In the 1800’s reform schools were set up for teenagers as an alternative to going to prison for being convicted of crimes. We are not that kind of organization, though we freely admit we are sinners who need the grace of God in our lives.
To properly understand what we mean when we say we are “reformed” you must look back in history at least 500 years. Rumblings of what would become The Protestant Reformation started in the 14th century with men and women noticing something wrong in the Church. Corruption and the abuse of power ran rampant, and it affected the lives of millions of people across Europe. Reforms were needed.
Early reformers included men like John Hus and John Wycliffe. The official start of the Protestant Reformation is usually connected to an event involving Martin Luther. He was a pastor at the church in Wittenberg, Germany, who in 1517, started a debate by posting his now famous 95 Theses on the door of the church. That door was the social media of his day and it essentially invited scholars to debate with him on the issue of indulgences. Those were letters of pardon given to those who gave money promising them the forgiveness of sins. That is a massive departure from God’s word which says that salvation is a free gift received by faith alone.
This act by Martin Luther, which was used by God to bring about broad reforms, started the movement called the Protestant Reformation. To say we are “reformed” is to say we are a part of the churches that came out of that movement. It was a renewed focus upon salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. It was a renewed focus upon the Bible as the sole source of authority. It was a recommitment to living for the glory of God alone. The rediscovery of these five “solas” helped the church regain her footing to stand faithful to her God.
However, we can speak of being “reformed” in another sense. Sometimes it is stated that those who are “reformed” are so because of their view of key doctrines related to salvation. In this sense they are simply seen as Calvinist who hold to the “Five Points of Calvinism”. To be clear, Calvin did not come up with these five points, but he, and more specifically, his followers, debated with a man named Jacob Arminius, a Dutch theologian from the Protestant Reformation whose views became the basis of Arminianism. At its core, his system of doctrine places mankind at the center of salvation. Mankind is the one who chooses God. Mankind is not spiritually dead, but instead simply sick. Jesus died for all people and they respond if they choose. They can choose not to respond if they want. And they can lose their salvation.
The followers of Calvin say those doctrines contradict the Scriptures. In this sense, Calvinism is an attempt to let the Bible speak to the doctrine of salvation, rather than the desires of men. The response from the Calvinist was to affirm that man is not merely sick, but spiritually dead. They affirmed that God predestines (Ephesians 1) not because of something in a person, but rather unconditioned by who they are and what they have done. That Jesus has died specifically and effectually for those who are His sheep. The Holy Spirit will irresistibly draw to Himself those for whom Jesus has died. And that no one whom the Father has chosen, the Son died for and the Holy Spirit has drawn to salvation, can ever lose their salvation.
These are Biblical doctrines that become clear as we work carefully through the Scriptures. As C.H. Spurgeon once said, “Reformed theology is nothing other than biblical Christianity.”
To be “reformed” is to affirm these truths, but not merely these truths. In attempting to reform the church, statements of confessions of faith were written. Those would include the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechism. To be “reformed” is to subscribe to one of such confessions.
The Protestant Reformation changed the world forever. Our commitment is to be continually seeking to reform our theology and practise such that we align with God’s word as best we can.