Posted by Mark Herzer

Basic Reformed Theology I[1]

Doctrine simply means the setting forth of what the Bible teaches on a certain topic. Paul said to Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1) “Doctrine” here means teaching (e.g., 1Tim. 4:16 uses the same Grk word, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”). A set of doctrines convey a particular “theology” that no one can evade or avoid. Reformed Theology simply refers to teachings or doctrines that have been taught by the Reformers (especially Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Zwingli, Luther, etc.) and by the various confessional denominations that profess a similar theology (like the Presbyterians). This theology faithfully presents the Bible’s teaching. The Reformers did not “invent” its theology but carefully and clearly set forth what the Bible teaches. Seven key ideas make up Reformed Theology (RT). Most evangelicals would generally embrace the first one but only RT gives a prominent place to the other six ideas.  

Word Centered

RT teaches that the Bible is inerrant (without error) and fully authoritative (1Tim. 3:16, 17). Since the Bible reveals what we are to believe concerning God as well as what duties He requires of us, its teaching takes precedence (when rightly interpreted and understood) over man’s reason, experience, and culture. Fallen sinful man cannot think of God correctly (Rom. 1:18ff.) and must depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit to enable him to understand the truths of the Bible savingly and correctly. 

God Centered

This is God’s world which He created and sustains for His own glory. The Bible starts off with “In the beginning God…” RT believes the Bible’s story is about God’s redemptive acts and purposes. God created, God speaks, reveals, promises, redeems, protects, etc. The Bible is God centered and man was created to know, worship, and have fellowship with Him. We were created for Him: “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16); “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Rom. 11:36) That means we exist for God’s purpose — that is why we were created.

The Sovereignty of God

RT unapologetically proclaims that God is absolutely sovereign. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God (Mt. 10:29) and He has numbered the hairs of our head (Mt. 10:30). “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” (Rom. 8:28 NASB). No purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2) and “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Dan. 4:35) That means God governs everything and nothing happens in creation without God’s will and purpose: “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). That is why when we plan, we humbly say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Covenant Theology

RT looks at the Bible in terms of “covenants.” God enters into covenants with His people in the Bible (Adam, Hos. 6:7; Noah, Gen. 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 15, 17; Moses & Israel, Ex. 6:4; 19:5; 24:7, etc.; David, 2 Sam. 7; New Covenant, Jer. 31; Mt. 26:28, etc.) and in Christ, we entered into the New Covenant. The covenant with Adam was considered a “Covenant of Works” in which God required perfect obedience (which he failed). After that, God established a Covenant of Grace expressed differently in redemptive history. Covenants help us to interpret God’s dealings with man since man can only have a relationship with Him by way of a covenant.

Doxological

Since RT is God centered, everything should be for God’s glory, to His praise. Our ambitions, our lives, all that we do, etc. should be for the glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be glory!). “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). We welcome one another “for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7)! “To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36; cf. Gal. 1:5). Eph. 1 punctuates the rhythm of the long sentence with “to the praise of his glory.” RT gives all the glory to God in our salvation (He gets all the credit), in our worship (God centered worship), in our lives, and in our theology. In any discussion of theology (Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), we should ask, “Who gets the glory?” Many theological formulations end up glorifying or crediting man (Arminian) or the church (Roman Catholicism) but God’s glory remains central in RT.

God’s Commandments

Though not under the law for our justification and life, we are not “outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). What counts is “keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). RT recognizes the importance of the God’s law in the life of a believer not as a means of life but as a “rule of life informing” believers “of the will of God” (WCF 19.6). Believers have a duty to obey the Ten Commandments and the Spirit enables them to obey God’s Word (Jn. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1Jn. 2:3-4; Rev. 12:17; 14:12).

The Creeds and the Reformation

RT is Calvinistic in its doctrine of salvation (“soteriology”). But not all “Calvinists” are actually “Reformed” because their teaching is Reformed only in the area of “salvation” and not in other areas. RT is expressed in its various confessions and creeds. The well known ones include The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms (Larger and Shorter); the Heidelberg CatechismThe Canons of Dort, and The Belgic Confession. These more or less offer comprehensive statements regarding all the major doctrines of the Bible (Loci Theologici). 


[1] Much much more could be said than what we are about to cover in this study. This very brief overview seeks to introduce some of the basic points of Reformed Theology. Note: “We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from Calvinism to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel that is too weak to sustain itself. … Where the God centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man centered naturalism or secularism.” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Faith)


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