This is the beginning of a lengthy series of “shop-talk” posts that I’ve planned, addressing our church’s position on 1) the Reformed theological tradition and 2) the role of the Holy Spirit (his purpose, ministry, and gifts). Each of these two broad topics will require multiple posts; I hope that this is helpful for people inquiring about our stances regarding these issues that are “hot-buttons” in our own church’s context here.
Let me start off by sharing that I would prefer for our church to be primarily known as “biblical” and “Christian,” which I think are far more important than a theological label like “Reformed.” But I am aware of the need to be precise and clear in our positions because a term like “Christian” can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. As a matter of fact, the case is the same for “Reformed” as well; that is why I will explicitly state what I think of when I refer to myself being “Reformed.”
I’ve used R.C. Sproul’s book, What is Reformed Theology? as my primary outline for defining the pillars of Reformed theology, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I will also describe how these elements of Reformed theology are specifically practiced or taught in our church.
First, reformed theology is centered on God. Our faith is centered on the highest view of God as transcendent, self-sufficient, and holy. He is impossible to know completely, but by his grace he makes himself knowable to us. He doesn’t need us to serve him, but he commands our total allegiance. He is totally sinless and committed to his own glory and honor. Therefore, Christianity is not a man-centered religion, but a God-centered worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One of the things I always exhort our worship leaders to make clear is that when the congregation gathers together for worship service, there must be an explicit time of confession of sin early on. As my seminary professor repeatedly taught us when we studied Leviticus, “When you approach a holy God, you must do it his way!” Therefore, confession of our sins is critical because we acknowledge that we fall so short of God’s glory (and yet can relate with him through Jesus Christ). So while the content of the songs we sing are important and not so much the style (e.g. hymns, contemporary music, etc.), what is most critical is the proper orientation of the heart before God.
Second, reformed theology is based on God’s Word alone. This is traditionally referred to by the Latin phrase, sola Scriptura. Our faith is based on the Bible as the only source of “special revelation”: what God chose to reveal about himself and his will and all we need to know to be saved. We believe that the Bible is inspired (spoken by God), infallible (unable to lead astray in matters of faith and practice), inerrant (does not affirm anything contrary to fact), authoritative (obeying Scripture equals obeying God himself), and understandable (following proper principles of interpretation).
I take personal pride in making sure that we are a church that studies the Word of God. In our two-hour long Sunday services, I spend 50-60 minutes preaching an expositional sermon (= the main point of the sermon is the main point of the Biblical text), systematically working through one book of the Bible at a time. Much of my work week (15-20 hours/week) is invested into studying the texts I will be preaching on and crafting sermons that clearly teach those texts. This is because I believe that the Scriptures are how God’s people will be convicted of sin, learn more about God, receive his grace, strengthen their faith, develop vision, and be equipped to live according to God’s will.
During the week, our LIFE groups (small group ministries) study the same passage of Scripture that I preached on the Sunday before. They examine the text for themselves and discuss it together in community. Most importantly, the people of God inspire and challenge each other to live out that Scripture in their lives.
Third, reformed theology is committed to faith alone. The centerpiece of the Reformation is the glorious truth that salvation is sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (by faith alone), and sola Christo (in Christ alone). There is nothing we can do to save ourselves; we must trust in Jesus Christ alone as the source of our justification. Justification (= being in right standing before God) involves Jesus’ substitution as the payment for our sins and the imputation (= assignment of value) of Jesus’ righteousness to us. Saving faith consists of: 1) noticia, the content of saving faith; 2) assensus, assenting mentally to the truth of the information; and 3) fiducia, personal trust and reliance on Christ that also involves the affections.
It has been said that the Gospel that is assumed in the church will inevitably be confused, and finally will be lost. In a lot of “Christian” circles that I’m in contact with, this is so (unfortunately) true. I meet many people who come to our church who say that they are Christians because their parents are Christians. Here in Indonesia, that usually means that on his government-issued ID card, a person may be classified as a “Christian,” reflecting his family heritage. But when I probe a little bit, most “Christians” do not know that they are saved by faith in Christ alone.
A lot of our ministry to people who come into our church involves deconstructing the Gospel for them. This is done consistently in sermons and Bible studies, but it is often most effective when we teach people how to share the Gospel to others. It is thrilling to see once nominal Christians start to “get it”: they see that they’ve been trying to reach God through religious activity and finally put their faith in Jesus alone, who reached down to save us. We have baptism twice a year for people to publicly profess their newly realized faith. We teach that baptism is a symbolic representation of what happens spiritually to them when they trust Jesus: they are cleansed from their sins and are given new life.
End of Part 1 of “How Our Theology is Reformed.” Part 2 is coming soon!