on being reformed

November 10, 2008

Was attending Cori’s birthday picnic today when I got asked what being “reformed” means… and suddenly, I was stuck… I could give them the four sola’s, tell the reformation story, point to important role players, but still, does that explain what being reformed is?

If Reformed is connecting with Luther or Calvin, why ain’t the Roman Catholic’s reformed after the counter-reformation and Vatican II?

If it’s saying sola (only) Christ, then is reformed really distinct from anything else?

If it’s saying sola scriptura (the Bible), what makes it distinct?

And then the only grace and only faith part, which Christians from any tradition could agree with, depending on the interpretation.

Well, after some thinking I said that I think primacy of the “word preached” makes reformed folks distinct. Remember, many before them have talked about every sola, but it was the reformers who translated the Bible, who gave the Bible to every hand, and who moved the pulpit to the centre of the church building.

Holding on to the importance of the continued preaching and interpretation of the Bible makes me reformed. With this I’m not talking about the idea that only the pastor has the answer (why then did the reformers give Bible to every person), but that in interpreting the Bible (whoever is doing the interpreting) we find faith in God.

This imply’s that the Bible is not a mystical book, there isn’t some hidden power on the Bible (reading the Bible in Greek is not going to have any magical effect on you if you don’t understand Greek, the mystical experience can then also be found in other texts and words not understood).

What suddenly interested me when thinking about this, is that this also implies that the Bible should be interpreted, that sometimes the meaning is not obvious, and that the message of the Bible was written for a different time (else we could have skipped the preaching and stuck to reading scripture). So is fundamentalism reformed? I doubt it, since fundamentalism deny the interpretation of scripture, since the meaning of scripture is supposed to be obvious, not bound in a certain time, and accesible without any knowledge of past times.

Well, anyhow. This week begin reformed is gonna be a constant thought, so it might be a good week to kick of with a post like this. What do you think? What does being reformed mean?

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12 Responses to “on being reformed”

  1. Jake Belder Says:

    When I read your post I actually stopped at the point where you posed the question and tried to think of an answer myself, and like you I had to think for a minute before I knew what to say.

    I do not disagree with you, though what I say first might make you think I do. But hold on, because I’ll tie together eventually. 🙂

    For me, to be Reformed means first and foremost that we believe in the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of creation and all of life. In all that we do, say, and think we acknowledge that God is enthroned as King and that he rules over everything. Remember that famous quote from Abraham Kuyper, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!'” To be Reformed means that in all that we do–in our work, in our play, in our relationships, in our thought, in our worship–we allow Jesus to be Lord over all.

    Now, here’s where I tie the two together–living with the confession of God as the sovereign King over our lives means that we live according to the authoritative rule He has given us, Scripture. Because it is from God, it has ultimate authority over us. Also, this means that the Bible has authority over all of life, and so, as you said, it will require interpretation especially when we look to it to speak to things in our life that are not directly addressed in Scripture.

    Okay, I’ll leave it at that for now…does it make sense?

  2. cobus Says:

    I forgot about the Lord of all part, wonder how, cause I did quite some work on that for my dissertation. And yes, it does make sense, but strengthens me doubt in my own being reformed, since I’m not a very big Kuyper fan, the Anabaptist influence, especially through Bosch, seems to be to big:-)

  3. Jake Belder Says:

    Now I must say, I have never heard the charge that Kuyper has Anabaptists influences. I’d be interested to hear you flesh this out a bit.

  4. cobus Says:

    Oh no! It’s the Anabaptist influence in ME which I talk about! Bosch was also largely influence by Anabaptist (although you have to read more than Transforming Mission to see that. I have a few pages on that in my dissertation).

  5. Jake Belder Says:

    I think we were talking past each other there for a minute… 🙂

    I was interested to know how you thought Kuyper was influenced by the Anabaptists. I wasn’t saying that you were, haha. Is your dissertation available online? I’d like to read the few pages you have on that. Let me know!

  6. cobus Says:

    Yeah, we missed each other:-)

    Check out the writings page. It’s basically chapter 3.


  7. I know that this may be over-simplifying things, but being Reformed would (at least) be the four solas TOGETHER. If you take Only Christ without the faith and the grace, then you are proclaiming something which is not Biblical. If you take Only Scripture without the others, then it means that anyone is saved merely by reading the Bible. It is when we understand that we are saved only through Christ, only by grace, only through our faith based on the message found in the Bible, that we start understanding what being Reformed means.

  8. cobus Says:

    But who would deny the solas? Catholics? Orthodox Christians? Charismatics (ok some of them maybe)? I could take the four solas and still identify with being Catholic. The four solas are so common to our faith, that the distinctive nature of being Reformed today must be found in something else.

  9. Jake Belder Says:

    Arnau, I would agree. But taking the four solas together would, in my view, bring out the same point I made, which is that the sovereignty of God is central to what it means to be Reformed.

    Cobus, I do not think that Catholics or the Orthodox would affirm all the solas. Catholics will, for instance–and perhaps implicitly instead of directly–deny Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, though perhaps less the latter these days. But I would also agree that there is something more unique and distinctive about being Reformed.

  10. cobus Says:

    Maybe Reformed theology has toned down sola sciptura as well. Recognizing that we have something to learn from tradition. Recognizing that not everything in our creeds can be said from that point of view, and that there is much to learn from the ongoing theologizing of the church (both early and later on). Maybe Reformed has become quite a difficult term to pin down…


  11. It’s quite a long time since I sat in the dogmatics and church history classes, but if I remember correctly about the Reformation, then it was, partially at least, focussed against those who proclaimed extras, such as praying to Mary, using icons, paying money for your sins, etc. Then the argument would not be who DENIES the four solas, but who ADDS UNTO the four solas. Who proclaims that we need something extra, over and above faith in the grace obtained through Jesus to be saved (for example)?

  12. daytontn Says:

    Hey, friend. Are you aware of the existence of ACU (African Christian University)? A group of us (in Africa, Zambia, in particular, and in the USA) are hoping to begin a reformed, baptist university in Zambia. Thought I’d throw that at ya in case you want to check us out. I don’t know if it is your blog or my eyes, but it was hard to read due to font size or how light it is. Hope you had a good Lord’s Day. We had a good one here in Tennessee. Blessings, Tim (wezez4@yahoo.com)


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