A friend asked me the other day what I thought were the key 4-5 distinctives of Reformed theology. I gave my answer, but have found myself pondering that question. I think I would rephrase it to “the distinctives of Reformed faith and practice.” Reformed theology is not just about reforming doctrine, but practice. It’s an embodied, lived tradition of the church. So what separates Reformed faith and practice from other Christian traditions, particularly the (Ana)Baptist, Lutheran (though there is a lot of overlap here), Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Wesleyan traditions? I think the best resources for a quick overview are John Calvin’s The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544), William Perkin’s A Reformed Catholic (1597), and R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions (2008). So Reformed churches are,
Catholic and Creedal. The Reformed are Reformed Catholics (in distinction to Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholics) and fully embrace the Catholic tradition expressed in the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. To be Catholic is to affirm and submit to Nicene Christianity as biblical Christianity. Nicene Christianity in particular defines the biblical and Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity and humanity. The Reformed also affirm and look to the church fathers for guidance.
Sola Scriptura. All Christians affirm the authority of scripture, and the Reformed are no different. Where differences lie is in the uniqueness…
I’ve been thinking through the 1860 presidential election a lot recently.
The background: In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled in the terrible Dred Scott case that the U.S. Constitution did not protect the rights of black people, free or enslaved. It also invalidated the Missouri Compromise as an illegitimate extension of congressional power. The Missouri Compromise had prohibited slavery in the northern U.S., except for Missouri, and was intended to balance the power of slave and free states. Along with the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), this meant each new territory became slave-holding or free based on the votes of that state’s population, which inevitably lead to armed conflicts (notably Bleeding Kansas) between abolitionists and pro-slavery settlers, with abolitionists often winning out. In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act passed Congress, requiring northern states to return runaway slaves to the south, something abolitionists obviously refused to do. The country was at a breaking point.
So, I’ve been wondering what I would do if I was teleported back to 1860 and able to vote…
“But in order to serve the community of today, theology itself must be rooted in the community of yesterday. Its testimony to the Word and the profession of its faith must originate, like the community itself, from the community of past times, from which that of today arose. Theology must originate also from the older and the more recent tradition which determines the present form of its witness. The foundation of its inquiry and instruction is given to theology beforehand, along with the task which it has to fulfill. Theology does not labor somewhere high above the foundation of tradition, as though Church history began today.”
-Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, from his lectures at the University of Chicago and Princeton.
“Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”
-Westminster Confession of Faith 31.4
It continues to astound me how often P&R churches completely disregard this and believe that it is right and proper for the church to comment on every political issue. I’m looking at you, PC(U.S.A.) and WRC.