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Presbyterian Beliefs and me - Our Reformed Faith
By Rev Tan Cheng Huat – General Secretary
Mar 2015

What does it mean to be Reformed?
Many members in our Presbyterian churches have wondered: "What does it mean to be Reformed?" This is a question of who we are in the Christian community. The terms Reformed or Reformation (as it is used in Christianity), are historical terms that have its roots in the early 1500s. It comes from a period of time when the Church underwent a return to faithful doctrines that had become corrupt under a system of authorities of men, orders, unethical regulations, ostentatious ceremonies, and unbiblical traditions produced by ecumenical councils. It began in the sixteenth century in Switzerland under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. Calvin’s teachings became the dominant and leading force in churches as they spread across Europe, particularly to France, the Netherlands, Scotland, and, by the eighteenth century, to North America, Africa, Hungary, Indonesia, and many other parts of the world. Presbyterian refers to a branch of Protestant denominations derived from the Reformed churches of the Reformation, which have a Presbyterian form of church governance. Presbyterian churches are historically Calvinistic in theology. Presbyterianism traces its institutional roots back to the Scottish Reformation, especially as led by John Knox.

John Calvin was born in Noyon, France, in 1509. Educated in the humanities, he earned his academic stripes summa cum laude at age 24. Inspired by the teachings of reformers like Martin Luther, Calvin took up serious study of the Bible. He also wrote a fabulous summary of biblical teaching entitled "The Institutes of the Christian Religion".

The Reformers were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, so Five Latin phrases emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers' theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. The Five Solas (sola means "alone") are:

1. Sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"):
states that the teaching of Scripture is sufficient for all of life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The Bible alone is our highest authority.

2. Sola Fide ("faith alone"):
meant that justification of the sinner is through faith alone, without any admixture of personal works. We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

3. Sola Gratia ("grace alone"):
meant that salvation is by grace apart from any deserving or foreseen good on the part of the sinner. We are saved by the grace of God alone.

4. Solus Christus ("Christ alone"):
meant that Jesus Christ is the only procurer of our reconciliation with God and is the sufficient object of faith for our justification. Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.

5. Soli Deo Gloria ("to the glory of God alone"):
meant that the chief end or purpose of man is to be found in the glory of God. His glory is the greatest good and the ultimate purpose for which we do all things. We live for the glory of God alone.

The Reformed Church believes that the Holy Spirit has led, and enlightened the Church throughout its history. We believe that there have been mistakes made by those of the Church (no man is infallible), but the true indivisible Church perseveres. We take seriously the commands to “Love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.” And we believe that the totality of man is to live for the glory of God in every possible way (Ecc. 12:13; 1 Cor. 10:31).

Our Reformed theology has also been nicknamed “Covenant Theology”. This simply refers to our understanding of how the entire history of redemption is worked out. The classical statement of covenant theology can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (particularly chapters 7, 8, 19). Looking back into the OT when God enacted a covenant with his people (Exodus 6:2 – 5), at Sinai, He identified Himself as the God who had liberated Israel from slavery in the mighty act of the exodus from Egypt under the framework of three over-arching theological covenants:

1. Covenant of Redemption
This is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem the elect from the guilt and power of sin.

2. Covenant of Works
This was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who ultimately represented all mankind in a covenantal sense (Romans 5:12-21). It promised life for obedience, and death for disobedience. Adam and all mankind in Adam failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. Adam disobeyed God and broke the covenant.

3. Covenant of Grace
This was made between God and all of mankind and promised eternal blessing for all people for trusting in the successive promises of God and ultimately for accepting Christ as a substitutionary covenantal representative.

Calvinism is a system of theology, not a denomination. And it was one stream of theology to come out of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. The Five Points were not chosen by the Calvinists as a summary of their teaching. They emerged as a response to the Arminians who chose these five points to oppose. It is more important to give a positive biblical position on the five points than to know the exact form of the original controversy. These five points are still at the heart of biblical theology. They are not unimportant. Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions. Somewhere along the way the five points came to be summarized under the acronym TULIP.

Total depravity
Unsaved man is in bondage (a Slave) to sin!

Unconditional Election
The unmerited, totally unconditional Grace and favour of God!

Limited atonement
Christ died ONLY for the sins of His People, and not one in vain!

Irresistable Grace
Whosoever God chooses, and justifies "will" be Saved!

Perseverance of the Saints
Sealed or secured by the Spirit, eternal Salvation is assured!

We need to stay true to the teaching of Scripture. However, we should always, always be looking for opportunities to join with other Christians and work with them even if our differences will not allow us, yet, to routinely worship with them. We need to keep reaching out to each other as we continue to reach for our Bibles. We may not always agree on doctrine or on how to worship. But there is plenty we can agree on that God wants us to do in this impoverished, sin-wrecked world. So let’s join efforts and do what needs doing together. Let’s make our own unique contribution to God’s mission, using the particular gifts God’s Spirit has given us. For centuries, Christians have spent too much time and energy on matters that divide instead of uniting with other Christians. We should heed Jesus’ prayer that the church would be one (John 17:27)


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