A Big Post-Conference Question

calvin_institutesThe Conference on Theology in Manila featuring Dr. Michael Horton enlightened many Filipino believers on what exactly are these Reformed “doctrines of grace,” and how these are different from evangelicalism’s doctrine of salvation.

At the conference breaks, I spoke with a few people who have embraced these doctrines of grace, sometimes also called the “Five Points of Calvinism” or TULIP. It’s wonderful to hear about their pilgrimage from evangelicalism (which I certainly did as well many years ago), and how Dr. Horton has made these doctrines so much clearer, assuring them that what they believe is not aberrant, and that many other Bible-believing Christians share their belief.

In the same conversations, I kept hearing the word “Reformed” as they described themselves or their churches. I suspect that, being at the starting point of their journey away from evangelicalism to Reformed Christianity, they have an incomplete notion of what it is to be Reformed: being Reformed consists in affirming the Five Points.

Like me, this is but the beginning of a long but beautiful pilgrimage from Finney to Ferguson, Hybels to Horton, Ryrie to Riddlebarger. Starting from my discovery of unconditional election, I proceeded to learn how Reformed Christianity is distinct from evangelicalism: confessionalism instead of “me-and-my-Bible-ism,”  Trinitarian-centered salvation instead of man-centered freewillism, sacraments instead of testimonies, Scripture-informed worship instead of creative worship, and covenant theology instead of dispensationalism. Piece by piece, my pretentious evangelical vestments were stripped from my body, redressed with precious Reformation garments.

Evidence of this pilgrimage is surfacing among conference attendees. Some have asked if John MacArthur, a dispensational premillennialist, is Reformed (Kim Riddlebargers says that John Mac himself never claimed to be “Reformed”). I just learned that a few of my friends who have studied Reformed doctrines are now attending classes being taught by someone who claims to be “Reformed” but is a part of a group of churches adhering to John Mac’s views. At another post-conference church meeting, Dr. Horton had about 10 minutes to explain how Reformed Christianity differs from evangelicalism!

What about the Christian Reformed Church, or some “Presbyterian” churches? Are they Reformed? How do I know if a church is truly Reformed? You will find the answer to these big questions in these articles:

So in your journey from evangelicalism, remember this: the Five Points is just the beginning of your pilgrimage to “Reformed” Christianity!


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10 thoughts on “A Big Post-Conference Question”

  1. BROTHER Ray, thank you for a good discussion of this matter. We’re thankful for brethren like you who care deeply about these things. In the evangelical world, not many do because they don’t care.

    May the Lord richly bless you and your work in the Lord’s vineyard.

    Sincerely in Christ,

  2. Mr. Rodriguez,
    Your assertion regarding the teaching of the Three Forms of Unity on the Sabbath is just that - a mere assertion. You did not even respond at all to the quote I provided which details the doctrinal deliverance of the Synod of Dort itself.
    Though it must be admitted that the Westminister Standards are clearer and more explicit on this matter, the allegation that the Three Forms of Unity differ in substance in their teaching on the Sabbath is refuted by historical facts. Notice how #6 of the Synod of Dort’s doctrinal deliverance regarding the 4th commandment closely resembles Westminster Confession 21:8 which speaks of the Sabbath (all emphasis mine):
    “6. This day must be so consecrated to worship that on that day we rest from all servile works, except those which charity and present necessity require; and also from all such recreations as interfere with worship.”
    “VIII. This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. ”
    This is the consensus of the historic Reformed churches on the doctrine. To claim the Three Forms of Unity for oneself, and then reject the historic and confessional Reformed teaching on the Sabbath (as NCT advocates do) is a display of doctrinal inconsistency and/or historical misinformation.
    As to what Calvin really believed on the Sabbath, I recommend for your perusal “Did Calvin Bowl on the Sabbath?” by Chris Coldwell. Calvin has been and is still being misrepresented these days, and that article once for all answers the unfounded accusations about the Reformer’s view on the Sabbath.
    You ask,
    “Who now decides who is Reformed?”
    This is the whole point of Pastor Malabuyo’s blog post. The post plus the articles linked were written for the very purpose of answering this question.

  3. I honestly find it quite inconsistent for a brother in Christ to claim that he holds the Three Forms of Unity since 1982 and then object to the way confessional Reformed churches identify themselves. The Belgic Confession (Article 29) is emphatically clear that the marks by which a true church is known include not just the pure preaching of the gospel but also the pure administration of the sacraments (which necessitates infant baptism), and the practice of church discipline. And since the Belgic Confession is one of the standards held by confessional Reformed churches, it is pretty clear that antipaedobaptists (a correct term since they un-baptize people who were only baptized as infants and thus ordinarily bar paedobaptists from the Lord’s Table) like MacArthur and Piper are not Reformed. With all due respect, Mr. Rodriguez, you are just rehashing the very same objections Drs. Riddlebarger, Clark and Muller have already answered in the articles linked in this blog post.

    Also, a person who holds to “New Covenant Theology” (which your blog promotes) is by definition not confessionally Reformed. Even Reformed Baptists (who hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession) would not consider an NCT advocate as being one of them. It is futile to dichotomize the teaching on the Sabbath of the Three Forms of Unity on the one hand and the Westminster Standards on the other as if the two groups of Reformed confessions essentially differ on this matter. Rev. Danny Hyde (co-pastor of Dr. Scott Clark) notes: 

    After the international delegates returned home, the Synod The Synod of Dort (1618–19) dealt with many practical issues facing the Dutch Reformed churches. In its 164th session on May 17, 1619, the Synod issued the following doctrinal deliverance concerning the fourth Commandment:

    1. There is in the fourth commandment of the divine law a ceremonial and a moral element.

    2. The ceremonial element is the rest of the seventh day after creation, and the strict observance of that day imposed especially on the Jewish people.

    3. The moral element consists in the fact that a certain definite day is set aside for worship and so much rest as is needful for worship and hallowed meditation.

    4. The Sabbath of the Jews having been abolished, the day of the Lord must be solemnly hallowed by Christians.

    5. Since the times of the apostles this day has always been observed by the old catholic church.

    6. This day must be so consecrated to worship that on that day we rest from all servile works, except those which charity and present necessity require; and also from all such recreations as interfere with worship.

    [Cited in Howard B. Spaan, Christian Reformed Church Government (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1968), 208.]

    In substance, therefore, the teaching of the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards on the Sabbath is one and the same (note especially #6). An NCT advocate who is also confessionally Reformed at the same time is a contradiction.

    Disclaimer: I have personally benefited from the ministries of MacArthur and Piper. In fact, it was their sermons and articles (plus those of Dr. James White of aomin.org) that gradually brought me to a Calvinistic understanding of salvation. The first sermon I ever read about the Five Points of Calvinism was penned by no less than Spurgeon himself. I also have many Reformed Baptist friends whom I will continually hold in high esteem. I have attended their churches and conferences, and will always cherish the fellowship I have with them in Christ. I have nothing personal at all with anyone and everyone who disagrees with a major teaching of the Reformed confessions (e.g., the Sabbath or infant baptism).

  4. The URCNA, for example, which broke away from the CRCNA, hold to the Three Forms of Unity as its confessions and the ancient ecumenical creeds. We say we are “truly” Reformed because we do not pay lip service to the Reformed creeds and confessions. We affirm and teach the doctrines in the TFU. We worship according to the RPW as the Reformed did in the 16th century.

    So if someone wanted to be a member of our churches, we tell them that our standards are the TFU, we teach them unconditional election, we practice infant baptism, etc. In other words, we tell them we’re Reformed, and that is what we are. If they don’t agree, but still want to attend our churches, then we encourage them to stay. But they will not be admitted to membership and will not be able to participate in the sacraments. If we don’t do this, then there will be problems in the church because it will eventually be a mishmash of all kinds of doctrines and practices.

    And other churches should do the same. Baptists should admit only those who affirm credobaptism. Pentecostals should admit only those who believe in extrabiblical revelation. And so forth.

    The problem today with evangelicals is that of pluralism and inclusivism. This is why evangelical churches are in so much trouble, as far as doctrine and worship is concerned. They may think they’re doing well because of their numbers and budgets, but in actuality, they’re practicing “moralistic, therapeutic deists.”

  5. As far as Calvin is concerned, I don’t want to argue back and forth. My sources are church historians who obviously hold Calvin in high esteem, while yours are those who don’t.

    As I said, the definition of who is Reformed and what is Reformed lies in the 16th century Protestant Reformation and their creeds and confessions. Credobaptism, for example, did not exist until the Anabaptists came, so if we affirm all that the 16th century Reformers hold, then the term Reformed Baptist is a misnomer. A summary of this definition is in Muller’s article.

    As Clark said, the reason why Reformed churches call other people like John Mac Reformed and other churches Reformed is because we want to be included in a larger body, not to be seen as isolationist, elitist, or exclusivist. I don’t think all of those people you mentioned all want to be known as Reformed. Would you call the RCA, a very liberal church, Reformed? Would you call the CRCNA, another very liberal church, together with the PCUSA, UCCP, Reformed? Some Pentecostals who hold the Five Points call themselves Reformed, but would you call them Reformed? As for the CRCP, you make the judgment.

  6. You might want to read this interview by Christianity Today with Westminster Seminary President W. Robert Godfrey:


    Here’s an excerpt:

    “For many, Servetus is the ultimate example of the intolerance and cruelty of Calvin. I have no desire to try to justify the persecution or execution of heretics, but in fairness to Calvin the Servetus episode must be seen in historical context. Servetus denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and that was a capital crime almost everywhere in Europe. When Servetus came to Geneva, he had already been sentenced to death in France. Calvin had warned Servetus by letter not to come to Geneva because of his views. After Servetus was arrested, Calvin and other ministers tried to convince him that his views of the Trinity were unbiblical. Servetus was put on trial before a civil court in Geneva. Calvin was the prosecutor in the trial, but was not one of the judges. Calvin agreed that Servetus should be executed, but unsuccessfully asked that he be beheaded instead of burned alive.

    “Almost all Europeans in Calvin’s day believed that heresy was as dangerous as the plague and that civil governments had the obligation to eradicate it. Calvin was a man of his time on this matter. He is not to be excused for this reason, but he must be seen as holding views that most others of his time held. The case of Servetus provides no evidence that Calvin was unusually cruel or intolerant. Rather he like most others believed the civil government had a responsibility to protect the public from false religion, even by using its coercive powers.”

    1. We hold conferences for both the Reformed and the non-Reformed, and we specially desire to present and promote Reformed Christianity to the non-Reformed. Most evangelicals never heard of it, or only have caricatures of it from those who oppose it. Many of them are like Geisler, who’s a good example of one who really doesn’t have a good knowledge of it, and yet writes so much against it, then ending up with all kinds of ridiculous conclusions.

      For a better explanation of where we’re coming from, please read R. Scott Clark’s “Is Reformed Theology Isolationist?”

    2. What’s the basis for calling a church Reformed or not Reformed? By definition, it’s the Reformed creeds and confessions. But it doesn’t mean that a church is Reformed when it only pays lip service to the confessions and the confessions are just a piece of paper gathering dust, unused and unknown.

      For example, the PCUSA calls itself Reformed and Presbyterian, but is it really? No, because they have mangled the Westminster Standards to an unrecognizable form. The Westminster divines wouldn’t recognize what PCUSA has now. Is it still Reformed when it allows women, gays and lesbians in its clergy, when almost half of its pastors don’t believe the Bible is inerrant and don’t believe that Christ is the only way of salvation? Is it still Presbyterian when many of its churches make infant baptism optional?

    3. To see a good guide of who we consider as our Reformed brethren, here’s the Basis of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), to which the URCNA belongs:

      “Confessing Jesus Christ as only Savior and Sovereign Lord over all of life, we affirm the basis of the fellowship of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches to be full commitment to the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God written, without error in all its parts and to its teaching as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. That the adopted basis of fellowship be regarded as warrant for the establishment of a formal relationship of the nature of the council, that is, a fellowship that enables the constituent churches to advise, council, and cooperate in various matters with one another and hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.”

      So if you look at the list of member churches, you won’t see any churches among them that are Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, etc, even if any of those kinds of churches consider themselves Reformed. And those who have Reformed and Presbyterian names, such as the CRCNA, RCA, PCUSA, etc., but who pay lip service to the Reformed and Presbyterian confessions, do not meet the requirements of the NAPARC, and therefore are also excluded from joining the Council.

  7. Ray, a few things about your comment.

    Parents not knowing how to nurture their children in the Lord doesn’t make paedobaptism bad or wrong. Believers who are not true to their baptism doesn’t make their baptism bad or wrong.

    Contrary to your assertion, the Anabaptists were not part of the Reformation. They did not believe in the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. They were radicals who had unorthodox views. This is why both Catholics and Reformers persecuted them.

    Calvin did not relentlessly hound Servetus. This is the myth that college professors and Calvin-haters (there are many of these in “Reformed” and “Presbyterian” churches) propagated throughout the centuries. Servetus, like the Anabaptists, was a heretic who denied the doctrine of the Trinitarian God. He was condemned by the Catholics. After the Genevan authorities condemned him to be burned at the stake, Calvin pleaded with him to recant his heretical teachings, and then pleaded with the civil authorities to change the death sentence to a more humane one.

    When we teach the RPW, we’re not out to marginalize our Reformed Baptist brethren. Nor do want all to be amillennial (in fact, most of our Reformed Baptist friends are amillennial!). And the Dutch did not invent amillennialism, as you imply, because this view had beginnings in Augustine.

    In short, all the things you mentioned are unfounded charges against the Reformed. The things that the Reformed churches teach are not forced upon people as the medieval church did. We teach, we hold conferences and seminars, and we evangelize, not with sword, but with persuasion and preaching. Whether others will accept the Reformed faith is up to the Holy Spirit’s illumination of their minds, not our eloquence or threats of damnation.

    This is the evangelicalism that many of us have today: unity for the sake of unity. Denominationalism is not all bad; it actually unites all of us who have the same views. You’re confusing unity with our clarification of what it is to be Reformed historically and doctrinally. We’re just pointing out that there are doctrines and practices which were taught by the Reformers, and if someone calls himself Reformed, then his doctrines and practices should follow those of the Reformers. Would you call someone a Hindu if he followed Muhammad and believed in his teachings?

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