Faith in Focus

RELUCTANT TO BE CALLED 'REFORMED'?



It seems a question in the minds of some in our churches is, "Are we guilty of the factionalism denounced by Paul in 1 Cor.1:10-13, if we call ourselves 'Reformed' or 'Calvinists'?" Paul wrote there, "I appeal to you ... in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree ... so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, ... there are quarrels among you ... One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; ... still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided?" Some of our people dislike the use of the terms 'Reformed' or 'Calvinist', and they argue that we should be content to call ourselves 'Christians' and that we hold to the 'Christian Faith'.

I can understand that. To use the former terms is to admit and even highlight the fact that there are divisions in the church at large. That is a cause for grief and shame. That there should be hundreds, if not thousands, of different denominations, among those who profess to follow Christ, is the result of sin.

The difference between the situation in the 'church' today and the situation in the church in Corinth, however, is quite substantial. In the case of each of the men being followed in Corinth, they taught the Truth. As Paul's last question infers, Christ is not divided, and neither were these men of God - they all stood for the same doctrines, or theology, if you like. That's exactly what made the proud party-spirit of the Corinthians so absurd, as Paul goes on to show in chapter 3.

Small differences

But in the case of the denominations today, there is more than just a following of different preachers, who all have the same theology anyway ( although with many that are Arminian and Baptistic and Charismatic, the differences can be so small that one wonders what really is keeping them apart ). There is such a large range in diversity of doctrine and practice out there, and they all claim to be 'Christian' and biblical in their approach, that we are forced to distinguish between what we believe and practise, from the rest, by using the terms 'Reformed' and 'Calvinism'.

We believe to be Reformed is to be biblical and Christian in the truest sense of those words, in distinction from, and opposition to other theologies and practices that are unbiblical. There is no pride in that, nor blind hero-worship of any particular preacher or theologian. We are only concerned to distinguish truth from error and clearly and consistently stand for the former.

I believe one of the major reasons why some Reformed people shy away from the terms 'Reformed' and 'Calvinism' is that they are not fully convinced that the Reformed Faith is biblical Christianity. It is a fact that uncertainty or ignorance about a doctrine, that is being challenged strongly by another, is likely severely to weaken the defense offered by the one who supposedly believes it. In other words, none of us will stand up for a principle with any real conviction if we are not firmly convinced it is the truth.

Why?

We will only be firmly convinced of the truth of the Reformed Faith if we can see it for ourselves in Scripture. We should know why we believe what we do, or we will feel threatened or insecure around those who know why they believe differently to us. We must not simply rely on our Reformed 'instinct'. We need to use a Berean approach. The Bereans were the Jews who "were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." ( emphasis mine -E.R. )

For a long time I felt threatened by those who reject infant baptism, and my hold on the doctrine of covenant baptism was very weak and uncertain. It was not until I did some proper study of the doctrine in the light of the Scriptures that my insecurity on this issue faded away, and my uncertainty was replaced with the proper Holy Spirit heart-conviction.

The same can be said about other doctrines that are constantly under fire today, eg. God's sovereignty in salvation, the abiding validity of the law of God in the Christian's life, even the doctrine of the Trinity, the sufficiency of Scripture, the regulative principle of worship ( ie. that God's will and glory should be the focus of our worship services, and not the well-being or happiness of the worshipper ) etc.

Dear Christian, do you know why you belong to a Reformed church and not eg. a Baptist/Arminian one? Could you show from Scripture why you believe in infant baptism, unconditional election, limited atonement, the need for Christians to keep God's laws, how Roman Catholicism denies the gospel, and why we don't speak in tongues and have prophecy in our churches, to name some of the issues that divide us off from most of the professing church today ( and that is not even to mention the many issues that divide us off from the many liberal denominations in this country )?

To the degree that you are able to do that, at least to the satisfaction of your own mind, to that degree you will be happy to wear publicly the name 'Reformed'. True conviction brings boldness in our witness to the doctrines of our Reformed Confessions.

If you can't show these things from Scripture, what do you propose to do about it?

Ed Rademaker

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised July 1998 / Copyright 1998