptism. But we all believe Christ appointed something “until the end of the world,” and that something means a lot of good things for the believer. We should want to do exactly what Jesus commanded when it comes to the sacraments.
  2. Related to this, the word “baptize” in the Bible clearly means either to immerse or dip or wash. Paedobaptists believe “wash” can include sprinkling. Baptists are famous for over-emphasizing “immerse” as the only meaning of that word sometimes. I have been guilty of that. But I do assert that “baptize” means “immerse.” It can mean other things, but it does also mean “immerse.” And if burial with Christ is really meant to be communicated in baptism (Rom 6.4), then immersion is a fine form, is it not? Some argue that Jesus was buried above ground, therefore, you do not have to “bury” someone under water. Even if Jesus’ tomb was above ground, I am fairly confident you could not see any part of his body sticking out of the tomb. In other words, he was buried! Because of all this, why not err on the side of caution when it comes to one of Jesus’ sacraments, and immerse?
  3. When Jesus says “be baptized” regarding baptism, it is the equivalent of him saying “take and eat” regarding the Eucharist. Some have argued that for Baptists to care about mode so much means they should never have grape juice for the Lord’s Supper! Nice try. We can argue about what “fruit of the vine” means later, but that is an argument about outward elements, not mode. We all agree water is the outward element in baptism (please tell me we all agree on that!). But the issue in this post is mode. The equivalent of “be baptized” in baptism is “take and eat” in the Lord’s Supper. Do you think Jesus cares whether you actually put elements in your mouth and swallow in Communion? Then you should equally care whether you are immersed or washed or sprinkled.

To not care about the mode of baptism is like saying “I’m going for a run” and then walking, or “I’m going to kiss my wife” and then shake her hand. To not care about the mode of baptism is to not care about what baptism is. And if you do not care about what it is, it is probably because you do not care enough about what it means.

Thankfully, there are probably millions of believers who do not care much about anything I’m talking about here, yet because of God’s grace, will receive all the benefits of the Son, and baptism, through their faith in Him.

What does it mean to be Reformed? part 5

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

What does it mean to be “Reformed”? part 4

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

What does it mean to be “Reformed”? part 3

It means, number 1, we are unashamedly Protestant. We believe salvation is absolutely by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. And any quibble over what salvation, grace, faith, Christ, and glory mean– and anything else to do with the Christian faith– must be settled by Scripture alone. Church tradition and church leadership are authoritative. Even our own consciences are authoritative. But Scripture must be the sole final authority. These are some of the great Reformation themes that have helped to make me Reformed.

They have some major– and I believe unavoidable– implications, which will be the basis of these last three posts on the topic. If salvation is 100% by grace alone and 100% for the glory of God alone, then a lot of what John Calvin taught on the doctrine of salvation must be the biblical teaching. To be Reformed, you must have a Calvinist understanding of salvation.

There is much more to being Reformed than being a Calvinist, but you cannot balk at these doctrines and possibly call yourself “Reformed.” Here is a quick summary of “Calvinism,” and how I see these doctrines fitting with the great Reformation themes:

  1. Mankind is dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2.1-3; AKA Total Depravity)- 100% of every man must be redeemed by the blood of Christ, or salvation cannot be by grace alone.
  2. God elects people to salvation not based on anything in them (Romans 9.6-18; AKA Unconditional Election)- God cannot elect a person to salvation based on any kind of foreseen merit, or salvation is not by grace alone and for the glory of God alone.
  3. God sent Jesus to die specifically in the place of those He elects (Ephesians 5.1-2; AKA Limited Atonement; AKA “actual” atonement)- It stands to reason that once God elects, the Son’s mission is to purchase that people for Himself. He even purchased my regeneration for me. We need the Atonement to secure even our regeneration, or else salvation is not in Christ alone. I am not unaware that there are many great “4-Point Calvinists” in the history of the church. All I will say is as long as you preach a very intentional, immense, and particular love that God has for the elect (that He does not have for non-elect), I would still call that a Reformed view of the Atonement
  4. God sent the Spirit to awaken every single person Christ died for (Ezekiel 36.26; AKA Irresistible Grace)- Salvation is so much by grace alone that God’s grace pursues a sinner from eternity past, is secured at the cross, and will not stop until that sinner comes to saving faith and repentance. How else would you be believing right now?
  5. The faith of Christians will be kept by God forever (Philippians 1.6; AKA Perseverance of the Saints)- God begins the work of salvation in eternity past and sees it to completion in eternity future. Salvation is by grace alone through the awakening gift of faith alone in the atoning work of Christ alone for the glory of our gracious, merciful, powerful, loving, holy God alone

J.I. Packer once famously wrote that Calvinism is the gospel. I think many Christians will mis-hear that, so I would be more cautious in saying that. But Calvinism helps us understand the gospel so much better, doesn’t it?

What does it mean to be “Reformed”? part 2

Remember that the term “Reformed” is a humble label. It makes no sense to only say “I am a Christian” or “I believe the Bible” since Mormons and JW’s say the same thing. To use historical labels is a humble way to say “I am not the first person to believe all the things I believe” and “I understand that in God’s providence He has used other believers in history to fight battles that I get to benefit from.”

So when I use that label, what do I mean by it? I mean at least four things. First, I am a Protestant. The word “Reformed” comes down to us mainly from the word “Reformation.” In the 1500’s there were many Christians who looked to reform the Catholic Church. They protested many long-held Catholic teachings. Hence, the Protestant Reformation began.

And let the Bible settle it for you, but I believe all the things the Reformers fought for were correct. And by God’s grace, the true Church was rediscovered during those years, and has been reforming for the good ever since.

Some of the main issues that were battled over during that time: the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of justification (and necessarily related, sanctification), and the authority of the Pope (and necessarily related, the nature of the Church and the Sacraments). Hardly irrelevant issues, to say the least.

And though Protestantism has gone in many different trajectories since then (and I mean many), the one thing that the Fathers of Protestantism agreed on– men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli–they agreed that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And it is all for God’s glory alone. And any debate over any doctrine must be settled, finally, by Scripture alone.

It is probably the “faith alone” and “Scripture alone” parts that help distinguish us from other Christian traditions more than anything else. “Faith alone” means not a single good work (or bad work) has any bearing on your righteous standing before God– it is the work of Christ alone. “Scripture alone” means that every other authority– Pope, pastor, tradition, conscience, common sense, secular psychology– every other authority must submit to, and cannot contradict anything in,  Holy Scripture.

These issues separate us from more than just Catholics, but make no mistake: Protestants and Catholics are not together on the doctrine of justification, among other things. And if I am understanding justification correctly (Galatians 2.16), then the differences are of an eternal nature. So we must not pretend the differences are small. At times, we must be willing to be hated even by our Catholic friends. To be Reformed, first of all, means we are unashamedly Protestant. Lord willing, more to come.