This post and the previous one seek to answer the question: “What does it mean to be Reformed?” These posts are intended for those who might not know what it means to be Reformed, for those who disagree with Reformed theology but nevertheless want to learn more, and for professing Reformed Christians who want to know a little more about what we confess.
Reformed Theology and God
Reformed Christians are also theocentric, or God-centered. This ultimately means that we see God as “infinite in being and perfection . . . [and] most absolute” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 2.1). In this way, we are trying to follow Paul, who confessed, “from God and through God and to God are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). Thus Reformed Christians see all of life through God-centered lenses. He truly is the “Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). The words of B.B. Warfield are especially poignant here:
“The [Reformed Christian] is the man who sees God: God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart. He is the man who sees God behind all the phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will. He makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life activities; he casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of his salvation” (B.B. Warfield, Calvin as a Theologian and Calvinism Today [London: Evangelical Press, 1969], 23-24).
One of the implications of this God-centeredness is that reality exists to display the glory of God in both creation and redemption. God created the world not because He needed it or because He lacked something; rather, God created the world to demonstrate His awesome power and to communicate something of His glory to human beings. We are to live for God’s glory not as if this was some arbitrary rule that God has given us, but precisely because this is the very purpose for which God created us. Moreover, we also say that the purpose of God’s work to redeem us from our sin also displays His glory and grace. The Bible teaches that from the beginning, in the middle, and to the end, it is God who saves sinners. And Paul tells us that the very reason that God saves us is “for the praise of His glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). This means that there is nothing that we can contribute to our salvation, but rather that God saves in order to demonstrate His radical grace towards us in Jesus Christ.
Reformed Theology and the Church
As Reformed Christians, we don’t believe that God saves us and then leaves us to ourselves; we believe, on the other hand, that when God saves us, we become members of Christ’s body, which is called the church. We say that the church is composed of all who believe in Jesus Christ by God’s grace, as well as their children. Moreover, the church is the place in which God promises to speak to His people (through the preaching of the Word), to give them signs and seals of His grace (through baptism and the Lord’s supper), and to lovingly lead His people into the fullness of life (through church discipline). Thus the Christian life cannot be lived apart from active involvement in a local church, for that is the primary place where God has promised to commune with us.
And since we believe both that the church is made up of believers and their children and that God promises to give us signs and seals of His grace in baptism, we therefore baptize the children of believing parents. We don’t think that this baptism has any intrinsic power of its own, nor is it the time or means of salvation. Faith alone is the instrument which unites us to Christ, and that by God’s grace alone. Nevertheless, God has given us baptism as a visible sign of His covenant promises which He originally gave to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. Just as circumcision was the sign of entrance into the visible covenant community in the Old Testament, so too baptism is the sign of entrance into the visible covenant community in the New.
And so we baptize our children because they are a part of God’s visible covenant community in the New Testament, otherwise known as the church. God’s covenant promises were given to Abraham and his offspring (Genesis 17:7), meaning that the covenant sign of circumcision should be applied to both Abraham and his offspring. And though the sign has changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament (from circumcision to baptism), the substance of the promise has not: “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). In other words, the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 was nothing other than God’s promise to give the Holy Spirit to him and all his offspring through faith in God’s chosen Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why Peter can tell a crowd of Jesus to “repent and be baptized . . . And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:38-39). And since the covenant promise is not only for believers but also for their children, we believe that the covenant sign of baptism ought also to be applied to our children.
Reformed Theology and Worship
Finally, as a church saved by God’s grace and for His glory, Reformed Christians believe that worship is our highest privilege and calling. Worship is our grateful response to God’s supreme grace in bringing us back to Himself through Jesus Christ. In worship, we sing to our God and revel in adoration at His excellencies and glory. And so our worship is governed by what we call the “Regulative Principle.” The Regulative Principle simply put just means that we only worship God in ways in which He has specifically told us to worship Him. Since worship is our highest calling, we take this principle very seriously; and since God has called us to worship Him, He too takes this principle very seriously. For example, when Nadab and Abihu, the two oldest sons of Aaron, brought unauthorized fire before God, “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died” (Leviticus 10:1-2). So from this we derive our Regulative Principle, and in worship we only seek to worship God in the ways in which He has told us to worship Him.
This puts us immediately at odds with many contemporary Christians, and many Reformed churches are very small because we don’t offer innovative or creative worship. Nevertheless, we believe that our worship is pleasing to God precisely because it conforms to exactly how He has commanded us to worship Him. And we truly believe that this is our highest privilege and calling. There really is nothing like standing side-by-side with faithful believers and singing in unison with all our might to the Holy God who has rescued us from sin and death, by counting His own Son as sinful and thereby killing Him for our sake. No experience on earth gets us closer to heaven, precisely because this is what we will be doing in heaven: “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).