Theology

What does it mean that we are "Reformed"?

One problem with new pastors coming right out of seminary is that they have all kinds of theological categories and communicate with such a distinctive vocabulary that they come across as unhelpful. They have spent so much time in books and classrooms and have forgotten how to have a conversation with regular people. Being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) doesn’t mean full of intellectual knowledge, but able to open up big truths to all kinds of people.

One of those confusing theological words for us already has been “Reformed.” We claim that to be one of our key identifiers as Reformed Baptists. We have found since getting on the ground here in Rochester that there are many people who are thrilled to find out we are an explicitly Reformed Baptist church. However, many others wonder what that even means. They want to know how this theological claim matters to their daily Christian life.

So, let us briefly offer an explanation of what this label “Reformed” means to us and why it is so important for what kind of people we desire to be. The word can refer to an entire theological system (embraced by Presbyterian churches and Covenant Theologians), a doctrine of salvation (borrowing only parts of the previous system), stating a lineage dating back to the Reformation, or simply meaning “changed.” Most of these rabbit trails can be confusing to most people or even turn off the average person to hearing more. Who cares about a theological system when my job is horrible, my mom is suffering, I am really depressed, or I wonder how I am going to pay my next month’s utility bills.

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What do we mean when we say we are “Reformed”?

We believe that God planned from eternity, accomplished in Christ, and applies by his Spirit the redemption of his people for his own glory.

This statement has four parts that we think are important: (1) Trinitarian, (2) redemptive, (3) personal, and (4) God-centered.

Trinitarian

God effects every part of our salvation. The Father planned our salvation before the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4). The Son accomplished salvation for his people proclaiming “It is finished” meaning, the debts of his people were paid in full (John 19:30). The Spirit brings new life (John 3:7–8) to those the Father planned to save and the Son paid for on the cross and He guarantees that his people will receive their eternal inheritance (Rom 8:17). God guarantees salvation from the plan in eternity past through his work in creation unto our eternal inheritance.

 

Redemptive

The Bible is not simply a list of rules on how to make God happy or a nice collection of inspiring stories. It is the multi-faceted story of God working to redeem his people from the curse of sin and bring them into ultimate joy and rest in Christ for all eternity. Sin pervades every aspect of our lives and culture. God is always at work breathing new life into the burned ashes of this world. And we are always at work to find a way to be a part of that redemptive work.

 

Personal

The very beginning of the Bible opens by telling us that God created people to be his image-bearers. This is a complex statement requiring a lot of unpacking, but a big part of that is that we were made to be relational people, in relation with one another, but primarily in a relationship with God. We were made to represent God’s rule over the earth. We were made to display his joyful love of others. The rest of the Bible tells us how he worked to redeem people through a very specific plan to regain this original intent. He had the names of every person planned out; whom he would use to accomplish his redemptive work. The Son knew exactly whom he was purchasing on the cross. The Spirit goes to and fro throughout the earth to find the people whom God has called to be his forever. Salvation isn’t just a general call where God wonders if some people might take him up on a pretty good deal. It is the unfailing work of God to complete the work he planned and began in those whom he adopted as his own children.

 

God-Centered

“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” says the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Everything about this eternal redemptive work is to make God’s beautiful character shine toward his people so that they would delight in him forever. Isaiah 48:9–11 says, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Amazingly, God has created and redeemed his people not just to save them from the consequences of sin, but to delight in a relationship with him forever so that for all eternity we may proclaim how kind, generous, beautiful, and loving he is.

 

All of this is important first because we believe it is what the Bible teaches. But we also believe that these truths are life-giving. It is emboldening to know that the Godhead works harmoniously to ensure my personal salvation. God wrote my name in his book of life before I even existed. The Son paid my debt in full on the cross. The Spirit sought me when I was wandering and guarantees that he will bring me home to the Father. God is so invested in his own glory that I can be certain that his work will never fail. No matter how dark things are in my life, he promises to be my eternal light. No matter how lonely I am he guarantees he will be with me always. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I can proclaim the gospel to my neighbors, my city, and the world and be confident that God’s lost sheep will hear his voice in me and will eventually come to repentance and faith. I know that I can overcome my sin and temptations because God promises that he is working to complete what he began in me. I can live confidently in Christ knowing that my life in the Spirit will be a pleasing aroma to those God is working to save even though it will be a repulsive aroma of death to those who hate Christ.

These truths give life to us and we strive to teach these things in everything we do and say. “Reformed” isn’t just a buzzword or some unhelpful theological system. It is our declaration of confidence in God’s sovereign control over every thought, every molecule, and every distant galaxy alongside his incredible love toward his little children. And so we proclaim:

We believe that God planned from eternity, accomplished in Christ, and applies by his Spirit the redemption of his people for his own glory.