What Does it Mean to be Reformed?
The hallmark cry of The Reformation centered on 5 solas – 5 statements on core Christian doctrines that define the Christian faith from the Scriptures:
Soli Deo Gloria! – For the Glory of God Alone
Solo Christo! – By Christ’s Work Alone are We Saved
Sola Gratia – Salvation by Grace Alone
Sola Fide -Justification by Faith Alone
Apart from these truths, many will be led astray from the narrow path of God’s Truth. Many reformed Christians add a reminder that we, as sinful creatures, will never stop learning about the Lord – and ourselves – in this age. This reminder was summed up in the phrase, Sempre Reformanda – Always Reforming; lest anyone think he has “arrived”.
To remind us of these biblical truths and provide a clear understanding of what those within a local church have in common faith, Reformed Churches are confessional – they hold to a written confession about how key Scriptures are interpreted and applied to life. Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession; paedobaptist congregationalists have the Savoy; Baptists have two London Baptist Confessions, the 1644/46 LBC and the 1689 LBC. There are others, but one gets the idea that confessions are useful and common, at least among certain churches.
This brings me to a sticky wicket, so to speak, of holding to a confession and to the higher principles of The Reformation. Confessions are good and useful tools to codify core doctrines around which a local church can grow and have close fellowship. They are subordinate to the Scriptures, not a tool by which to interpret the Scriptures. They are documents written in a particular historical context by men who were limited in their comprehension of Scripture and somewhat blind to their own presuppositions – as are all men. Standing on and under the Word of God, resisting the siren call to rely on the traditions of men (men we love and thank God for), and ever growing in our love and knowledge of God and His Word means we may discover errors in our confessions, wording that is no longer clear, or conclusions that don’t appear as evident as they must have to those brothers 400 years ago. Our confessions as well as our personal presuppositions need to be tested in light of Scripture, always reforming for the glory of our God. Not seeking change for cultural convenience, but in response to the command that we grow as Christians and churches and hold only to that which is good – Truth as God has revealed.
How does a Reformed church or Christian keep from allowing the confession to dictate beliefs on secondary issues, as if it were the ruling document? Is this not evident in many Reformed churches – people defend their confession first, or only? Brothers, this should not be so! To cling to one’s confession of faith, no matter how sound it may be, as one’s first priority is not Reformed. Such a priority reflects the carnal priorities of all false religions, and turns a good confession into another golden calf.
As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture, apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confession says about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? If we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Sempre Reformanda we will. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God.
This does not mean that aggressive “inquiries” that appear to be meant only for tearing down confessional doctrines should be entertained. It does mean that honest inquiries from saints who want to sincerely understand how a given doctrine is defended from Scripture should be welcomed. A clear indication of trouble is when secondary documents are not allowed to be questioned, this is a sign of cultish behavior.
Change for its own sake is rarely a good thing. But change when we see more clearly from the Word of God is always a good thing. And we mustn’t allow our own wisdom or that of men who went before us to stand in the way. How can we claim to be Reformed if our confession is unchangeable? While our confessions are good and useful, they must always submit to the Word of God and we must be willing to entertain honest questions from saints wishing to understand them better or examine them in light of Scripture, with the aim of being more accurate and, therefore, honorable to our God and useful to His children.
With much love for the brotherhood and malice toward none,