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Our Reformed Theology

Reformed Theology is Confessional

John Calvin

John Calvin

The theology of the Reformation over time was formulated in the great confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries (e.g. the Belgic Confession, 1561; the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563; the Canons of Dort, 1619; the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, 1647). WTC/S gladly affirms and teaches this theology because we are convinced, as the Reformers were, that this theology most accurately confesses, represents and summarizes what the Bible teaches. Every year each WTC/S faculty member affirms their agreement with the doctrines taught in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.

Reformed Theology is "Universal"

Reformed theology is universal or "catholic" (small "c" meaning literally "according to the whole" or "universally held" or simply "universal") in that it embraces the doctrines held by the Christian church throughout history and articulated by the great ecumenical councils and creeds. The Reformation did not reject all of the Christian and Roman Catholic tradition that was developed before the 16th century, only those parts that were out of accord with Scripture. Reformed theology affirms these "ecumenical" doctrines including the Trinity, the full deity and gracious work of Christ, the church, and the resurrection and judgment of all people at Christ's coming at the end of history. These "universal" doctrines are expressed in the great ecumenical creeds like the Apostle's Creed (2nd century), the Nicene Creed (325 AD), the Chalcedon Creed (451 AD) and the Athanasian Creed (written probably in the 6th century but grounded in the work of Athanasius, the great champion of orthodoxy against Arianism, in the 4th century).

Teaching

Reformed Theology is Evangelical

Reformed Theology also shares doctrinal beliefs with many branches of historic evangelicalism: the full and inerrant authority of Scripture over all human authorities, the sufficiency of Scripture, the clarity of Scripture in teaching doctrines essential to salvation, the only infallible interpreter of Scripture being Scripture itself, and justification by grace alone received through faith alone. But Reformed theology also strongly embraces and stresses certain doctrinal distinctives because it finds these distinctives to be taught and emphasized in the Scriptures themselves.

Here are several of the distinctives of Reformed theology.

God is Sovereign

The essential assertion of the Bible is that God exists and that He is the supreme ruler, governor, sustainer and controller of all things. The common term for this is that God is sovereign. "Sovereign" is from two Latin words meaning "supreme one." God is indeed the Supreme One. He has not only created everything from nothing but He continues to actively rule His creation in providence. His providence extends to all His creatures and all their actions. The Bible also clearly asserts that people are free and responsible for all their choices, and at the same time every human choice is under God's control and ultimately fulfills His purposes. So God is absolutely sovereign and man is fully responsible for his actions and sin. The Bible never explains how this is so (evidently it is beyond our comprehension) but it clearly declares both truths and assumes that there is no contradiction between them.

God is also sovereign in salvation. As Jonah states "Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). If any sinner is to be saved, God must take the initiative, seek us and actually rescue us. God's choice of the sinner is the ultimate cause of salvation, not the sinner's choice of Christ.

This central belief in God's sovereignty is especially important in the Reformed understanding and outlook on the plan of God's gracious salvation.

God Initiates the Covenant of Grace

Reformed Theology believes that God has one unified plan to save sinners in both the Old Testament and New Testament. This plan is called the covenant of grace. In this covenant God promises to have a relationship with His redeemed people on the basis of the grace purchased by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. This covenant relationship unfolded in many stages throughout history but it is always one gracious covenant in Christ. Old covenant believers looked forward to the Christ of promise and expressed their faith by offering sacrifices on God's appointed altar. New covenant believers look back to Christ's finished work in the cross and empty tomb and trust Him alone for salvation.

With this perspective, the Old Testament is not just an interesting Jewish book about Jewish history. Rather, it is the earlier form of the same covenant and the same truth found in the New Testament. Jesus doesn't start from scratch in His public ministry in 27 AD. Rather, He fulfills the earlier promises concerning the plan of salvation. Themes like salvation by grace alone, the necessity of a substitutionary blood sacrifice and the church as the gathered, redeemed, worshipping people of God along with their children are Old Testament ideas that have found their fulfillment in Christ.

The Five Points of Reformed Theology or the Five Doctrines of Grace

God displays His sovereignty and our absolute dependence on Him as He applies His covenant of grace toHis church and to His people. These truths are evident in what the Bible teaches about salvation by grace or the five doctrines of grace.

1. Total Depravity or Radical Corruption

The doctrines of grace start with the "bad news" of mankind's total spiritual corruption and inability. The whole human race fell in Adam. Fallen humanity is totally unable to rescue itself and no fallen human can make himself or herself acceptable to God. Sin has polluted every aspect of man's personality: mind, desires and will. All people are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and unable to respond in faith to the offer of the Gospel. "The heart is deceitful and above all things beyond cure" (Jeremiah 17:9).

2. Unconditional Election or Divine Gracious Initiative

"But God" that's the gospel in a nutshell. God took the initiative to graciously and mercifully rescue judgment-deserving, hell-deserving sinners. If God had not chosen some, no one would be rescued, because fallen man naturally hates God (Rom 5:8; 8:7). God's choice is not based on any person meeting conditions that would qualify them to be chosen because no one can fulfill God's requirements of law keeping (Rom 3:19-20, 23). But God elected, in eternity past, to save an exact, but humanly uncountable number of people (Rev. 7:9). Why? Because God gives His mercy and grace to whom He chooses, even when they don't deserve it. He does this to display the glory of His grace and mercy (Eph. 1:6, 12).

3. Particular Atonement or Effective Definite Redemption

In order to rescue His chosen people, God sent His Son to die as a substitute for millions and millions of sinners. He did not die for everybody, but for particular individuals who would believe in Him. He did not die to make salvation potentially available for those who might choose Christ (in which case His death would have rescued no one, for all fallen men and women naturally hate God and are blind to spiritual truth and are totally incapable of choosing Christ or doing anything spiritually good). But Christ died to actually purchase salvation for His sheep, i.e. those whom His Father had given to Him (John 6:37, 39, 17:2, 24), those whom He has loved and known by name for all eternity. Christ had a definite purpose in mind in going to the cross: it was to redeem you if you are one of His children, a believer in Him.

4. Effective Grace or Irresistible Application of Redemption

God, in rescuing His people, in bringing them to faith in the cross and repentance from their sin, does not act against their wills, forcing them to love what they hate (God and His holiness). Rather, God the Holy Spirit sovereignly changes our rebellious hearts. He gives us new eyes, new ears, a new mind, new desires and a new will so that we are able to hear God's call in the gospel and we flee to Christ as our Savior II Cor 4:4-6). The Holy Spirit graciously overcomes our resistance, enabling us to do the impossible, to embrace what we naturally despise (God, His holiness and his gospel). God doesn't cram the gospel down people's throats, or make them puppets. But He comes in His mighty grace and makes His people, the naturally unwilling, willing to come and to follow Christ (John 10:27).

5. The Preservation and Perseverance of True Christians

Those who have been transformed by God's grace will be preserved by that same grace until they reach the consummation of salvation at the resurrection and Day of Judgment. They'll be preserved in the midst of great opposition from without (Satan and the world) and also from within (indwelling, remaining sin). They'll be preserved so that they are actively obedient to God to the end, not due to their own consistency and commitment but due to God's faithfulness to preserve and protect His weak and wandering children, and to finish the work of salvation which He started in them (Philippians 1:6). Believers have the responsibility to work out their salvation with fear and trembling confident that God is the one who works in them to will and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12, 13).

This God-Centered Perspective Has Big Implications

This God-centered, Reformed outlook on the Bible's plan of salvation is the soul and vital center of WTC/S. We gladly and enthusiastically announce God's sovereign grace as the only hope for our lost, confused and spiritually dark world. We gladly embrace our primary mission of training preachers to announce this gospel of grace in order to glorify God, build Christ's Bride in joyful worship and to gather in God's elect in Africa.

This outlook also has two huge implications for life:

a. Men and women are humbled. We are not able to accomplish or even contribute to our salvation.

b. God is glorified. We owe salvation and therefore praise to God alone (I Corinthians 1:27-31).

The One Point of Grace: God Saves Sinners

These five points, usually called the five points of Reformed theology or the five points of Calvinism or the five doctrines of grace really make one point; God saves sinners:

For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God: the Triune Jehovah. Father, Son and Spirit: three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves: does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners: men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners: and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man's own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner's inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Savior. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the "five points" are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to Whom be glory for ever; amen. J. I. Packer, "Introductory Essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ", p. 7.