Had a question from a listener who wanted to know what we meant in an episode when we said we’re not “big R” reformed.
We gave him a quick answer privately (encourage others to send us a question), but thought it would be a good podcast to do. So here it is.
Let’s start with a question to you who listen. Are you “reformed” or would you call yourself a “Calvinist” or believe in “Calvinism?” Think about your answer and then listen.
Matt Henry’s background to this whole subject:
Explain John’s 2007 Shep message, “Why Every Self-respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist.”
Internet blew up.
And one specific theologian, Kim Riddlebarger responded in an interesting manner. He basically said, MacArthur is not a Calvinist and he is not Reformed. It was helpful and defining and I never forgot it.
I agreed with MacArthur’s position, but I greatly appreciated Dr. Riddlebarger’s explanation and response as it helped shed light rather than merely heat on the issue.
This is why I resist being called a Calvinist though I am consistently called that. And why we say that we are not (R)eformed in our theology.
What is meant by “reformed?”
One way to answer this is the colloquial meaning.
This is easiest to answer because it is so broad in some ways. Many people call themselves “reformed” because they believe in one way or another in what is commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism. Or at least four of the five points.
Another way to say it is that they think salvation is a work of God in which the person doesn’t contribute anything of himself to the process, except his guilt.
Another common idea is that humanity as a whole isn’t “free” with regard to it’s will.
The other way is to give the proper and more precise meaning.
It’s worth stating, though, that some might quibble over this, and that to be a true Calvinist means you are Reformed. This is why we tend to say that we’re reformed in our soteriology and why we push back when we’re called Calvinists.
Yes, we know that most people don’t use either term properly.
But we also know that if we push back then perhaps we might get a chance to be heard by people who have a bad taste in their mouths about Calvinism.
To be Reformed means several things:
First, that you hold to certain confessions:
Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformed church, or the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism of the Dutch Reformed churches, or the Westminster standards of the Presbyterian churches to be specific.
This also would mean that these confessions are binding to the person. Which is why it’s very, very common to see a Presbyterian quoting the Westminster Confession to prove/make his point rather than simply a bible text.
This is how I (Matt H) got in trouble in a FB page called The Reformed Pub.
Second, Calvin is not the man who developed what we call Calvinism nor the Reformed doctrine.
He was a man of influence.
But there were many others over time who impacted the development of this system of theology. (e.g., Heinrich Bullinger).
Also as the Westminster Confession was being developed it drew upon several strands of teaching that were well beyond the Swiss movement of Calvin.
Third, Reformed theology is not defined by the “Five Points” or the TULIP. And trying to do that merely results in a revealing of your lack of knowledge (not being mean, but it seldom helps when talking to a truly Reformed person).
The Five Points are present in what is called the Canons of Dort. If you have not looked at the Canons you should at least scan over them and you will quickly see it’s not a simplistic statement of five points.
Also it was written to combat the error of Arminianism that had arisen from a gathering of men in the Netherlands. It was known as the Remonstrance of 1610. They taught five points to which the Canons of Dort rejected and taught against.
The Canons of Dort are NOT a confession and a properly trained Reformed believer would not say that they were. They are a clarifying work to the confessions of that time.
Fourth, Reformed theology requires assent to paedo-baptism.
Fifth, Reformed theology views the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as sacraments and therefore they are seen as a means of grace.
Sixth, Reformed theology is covenantal theology at its core, viewing what is called the unity of the one covenant of grace from Adam (maybe Abraham?) to the end.
This is not a biblical covenant, meaning it is not like the covenant with Abraham or David, explicitly stated in the Scripture.
Rather it is a theologically derived covenant that is laid over the Scripture.
Within the Reformed camp there’s a mild debate over how many covenants exist. Normally it is seen to have two, the covenant of Works and of Grace. Some see a third called the covenant of Redemption.
Seventh, they would view the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20 to refer to the Kingdom of Grace.
What’s that? It is the kingdom established by Jesus at his first coming and it extends to the second coming.
What it does not mean is 1,000 years where Jesus reigns on the earth.
Now there is a bit of a debate here in the Reformed camp though not much of one. There are those who are called “Historic Premillenialists.” But by and large if you are Reformed then you are Amillenial or Post-millenial.
All of this also means some other things, but they tend to be applications to the above points, as well as, due to the confessions.
This gets into the idea that though God’s grace is free and irresistible, it’s also primarily found in the church, which presents it through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. (This is hangover from Catholicism).
Also, because of this, no Christian can rightly withdraw from the church and do their own thing. For no one can be saved apart from the church.
Baptism of infants is not like the Lutheran doctrine but different. It says that because the church is the place where the elect are gathered, and where the divine grace flows through the Word and Sacrament, then the children of the elect should be baptised so that they carry the sign of baptism upon themselves.
It’s not saving them, but merely acknowledging that because they’re baptised (and in the church) they’re existing where the grace of God can work.
The result is that there’s a rejection of believer’s baptism as being the normative method.
All of this means that there’s a strong down play of one’s individual salvation as opposed to sharing in the faith of the elect. This is actually a very good point that is worth considering for any believer.
So, are you still (R)eformed?
This was fun to do and we hope it was helpful.
We have much respect for our Reformed brethren though we will argue and debate over many points.
We rejoice and find much rest, though, in the reality of God’s sovereignty over all things, His free grace working through His free will, and the certainty that our salvation from beginning to end is kept in His sovereign power.