What does it mean to be Reformed?

Posted by on Sep 29, 2013 in Reformed Theology Basics


Many in Cincinnati are probably unfamiliar with the Reformed Church tradition: “Does this mean you’re liberal, or that you’re changing something?” There are surely others that have come across aspects of it but mistakenly reduce its meaning to “Five Points.” And still others express the sentiments of one of my college professors, that the Reformed are extinct, and they were a bunch of power-hungry Christians whose greatest delight was in punishing heretics and in holding witch-trials.

If you are to understand, appreciate, and even become Reformed, it’s best to go directly to the source. You see, the group of churches that has been called “Reformed” has existed since the 16th century, and they still go by this name throughout the world. They have been distinguished by a set of doctrinal standards that give a full-orbed view of the teaching of Scripture and the Christian life. These documents function like the American Constitution, “constituting” particular churches as Reformed, giving them their distinct existence and identity.

The first thing to understand is that, at the time of the Reformation (16th century), the Reformed were not starting something new but were recovering what was old. They were called “Reformed,” because they sought to reform the Western Church according to Scripture and were ejected for doing so. Manmade, extra-biblical traditions like “seven sacraments” were pared back to the biblical practice of the Ancient Church. Other aspects of worship were also recovered, like congregational singing and delivering sermons and prayers in the language of the people. But it wasn’t all change; at the heart of Reformed churches are the Ancient Creeds, which express Scripture’s teaching concerning the Trinity and the Person of Christ: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed.

In the face of persecution and confusion, these churches wrote confessions and catechisms to educate their congregations and to demonstrate to their oppressors that they were simply following the teaching of Scripture. On mainland Europe, these documents were the Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-19). In the United Kingdom, Reformed churches were called “Presbyterian” and confessed the Westminster Standards.

By summarizing the teaching of Holy Scripture, the truths in these documents structure the worship of Westside Reformed Church and the lives of its members. By faith, we have received grace in the gospel, Christ has obeyed the law and borne its curse on our behalf. Therefore, we respond in gratitude, striving to worship and obey our risen King.