Last time, I launched a series of posts that would hit on our church’s position on 1) the Reformed theological tradition and 2) the role of the Holy Spirit (his purpose, ministry, and gifts). You can read the first part of this series (“How Our Theology is Reformed, Part 1”) right here.
To review from that first post:
First, reformed theology is centered on God.
Second, reformed theology is based on God’s Word alone.
Third, reformed theology is committed to faith alone.
Fourth, reformed theology is devoted to Jesus Christ as God. Let me mention a couple of important events in church history for you first (bear with me if you don’t like history). The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) affirmed the biblical doctrine that Jesus is “begotten, not made” and of the same essence (the technical term is homoousios) as God the Father. Later, the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) affirmed the biblical doctrine that Jesus is both truly God AND truly man. It is important to note that these councils did not “invent” all of this about Jesus; they just affirmed what the Bible (and early church) taught about the identity of Jesus Christ in light of the false teachings that were emerging in their day and age.
Our commitment to the truth that Jesus Christ is 100% God is critical in our specific context of Indonesia, a nation with 200+ million Muslims. In fact, this is a key point of difference between Islam and Christianity. However, instead of debating these differences as the launching point for reaching out to Muslims, the most effective way is to simply study the Scriptures with them and discover how the Bible plainly presents this truth.
We spent about three years (off and on) studying the Gospel of John through our sermons and LIFE group Bible studies. Thankfully, we finished the book recently and one of the very clear themes of the book is that Jesus is God himself: God incarnate, God crucified, and God resurrected. John presented this thesis in his opening chapter: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).
Fifth, reformed theology is nicknamed Covenant theology. “Covenant theology,” although not explicitly stated in the Bible, is inferred through the entire Bible. There are three main covenants in reformed theology. First, the covenant of redemption was the agreement between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to fulfil their respective roles for the salvation of people. Second, the covenant of works was the legal agreement between God and Adam and Eve in the beginning of human history, stating that their inclusion in the blessings of the relationship with God depended on their obedience, or “works.”
Finally, the covenant of grace was the agreement between God and man, established by God after the fall, in which man could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. All the covenants that we see throughout the Bible are parts of this covenant of grace: the covenant with Adam (Genesis 3:15), the covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20-9:17), the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), the covenant with Moses (Exodus 19-24), the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7), and the New Covenant (Hebrews 8-12).
Looking at the texts of Scripture through the lens of covenant theology make them come alive, specifically how Jesus Christ is the center and fulfilment of the entire Bible. A basic principle of preaching that I learned in seminary was to identify the “fallen condition focus” (from Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centered Preaching) of a text and then how Jesus Christ is God’s solution for it, according to his sovereign plan from the very beginning. This keeps us from falling into preaching and teaching that unintentionally advocates “trying harder” instead of “see how Jesus accomplishes what we cannot.”
I’ve made sure to tell the leaders of Building Blocks, our children’s ministry, to be careful not to teach this kind of “moralism” to children. This is often what we do when teaching the Bible, especially to children, isn’t it? Lessons like “be brave like David when you face your Goliaths” and “fight temptation like Joseph” litter our Sunday school study lessons. Sometimes the Bible does present examples to follow, but we err terribly when we leave out the Gospel from these passages.
Lastly, reformed theology can be summarized with the acronym, TULIP. I will not give TULIP as much space in this discussion as it deserves; I’ll just present what it is (Sproul’s descriptions are in quotes) and share a practical way it shows up in our church.
T = Total depravity, or “humanity’s radical corruption”
U = Unconditional election, or “God’s sovereign choice”
L = Limited atonement, or “Christ’s purposeful atonement”
I = Irresistible grace, or “the Spirit’s effective call”
P = Perseverance of the saints, or “God’s preservation of the saints”
I look at these five points of reformed theology as doctrines that showcase God’s awesome power and grace as the anchor of our faith. In fact, sound faith really is contingent on the reliability of the object of faith. You can have a lot faith in the wrong object, but you will end up in with disaster. For example, a lot of faith in a chair with defective legs (unreliable object of faith) will still send a weary person crashing to the ground. TULIP highlights the reliability of the Lord Jesus as the object of our faith.
Furthermore, a lot of faith in the right object results in spiritual maturity. Therefore, the greater our knowledge of Jesus Christ, the stronger our faith will become. For this reason we emphasize that a person’s “Word ministry” (the primary way to get to know God) is a fundamental practice that is necessary for change and growth. Of course, this includes being under biblical teaching in corporate gatherings and engaging in Bible studies at LIFE group.
Additionally, we advocate that people should daily take in the Bible, not just “devotional books” and “Christian reading”- this is one’s personal “Word ministry.” Specifically, we make available the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan for people, which takes people through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year and the rest of the Bible once a year. It can be modified simply by doing half the readings, thus completing the plan in two years (this is what I do). We also teach our church “inductive Bible study” as a more in-depth way to study chunks or books of the Bible themselves. In any case, we want our church members to make it normal Christian practice to have their own “Word ministry” every day.
I’m thankful for the rich history and tradition that our spiritual family is a part of! Even more than that, I hope this helps people not only get a basic idea of what “reformed theology” is, but also how it actually is lived out in church practice. As the saying goes, “theology ought to lead to doxology”: our right understanding of God should then be expressed in appropriate worship of God. Soli deo gloria!