When I mention to people that I am a “Reformed Baptist” in my religious beliefs I usually get some strange and puzzled looks. Unless the person you are talking to is also Reformed, sympathetic to Reformed beliefs, or a hater of John Calvin they generally have no earthly idea what you mean. But even in “Reformed” circles today the word has been watered down. Rev. Watts mentions this watering down in the first chapter of his book What Is A Reformed Church:
“In many cases, the term (Reformed) means little more than some adherence to the “five points of Calvinism.” The term has lost its great historical richness and depth as the struggles of the Reformation have faded into distant history.”
It is true that the history of the Protestant Reformation is all but forgotten by the people today that claim the title “Protestant.” It’s more than a bit sad that they know nothing of where their church came from, the struggles it was birthed out of, or the mighty men and women that gave their lives for her.
The first chapter of Rev. Watts book is titled, “The Distinctives of a Reformed Church.” Before getting into the characteristic of a Reformed Church one must look at the roots of the term “Reformed” to gain a clear understanding of the word.
The term “Reformed” first came onto the scene in the 1500s. Though, we did see what could be called pre-Reformers as early as the 12th and 13th centuries. However, in the 1500s the term was applied to churches that separated from the corrupt Church of Rome. This separation occurred under the preaching and teaching of the famous Martin Luther. (I am not going to go into his teachings here, but I would encourage everyone to read up on Luther’s story if you are not familiar.) Under Luther’s teachings churches did away with images/icons in the buildings used for public worship and private masses. They also administered both bread and wine at the Lord’s table.
In the mid 1500s the word “Reformed” took on some new meaning. To quote Rev. Watts:
“It was used to identify the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation. Enthusiastic supporters of Luther became known as Lutherans, or even as “Adherents of the Augsburg Confession.” But men like John Calvin proceeded much further in reformation with respect to worship, government, and practice, and they came to be identified as “the Church Reformed according to the Word of God.”
As time continued the word “Reformed” took on more meaning. It eventually was associated with the Puritan movement. Again, quoting Rev. Watts:
“The Puritan movement inherited Calvin’s theological legacy but expanded his teaching on law, grace, and the covenants. Believing the visible church was still corrupted by the remains of popery Puritans sought even more thorough reformation according to the Word of God”
So, these are the three historical movements in which the Reformed Church has its roots. All three of these movements have differences, to be sure! But, it’s most important to note their similarities … which we will dive into next week! ;)
Just as an aside, if you have never looked into the history of how the church you belong to came to be, I would encourage you to do so. We tend to put so much emphasis on our genealogy and cultural heritage but focus very little (if at all) on our spiritual heritage. This should not be! Church history is a gift to the church. Reading about the struggles she (the church) has gone through, the men and women that sacrificed all for her, men and women that hated her, etc. … it is all encouraging to the believer today. I can’t imagine anyone would be disappointed in taking on to study this subject.