Reformed – What Does That Mean?

You say at Grace Bible Church that you hold to Reformed Doctrine. What is "Reformed," and are all Reformed Churches alike?

The criteria by which a church is identified as "Reformed" in its theological position is assessed in a wide-ranging variety of ways by different individuals, to whom the term has various meanings. The designation "Reformed" has come to be used to stand for a diverse collection of doctrines, and which doctrines are required to be known as "Reformed" often depends upon who is making the judgment call!

But we believe it would be accurate to say that Grace Bible Church is a church which not only appreciates, but is by  and large in harmony with the Reformed tradition in the following ways:

First, when speaking of what it is to be Reformed, we should always think of the Great Reformation. The historical ongm of "Reformed" is inextricably linked with the Great Reformation, that time of resurgence to a prominent place in the church of vital, Biblical truths, which resulted in some men being dubbed "the Reformers". We are referring tomen such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Theodore Beza, and others too numerous to mention. Those cataclysmic years in the religious world were a time in which several of the long-established traditions of the Roman Catholic church were challenged and, in many local churches, abandoned in favor of adopting a more Biblical order. Among the cries of the Reformation were:

"Sola Scriptura"

Scriptures alone! GBC most emphatically embraces and teaches that the Word of God alone is our source of authority for faith and life. In this we are decidedly Reformed. This is saying more than merely that we believe in the Divine inspiration of Scripture; it is to rely upon the Scriptures as our only Divine source of light. It is not enough to merely claim to believe in the Spirit's inspiration of the Word. We must see the written Word of God as the sole source for Divine direction for our lives, both individually and jointly in the church.

"Sola Fide"

Faith alone! Again, on this point, GBC holds to the Reformation emphasis, refusing to add to faith any emphasis on works as contributing in the slightest degree to our salvation.

"Sola Gratia"

Grace alone! GBC hopes to show (in more concrete ways than merely including "grace" in our church name) that our commitment to grace means preaching that the way of salvation is only offered to those who will receive it as the unmerited gift of God. Part of preaching "grace alone" includes our confidence that those who receive Christ are "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13). GBC firmly stands for the initiative of God in salvation in birthing men and women into His family, and holds to the certainty of His Divine choice of specific sinners to eternal
life.

"Sola Deo Gloria"

To the Glory of God alone! is likewise at the heart of what it means to be Reformed. GBC is devoted to living by the principle that "whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God." This must be more than merely a trite saying, but a commitment to a way of life which thinks first, in all decisions, of how the splendor of  God's attributes and the marvel of His works may be made more widely known by our actions; so that not to us, but to His name is given honor and glory.

Secondly, GBC is a Reformed church in that we joyfully proclaim and both nourish and comfmi ourselves on the doctrines known as "The Doctrines of Grace," which have always been at the heart ofReformed theology. These include: 

  1. Man's Complete Inability to save himself. Being corrupted by sin, it is not in men to either deliver ourselves from our sins or even to rightly choose the path on which we can do so.
  2. God's Unconditional Election of sinners to the privileges of His grace. The eternal God has chosen certain sinners upon whom He fixes His love, and His choice is based on nothing either of their own doing or their own deserving, but is solely caused by His Own will.
  3. Christ's Particular Atonement of the sinners of God's choice. The God who elected certain sinners unto eternal life has also sent His Son to lay down His life as a sacrifice for those sinners and them alone, securing their salvation.
  4. The Holy Spirit's Effectual Conversion of those sinners whom God chose and for whom Christ died. When the Spirit of God works in saving grace upon an individual, he is incapable of resisting the calling influence which ushers him into the ranks of the faithful.
  5. The Certain Perseverance and Preservation of all God's people. We cannot be snatched from our Father's 

    hand, but rather are sure to press on to the end. In so saying, we affirm far more than the doctrine known as "Eternal Security", which holds that every professing Christian is secure and cannot lose his salvation. We agree, but add to that the necessary truth that the persons God saves will never be lost and will never cease their pursuit of holiness, because of the dramatic change wrought in them by the new birth. 

For some, being "Reformed" requires the inclusion of all the tenets of what is known as Covenant Theology. While having the greatest admiration for many of the "covenant theologians" of our times (R.C. Sproul, James M. Boice, etc), we cannot agree that the system of Covenant Theology is part and parcel of being Reformed. Both the foundations and superstructure of Covenant Theology is so vast and far-reaching, enough so that even Reformers such as Luther and Calvin would not subscribe to all of the tenets of Covenant Theology. How then can those who claim to follow in their footsteps at a later date change the definition of "Reformed" to reflect Covenant Theology? Two of the most prominent features of Covenant Theology are:

  1. Division of the workings of God into various periods known as covenantal administrations of His one "Eternal Covenant". Much of this is a strained system which is not defensible from Scripture, particularly the emphasis that God made a "covenant of works" with Adam. Too commonly, advocates of Covenant Theology regard even moderate forms of Dispensationalism as incompatible with holding to Reformed doctrine. To utterly exclude any brand of Dispensationalist from being regarded as Reformed is generally done by either too narrowly defining "Reformed" or using too archaic a definition of "Dispensational" (e.g., pure Darbyism). 
  2. Infant baptism, being the recognition of the infants of believing parents to be "in covenant" with God and thus proper candidates for baptism. We assert that it is quite within the scope of being Reformed for a church to view only professing Christians as God's  intended candidates for baptism.

In conclusion, at GBC you will find a church home in which the honor and glory of God is our intentional purpose, aims which we believe are best achieved by examining and teaching the Scriptures, which we most highly esteem as the expression of the mind and will of God for His people. 

– Dennis Gundersen

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