Who's Reformed??

Discussion in 'Church History' started by thbslawson, Apr 21, 2012.

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  1. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    This may seem like a dumb question, but what exactly does the term "reformed" mean? It seems the exact use of and application of the word in regards to an individual, church or denomination has become rather subjective and gets thrown around a lot. For instance, I hear it said from time to time "Piper isn't really reformed" or "MacArthur isn't reformed", which really means that they don't fit a particular theological mold. But is this fair to say? Wouldn't it be more historically accurate to say that "reformed" means being a product of the Reformation and adhering to the foundational principles, namely the Five Solas? How about instead of throwing around the term "reformed" or "non-reformed" about other orthodox brethren we more accurately state what we mean. For example, "MacArthur is not Westminsterian" or "Piper is not fully confessional". It's takes a little more time to type, but is much clearer, accurate and, I believe, much more gracious.
  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Let's see. What are our options?

    1. Holding to the principles of the Reformation, like the five solas—meaning protestant.

    2. Particular protestants stemming from the Swiss Reformation or the Scottish one—meaning anyone in the Presbyterian, English Reformed Baptist or continental Reformed Church tradition holding broadly to that system of doctrine.

    3. Particular Presbyterians or Reformed Church people who adhere firmly to every point (or very nearly every point) of the Reformed confessions... also popularly called TR (Thoroughly Reformed) these days—meaning only the "faithful" Presbyterians, etc.

    4. Any protestant who holds to the part of the Reformed system of doctrine having to do with soteriology—meaning any Calvinist as opposed to an Arminian.

    Definition #4 is widely used today. It's how guys like MacArthur and Piper get called "Reformed."

    I tend to use #2. Many others on this board seem to think in terms of #3. There are probably some #1's here, too.

    Word usage is not always a simple matter. I agree that this is one of those words where, if the context doesn't make your meaning clear or you aren't sure how your audience will take it, more precise wording is often called for. Simply yelling until you're blue in the face, telling everyone else that they ought to use the word the right way—the way you use it—may make a guy feel better but is seldom actually helpful.
  3. GulfCoast Presbyterian

    GulfCoast Presbyterian Puritan Board Junior

    Many Baptists around here absolutely bristle if you refer to them as protestant.
  4. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    One can think of it as 'narrow minded' or uncharitable to say that someone is not Reformed because they do not adhere to a particular set of doctrines and, indeed, one may be saying those things out of pride or in an unloving way.

    Having said that, there is a historical and confessional definition of being Reformed to which, if it applies to Piper, MacArthur et. al. would render our confessions and history meaningless. For example in the conclusion of the Canons of Dordrecht it is noted that "​[t]his doctrine the synod judges to be drawn from the Word of God, and to be agreeable to the confessions of the Reformed churches." This can mean nothing else than those churches who adhere to the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession. Similarly in the URCNA oaths for officebearers (Form of Subscription) they pledge to uphold the system of doctrine of the Reformed churches.

    The danger too is that our doctrine becomes watered down. We may strive to meet or hit the 'lowest common denominator' of doctrine and thus eventually sound unintelligible and confess less than what the scripture requires. And then one must ask: what next is up for grabs? What more is sacrificed in order to broaden the Reformed name and meaning? Rather our confessions speak for us so that we are united in what we say without denying that Christ is found in other bodies of the Christian faith.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2012
  5. NB3K

    NB3K Puritan Board Sophomore

    Amen Brother!
  6. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't disagree with you on this, but I'm not talking about "watering down" doctrine, rather how we use labels. My argument is that since the meaning of "reformed" is debatable and has broad usage, that it might be better to be more specific in our language. For instance, take the "Christian Reformed Church" under which Robert Schuller operates, we're not comfortable calling him "reformed" are we?

    And also as Jack K pointed out above that there is no consensus as to the exact meaning of the word, even among "reformed" brethren. For this reason care needs to be taken before labeling someone "reformed" or "not reformed" as it may lead to misunderstanding. For example, for the group that would equate "reformed" with those who hold to the five points of Calvinism and the five solas, to say that Piper is "not Reformed" might lead one to think he's not a Calvinist. I actually know a guy personally who won't read Piper because someone told him he's "not reformed" and therefore he thinks Piper is not a Calvinist, which is incorrect of course. Therefore the application of this label has led to a misconception about our brother.

    So my question and my argument are not about changing standards, but rightly examining the labels we use.
  7. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritanboard Commissioner

    "Reformed" means, at minimum:

    Doctrines of grace + Covenant theology + Confession

    (Many of us would like to also include a high view of the church, and of the sacraments)

    Contrast this with holding only the 5 points of Calvinism, but indifferent covenant or dispensational framework, and no binding accountable confession of doctrine. (A minimalist "statement of faith" is not a Confession).

    So we have many communions that are "Calvinist," heading toward reformed, but, charitably,
    not there yet. (And remember, Mr. Calvin had a confession, was covenantal, but those who call themselves that often do not know or understand the implications of that yet).:)
  8. JOwen

    JOwen Puritan Board Junior

    Take the word in its parts; "Re"-"formed". Or, "formed again" according to Scripture. Naturally this is best displayed in the 3FU and the WCF.
  9. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    Somebody has read RRC
  10. JM

    JM Puritan Board Professor

    I'm a Baptist, not Reformed...confessional, sure.
  11. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    Right. One can be Calvinist but not Reformed. John MacArthur and Wayne Grudem are examples of this.

    However, one cannot be Reformed (by evangelical understanding) without being Calvinist.
  12. JM

    JM Puritan Board Professor

    I would say Reformed = Doctrines of grace + Infant Baptist Covenant theology + Confession

    As a Baptist I hold to covenant theology, just a different kind of covenant theology.
  13. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    The Covenanter Presbyterian tradition is also referred to as "Reformed," as in Reformed Presbyterians (e.g., the RPCNA).
  14. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Schuller is RCA, not CRC.
  15. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    Sorry, my mistake. Thanks for the correction.

    ---------- Post added at 11:14 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:05 PM ----------

    I think my point is actually being made by the responses here. While there are indeed a number of major points that everyone agrees constitutes "reformed" there is clearly not a consensus on exactly what this label means. I'll use the example of C.H. Spurgeon. Based upon what people have posted here's where we are:

    Me - Spurgeon IS Reformed
    Jack K - Spurgeon IS Reformed
    Scott1 - Spurgeon MIGHT BE Reformed (Depends on if "covenantal" must mean "infant baptism")
    JOwen - Spurgeon is NOT Reformed
    JM - Spurgeon is NOT Reformed
  16. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    That's because some Baptists, along with Catholics and Orthodox, believe that there is an unbroken chain between the apostles and themselves. None of these claims holds up particularily well in light of historical evidence.
  17. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    Whatever Spurgeon was when he was late upon this earth, he IS Reformed now! ;)
  18. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I agree that labels we use should be examined but my point is that labels have standard meanings. Just because not everyone on this page agrees on the word or term Reformed does not mean that it doesn't have one particular meaning as determined by history, usage and confessional identification. That would be like saying that we have to accept the meaning of Christian including the mass, a denial of the virgin birth and all manner of misery and heresy because some professing Christian somewhere at some time used the term to refer to themselves and thus involve the rest of us with their nonsense.

    Even the men whom you refer to, namely MacArthur & Piper (and possibly even Spurgeon) do not, to the best of my knowledge use the term Reformed to refer to themselves because they know better and don't want to be associated with the practice of infant baptism. They are Baptists or particular Baptists if you prefer but Baptists nonetheless. Otherwise one has made complete nonsense of the confessions and systems in place to uphold the confessions as I noted in my original post. And if someone doesn't want to read Piper because of a label that someone else has refused to give him, then the responsibility lies with the one who misapplied said label and not with Piper or the one who heard it in the first place.

    And yes you are, even unintentionally, watering things down by making the term Reformed broader than it should be particularly by including contradictory doctrines in its definition (i.e. paedobaptist vs. credobaptist). Let's acknowledge the distinctions that are in place so that we are clear about what we are saying and whom we are saying it about.

    ---------- Post added at 05:13 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:12 PM ----------

    I don't know if you meant to be facetious but, just to be clear, if you are referring to "Recovering the Reformed Confession" by R. Scott Clark I have not read it.
  19. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I would never say you have to accept any meaning of the word. But I would say it's wise to be aware of the different ways many people use the word so that you can adjust to your audience and communicate clearly. I would further suggest that standing up for a particular usage of a word when that usage is becoming arcane is typically an exercise that bears little fruit. I don't think that's happening quite yet with the word "Reformed," but it might, given the range of possible meanings already in popular use today.
  20. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I agree with you in the main that is insofar as one must be pastorally sensitive to the needs and/or ignorance of their hearers and that qualification may need to be made in order to reach a proper understanding. Having said, there is no necessity to change the meaning of the word when it is, as I have stated twice now, established in a binding, contractual agreement in the form of historical confessions. Otherwise the confessions including the name of our churches would have to be changed to who knows what: rather we know what we are saying, will define what we say and state that clearly to the world. If people want to use that term in their personal way to suit their own understanding of it that is their choice but it doesn't change the fact that Reformed churches used this term for centuries and that only now, when we live in a time of doctrinal declension, is it being demanded by various parties that it be used in an ambiguous way.

    Indeed there are many other terms, such as justification and sanctification that are being redefined by N.T. Wright and others but I hear not word one from any party that because of his confusion of those terms that we should abandon them. They are as arcane as the first century but we don't need Mr. Wright or his friends to help us redefine the terms that are clearly understood and presented by our confessions.
  21. thbslawson

    thbslawson Puritan Board Freshman

    Daniel, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you also, but is there actually an historical consensus? (I'm asking because I honestly am not clear on this). According to some, the term "Reformed Baptist" is an oxymoron, yet they exists and some paedobaptists welcome them as "Reformed" while others do not. There's historical arguments for both sides in how the term is used.

    Certainly there are common points of doctrine that clearly fall under the heading of "Reformed", and I would agree that Covenant theology is under that heading, but there are even Reformed Baptist that call themselves covenantal. Where they differ in their argument is that they say the recipients of the covenant sign have been changed based on the prophetic words of Jeremiah 31. But they would claim to be "Covenantal" in their view of scripture. Are they "reformed" or not?
  22. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    I am not certain I can be anymore clear than I have up to this point but I will repeat: the confessions say what is Reformed and in fact they actually use that term in a particularly defined way. Those who want to use the term more broadly and openly may do so but it doesn't change the fact what Reformed churches say. So even if there are only a few of us who use this term in a limited way, this is what it means, historically and confessionally which also means we may not use it any other way or say that it means something it doesn't. It means that people died for this confession and we aren't going to change because some people are offended. We think it is better that some are offended than denying the public oath we took to uphold these standards. We love the Lord.

    Plainly speaking, no Baptists who are Calvinistic or otherwise sympathetic to the Reformation are not Reformed. They are right on many things but are not Reformed.
  23. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I certianly don't advocate we abandon the word "Reformed." But we may have little choice but to adapt to the fact that, although we don't like it, we share the word with some who are not "Reformed" in the same sense we are. This makes more work for us. We may need to add more adjectives at times or use other explanations in order to be properly understood.

    We'll surely be tempted to whine about this and to contend that our usage of the word came first, is the proper one, and should be sufficient in itself. That's true enough. But such arguments seldom change popular usage. They're not likely to help us win the day, just make us look like whiners—and misunderstood ones, at that.
  24. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    I tend to us the standard of the Canadian Press Style Book, refer to people or groups of people, according to the names and terms that they use to describe themselves, unless they are obviously misleading, deceptive or contrary to the generally accepted English usage of the terms used.

    So I use the term "reformed" to refer to people and groups that I do not consider to be properly reformed, but that is the compromise we must make to be understood, and to understand each other in the "common tongue".
  25. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Not here. If you demanded to put a dog tag around my neck, it would say "Protestant" with a capital P.
  26. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Amen, brother Vic! As a former RC I'd be wearing the same dog tag.
  27. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    I used to get hung up about the Reformed tag. It doesn't bother me anymore. I desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. You can smack any tag on me you like. I consider myself to be traveling on the path of the Reformed tradition. Whether that makes me a big R, small R, italic R is of little concern to me. I am challenged by Reformed scholarship, both from the paedo and credo camps. The writings of these men, along with the dynamic discussion on the Puritan Board, have helped me determine my beliefs within the Reformed genre.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2012
  28. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    I understand the distinctions about Reformed Baptists not being "Reformed." For example, there are probably those who come from Reformed traditions (i.e., Dutch Reformed or Covenanter) who would object to the comparisons, and I am sympathetic to that. Carl Trueman quipped during his breakout session lecture at T4G that he tells his students that Calvin would have had Baptists thrown into prison in Geneva, but it would have been because he loved them. Distinctions are important.

    However, having worshiped with Reformed Baptists, I can safely say that we have a group that 1) takes the Regulative Principle of Worship very seriously and 2) takes the Lord's Day very seriously. I would have some quibbles with the former (sometimes the worship can be too bare bones), but if that is an error then it is on the side of caution and better than the alternative. If we can't get a large percentage of the Presbyterian world to be confessional on the RPW or the Lord's Day, then let's please not throw our Baptist brothers under the bus.
  29. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    Not this one!

    ---------- Post added at 11:08 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:05 AM ----------


    I really appreciate what you've said here.

    ---------- Post added at 11:32 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:08 AM ----------

    This is how I define "Reformed:"

    1. Affirm the Five Points of Calvinism (Denying Arminianism)
    2. Affirm the Five Solas of the Reformation
    3. Affirm Covenant Theology (Denying Dispensationalism)
    4. Affirm the Regulative Principle of Worship (& not Frame's version of it!)
    5. Affirm Confessionalism as the guardian of these aforementioned things:
    • Three Forms of Unity
    • Westminster Standards
    • Savoy Declaration of Faith & Order
    • Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)

    And yes, this does exclude guys like MacArthur and Piper. But it also excludes men like Luther. I love and appreciate all three of these men! But I don't see them as confessionally Reformed.

    Now of course some will deny that Reformed Baptists share a part in the Reformed camp. However, in England, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists were known as "The Three Old Denominations" flowing from the Puritan/Separatist movement.
  30. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    I am inclined to agree. Ecclesiology is the great seperater, but confessionalism should be what unites.

    I told a Reformed Baptist brother recently that when the government outlaws Christianity and we are driven underground, I would leave the keys to the compound under the front mat for him. ;)
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