What Does It Mean to Be Reformed?
Some of you may wonder why a question such as this needs to be raised in the journal of a Reformed denomination. Ideally, anyone belonging to our denomination should be able to answer this question without hesitation. In my association with young people it has been my frequent experience, however, that many can either not answer this question, or are not aware of the fact that the word "reformed" is the most significant word in our denominational name. For this reason I will attempt to answer the above-mentioned question as clearly and precisely as possible.
To be reformed in the very first place means that you seek to adhere to the principles of the Protestant Reformation, the great revival of the Christian church in the sixteenth century, for which God raised up men such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox. These men received extraordinary grace to rediscover the true message of Scripture, which enabled them to reform the church which had been deformed by false and corrupt teaching.
In reforming the preaching, teaching, and practices of the church, the Reformers were guided by five major principles, principles which are still of great significance for us. These principles are usually referred to as the "Solas" of the Reformation. "Sola" is a Latin word which means "only" or "alone," and it is this word "only" which continues to be the important thrust of true reformed teaching today. Let me explain to you why this is so, by briefly commenting on each of the five "Solas."
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture ONLY)
Prior to the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church recognized the Bible as God's inspired Word. However, in addition to God's Word, the teachings of the church leaders and the tradition of the church were considered to have equal authority with the Bible. In practice, they were often esteemed of greater value than Scripture, and the church was guilty of what Christ stated to the Pharisees in Matt. 15:6, 9, "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." The Reformers recognized the God-dishonoring nature of this practice and unceasingly preached that Scripture alone is to be the only rule for faith, experience, and conduct. "To the law and testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20).
- Sola Gratia (Grace ONLY)
The church of Rome did teach the doctrine of God's grace, which is God's unmerited goodness bestowed on unworthy sinners on the basis of Christ's merits. In addition to Christ's merits, however, she also taught that man's own religious works had merit before God. This meant that a man could gain God's favor by means of his own works, being assisted by the grace of God. The Reformers emphatically taught that man's religious works, being stained by sin, have no merit at all, but that God can only bestow His saving love upon sinners on the basis of the mediatorial work of Christ. "By grace are ye saved; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9).
- Sola Fide (Faith ONLY)
In Luther's day the church taught the necessity of trusting in the mediatorial work of Christ unto salvation, but also believed that in addition to faith religious works were necessary in order to be reconciled with God. In a deep way the Holy Spirit taught Luther that his very best works were of no value at all, but that by faith only he could obtain the favor of God. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).
- Solus Christus (Christ ONLY)
This of necessity follows the previous "Sola." Christ only is the object of true saving faith. He is the only Mediator between God and man. The Roman Catholic Church taught that in addition to Christ also the saints functioned as mediators. The Reformers rejected this radically and taught, "For there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God ONLY)
In the church of Rome God had to share His glory with the saints, the pope, and man, who wanted credit for his good works. The Reformers recognized the blasphemy of such a practice and vigorously taught that God only must receive all honor and glory in the church. In their entire ministry they strove to be faithful to Rom. 11:36, "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever!"
To be reformed today, means to be faithful to the afore-mentioned principles. That means that Scripture will be the only basis for your religion, that your only hope will be in the grace of God, that by faith only you can be reconciled to God, that your salvation can be founded on the righteousness of Christ only, and that your all-consuming desire will be that God only may receive all the honor and glory, both now and forever!
The same mighty Spirit, who brought about the Reformation, is able and willing to accomplish such a reformation in your heart also. If that may graciously take place the "Solas" of the Reformation will become an experimental reality in your life, and you will whole-heartedly confess with David, "I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only!" (Ps. 71:16). May you beseech the Holy Spirit unceasingly to work such heart reformation also in you. That we may have many such reformed young people is my sincere wish!