What Does the Word "Reformed" Mean Today? A Follow-up to the Item Immediately Below

December 29, 2010

Colleagues in the WRF -

Thank you SO MUCH for your thoughtful responses to my earlier e-mail about the current global meaning of the word "Reformed."

Some who are getting this message have joined the WRF since my first e-mail several days ago and, therefore, for their benefit, here is the information about the posting on the WRF website which has led us to discuss whether the meaning of the word "Reformed," especially in a global context, has been so significantly altered in the minds of many people that it might be wise to try to find another word (or other words) to define us.

To see that original material, go to this website location The material which I mentioned can be found at this site - http://www.wrfnet.org/web/guest/home . Then, look down toward the bottom right of that page. You will see a section entitled "News." The article is the second item in that section. It is entitled "Seminary at Aix-en-Provence, France, Changes Its Name."

Below, I have copied all of the responses received to date. As I said I would do, I have removed the names of those who sent these responses. If it becomes urgent for anyone to make direct contact with any specific responder, you can let me know why this is important and I will then share with the writer your desire to make direct contact. If that person agrees, I will send you his/her contact information.

The responses come from all over the world and from leaders in all kinds of ministries. Here is a sampling of the ministry positions of some of the responders: The Executive Director of Livingstone Fellowship in South Africa; the Chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance in Germany; the Minister of a Free Church of Scotland congregation in Dundee, Scotland; the Executive Director of Crossroad Bible Institute in the USA; the President of Puritan and Reformed Theological Seminary in the USA; the former Principal of the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Australia; the President of Fuller Theological Seminary in the USA; a retired Presbyterian minister in Canada; the CEO of Ignite US Ministries in the USA; the President of Act 3 Ministries in the USA; the Senior Pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in the USA; a missiology professor at the Theological University Kampen-Broederweg (TUK) of the Reformed Churches (Liberated) in The Netherlands; the Chancellor-Elect of Reformed Theological Seminary in the USA; and many others.

Every comment listed below comes from a member of the WRF. This means that every comment comes from a person who has subscribed to one of our confessions and to our statement on Scripture. 

In addition to sending these responses directly to you, I will post them on the WRF website. They will be located just as described above except that these comments will be the first item in the section entitled "News." The title of this article is "Responses to the Name Change at Aix-en-Provence."

If you have not yet made a comment and would like to, just send that comment to me. I do NOT edit the comments for content unless absolutely necessary (in which case, I notify the "commenter" directly).

So keep your ideas coming!


Sam Logan

Here are the responses that were received by Wednesday morning, 29 December, 2010.

#1. Sam -

I have pondered this question for almost my entire adult life of more than forty years. Like all terms I have looked for meaningful alternatives and modifiers. In the end, I prefer to say that I am a catholic first and then Reformed. The reason should be obvious. This is what the Reformers themselves confessed. Evangelical has a useful role but the 21st century calls it into question more than ever.

Reformed does refer to a historical moment, in the 16th century, in Western Europe. And, of course, it refers to important doctrines recovered/found there. But it doesn't stay there. In time it spreads globally. Though there are Reformed voices that deny classical Christian truths, thus catholic truths, in the end I prefer the term without modifiers. Thus I refer to myself as a catholic, Reformed Christian. By this, I mean I am rooted in ancient faith, impacted deeply in how I have been formed by the Reformed side of the Reformation movement, and remain rooted in these historical times. At the same time this does not lock me into a "single way" of living and confessing faith. One can be Reformed and be in many denominations, as we all know. I think Reformed refers to a way of thinking about the centrality and sovereignty of God while it never forgets that there is much more to the faith than this great affirmation that must be preserved for the health of all Christianity. We contribute to the whole catholic church a way of life, an emphasis, a world and life paradigm. This is good so long as we do not think we represent the whole in some sectarian way.

Indeed, after decades in a non-Reformed denomination I became a minister in a Reformed one (RCA) precisely because I did see value in self-identifying as a Reformed minister.?

2. Dear Sam,

Name changes should only be undertaken for very, very weighty reasons. Changing the word "Reformed" will open up a can of worms, I'm afraid. People of Reformed persuasion will see it as a move in the liberal direction, etc. I don't think it is worth the effort. Besides, the word "Reformed" describes who we are trying to be. So, my advice is: Spend your energy on the important things you are doing. This name change, at very best, is a waste of time, and at worst, is confusing and will just end up making the whole organization more vague and irrelevant.?

3. I am very sensitive to the issue of how the word "Reformed" can be interpreted by those who are unfamiliar with the Reformation or to its implication in the label "Reformed."

Before I first starting going to the Reformed Presbyterian church that I now attend, I presumed it to be a liberal Presbyterian church. This came from two factors in my own life: 1) My familiarity with the use of "Reformed" among Jewish Synagogues to refer to a more liberal theology, 2) My familiarity with how liberal certain large Presbyterian churches (PCUSA) have become.

Even use of the term "Reformed" among other Reformed brothers and sisters can mean different things. Some hold it to be an adherence to TULIP, others hold it to be an adherence to the Westminster Standards without exception, and still others fall out somewhere in between these two positions.

Personally, I think that the term "Confessionally-Reformed" conveys more accurately in a modern context exactly what we, as the WRF, intend to convey. Because members must hold to an approved Confession of Faith, the term "Confessionally-Reformed" does two things: 1) It rightly specifies that we hold to a Confession of Faith, 2) It does not give up the word "Reformed" in an effort to be contextually relevant - |rather it simply clarifies it.

4. Each institution must wrestle with this question within their own context.

Our organization, for instance, decided to keep the "Reformed" in our name without any nuance added to it for clarification. Since we chose to go this route we made sure to specifically spell out what we believe on our site.

World Reformed Fellowship could keep the name, making sure that the website specified the core beliefs of the fellowship for anyone who questions the use of such a term. The difference would be that most of our communication happens through our website, the WRF has a wider palate of communication tools and thus may not want to rely on their website as much as our organization does.

Or WRF could change the name to something along the lines of either: A. "Confessionally Reformed World Fellowship" or B. "Worldwide Reformation Fellowship" ("Reformation" being a more specific term than "Reformed" and conveying the idea of wanting a worldwide reformation within the Church)

5. Dear Sam & brothers in Christ in the WRF:

The seminary I first attended, Knox College in Toronto, had an annual retreat for the "inmates". I just about died with laughter, after arriving at the retreat centre one year. We were greeted by the retreat theme: "Knox College: Evangelical & Reformed". Any of you familiar with the Presbyterian Church in Canada will know how ridiculous that was.

In the discussions it appeared that we should consider Knox evangelical because we used the gospels, the evangel. We should consider it reformed for the very Roman Catholic reason that we could trace our church lineage back to Knox & Calvin.

I did not abandon use of good words because they were used corruptly; if we take that path we will soon have to invent a whole new private language. No doubt we have to be conscious of the common usage, to communicate to the world. But we need to challenge the corruption of languages & meaning or we will lose the Bible in the end.

Sometimes that means using two vocabularies. When teaching or talking to people about God's sovereignty, I rarely use the words "predestination" or "Calvinist" in the beginning. Rather I start by talking with them about John 10 & John 6. When they have grasped the biblical concept, without fighting the barriers of preconceived opinion, then I tell them that what they have learned is called predestination.

With respect to "reformed", it has had multiple meanings for a very long time - as do many words in English at least. In some places, as the seminary in Aix has concluded, there may be a need to play down its use for our theological views. I don't think the reasons that moved them apply to WRF. A seminary has an interest in gathering people from a variety of backgrounds, to teach them God's truth. WRF is a community of those who are already, as it were, insiders. It would take a very compelling reason to persuade me to abandon "Reformed" to those who try to brand themselves with whatever good name comes along.

6. Sam,

This may be a long answer to a short question. Hope it contributes in a positive and beneficial manner. That is my intent.

First, why are we asking this question when (1) one person/organization has raised the issue? I assume there are hundreds of individuals and/or organizations that make up The World Reformed Fellowship. Have we been co-opted by the culture? Are we so 'politically correct' that we knee jerk when one solitary voice speaks to an issue? One person objects to the Pledge of Allegiance or an opening prayer in a school so the entire constituency is robbed of participation in same? Something profoundly wrong with that mind set.

Second, I am weary of a 'Deconstructionist Mentality' systematically stripping all vestiges of Historical Reality from the warp & woof of who we are as a nation/theological body. History is the stage on which the Drama of Redemption is being played out day unto day. There is a designed end to this journey of faith. It is impossible to correctly interpret the text of Scripture if you abandon that stage - History.

Third, the Reformation came about because of corrupt culture, both political and theological/spiritual. Luther was addressing both in THE REFORMATION. He paid a high price for living out the courage of his convictions as did thousands of others who also embraced REFORMATION. I embrace that designation with a sense of humility, appreciation and gratitude. Frankly, we need another REFORMATION and that is the focus and energy which IgniteUS brings to the church in America.

Finally, I urge you to respond with grace to those asking the question. To do less is to not understand Grace or The Reformation. Both are expressions of TRUTH! I also appeal for the preservation of that historical and theologically pregnant term REFORMED. To do less is to surrender sacred territory from my perspective.

Thanks for listening.

7. Sam,

I am hosting a Pastor's Forum on March 15, 2011. The Title is Orthodox 3D - - Defined, Declared, Defended. First Draft Brochure attached.

Perhaps rather than capitulating and surrendering the glorious historical meaning of "REFORMED" we produce a declaration that states with robust theological and historical integrity what that word means. We circulate it globally which we can do ubiquitously and repeatedly thanks to the Internet, at least at the moment we can. We declare with irenic but precise and accurate clarification the distinctions that exist between the two groups. Rather than hide in the darkness, shine the glorious light of TRUTH on the departure some make from REFORMED. There is a parallel in the USA - - Reformed Judaism; they ain't!!

8. Too bad indeed, the word Reformed is linked to maybe Barthian theology, as in Indonesia, causing problems with authority of Scriptures.

I guess: WR&EF will do best.

9. Dear Samuel,

Greetings in the precious Name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your email 27/12. The word "Reformed" is the best and only word that can be used to describe the World Reformed Fellowship. The fact that others may abuse and redefine terms is no reason for us to abandon our great Reformation heritage.

To be Reformed is to be Evangelical and Evangelistic. That is the only way the Reformers would have understood it and we have a tremendous heritage to live up to as Protestant believers.

If we were to abandon such precious words as Reformed, it would be surrender and retreat. A disgraceful abandoning of the precious heritage handed down to us by faithful Reformers and martyrs. We must reject any suggestion of defeat and retreat. The fact that it is under attack reminds us that we need to defend it. And the best form of defense is attack by bold proclamation of the whole counsel of God and by energetic missionary and evangelist activity to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May the Lord continue to bless, guide and strengthen all involved in the World Reformed Fellowship.

10. Interesting problem. Yes words are the tools we use to think and the use of words also shapes our thinking. The semantic range of terms will also differ among users of words. As an illustration, the Reformed Episcopal Church, a rather small denomination in the US, uses the word Reformed to indicate a "reformation" of a group of Episcopal churches in the late 19th century, with no attempt to relate the name to the protestant reformation.

To me the term Reformed, in the context of church nomenclature, refers to churches who trace their history and peculiar dogma to a certain part of the protestant reformation. I'll also admit that in talking to folk I suspect of having little connection with Christianity, I never identify myself as Reformed. A handle that needs so much clarification isn't very useful. The term "evangelical" fares no better. Most folk who appropriate the term define it as folks who think like they do (and, of course, vote Republican).

I serve on the board of a Philadelphia think tank who identify themselves as political and economic liberals - and then must hastily add that they are Classical liberals, bearing no resemblance to liberals as defined in our current culture. Any term that can be described as relative is problematic. There is an advantage in using the name of a person, such as John Calvin, in that the teachings of John Calvin are a "fixed" entity.

Do we need a "name the brand" contest?

11. Dear Sam,

Words have both denotations and connotations for any linguistic community and it is good to reflect on the impact they will have for others. While it is not a foregone conclusion that Eng. 'reformed'  will be translated as 'reform(e)' in French (and hence bring with it the connotation of 'liberal') this is almost inevitable because of the words' cognate status. I wonder if the word 'Reformation' in Fr. would have the same connotation? The use of English 'Reformation' in the name of the WRF might be the simplest change and might serve more clearly to anchor the Fellowship in a historic movement, while at the same time allowing for the fact that its members are not locked into a static outlook (which could be inferred from the use of a past participle), but committed to ongoing reformation as a principle.

12. Dear Sir

Greeting you and all honorable mebers of this wonderful fellowship. Considering our ministry if Christian ? My Proposed Name is " WORLD EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP FOR REFORMATION ".But I hope our goal is same, and we are different than others. Therefore for our major target means to serve widely among all nations, we may Keep the name as before- WORLD REFORMED FELLOWSHIP (Evangelical Ministry).

13. Hi, Sam.

I’m not in a context where "Reformed" has a problematic meaning, so I can’t comment directly. But I have found it disturbing to have good words taken away from us. Our regional division of Conservative Baptists used to be called Mid-Atlantic CBA. Now it is just Mission Mid-Atlantic, which says absolutely nothing. We could be a Muslim organization or a group of right-wing militants intent on fighting the government. There is a danger in avoiding every name that might mean something to somebody and coming up with a name that means nothing to anybody.

14. Hi Sam,

My feeling is that we have to recover and not abandon the word "Reformed". This will provide an ideal opportunity to show the liberal camp that they need to come up with a new name! This could help us highlight the foundations of the Reformed faith.

15. Dear Dr. Samuel Logan:

I have been "reformed" to the theology and practices of the original First Century Church for over 10 years. At first, this reformation led me to the Presby-Reformed low-church liturgy which is prevalent in America, as a result of our rebellion against anything English or Anglican some 240 years ago.

But as I have moved toward the "continuing Anglican" fellowships and been ordained as a Deacon, then a Priest in the Anglican Church Worldwide (Bellevile, IL), I have become even more Reformed in my liturgy and doctrine, fully a Five-Point Calvinist.

I think the problem is our society's cowardice at accepting words for their original meaning and intent, whether those words are from our Constitution, or medical terminology ("fetus" which means little baby has now become for many "blob of tissue"). But even more destructive to our condition is the watering down of the Gospel.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary has several definitions of "reform", but the first most aptly applies to our discussion:

 

a : to put or change into an improved form or condition which is what usually happens in modern theological circles, (or) b : to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses, in other words, to take an idea all the way back to the original with no a changes or corruptions. That, I believe, is what the World Reformed Fellowship means when we proclaim our goals for the world. The spreading of the unadulterated, straight from the lips of Christ, the Prophets and the Apostles, true Word of God to the entire world.

 

 

So please, my dear fellow servants of Christ, do not allow the word "Reformed" to become twisted out of all real context. It does not mean simply "altered" for a more sensitive culture. Nor does it denote the "country club" set of believers (I've know truly reformed clergy and laity in all stratas of wealth and poverty). What it means is getting back to the Basics. We might even add a short motto: World Reformed Fellowship - "In the Truest Sense of the Word"

16. Dear Sam:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the Logan home and to WRF!

The question that the Faculte Libre de Theologie Reformee brings is a pertinent one which they had to answer within the cultural setting of their own location. One might counter that the name "Calvin" is more stigmatized than "reformed!" I am not sure we can do better than "evangelical and Reformed." Even "evangelical" can be and often is misunderstood in the West to mean "fundamentalist" in a most negative way.

But let me explain from my own story if I may. Perhaps looking through the lens of those from a non Reformed background could help.

Before I heard the Gospel of grace from Dr. [D. James] Kennedy, I had never even heard of the Reformed Faith. I had a vague understanding of the name "Calvin" and "Calvinism" and for me it was neutral, but for my rowdy ungodly friends it was either unknown or negative. "Bible believing" meant something, but mostly we knew the true disciples of Jesus by their fruit ( and some by their seemingly anti-intellectualism and weird ways that made some think that Christians were an acquired taste!). All of this is to say, I am not so sure the unbelievers care about labels and the believers either know about us or will learn more about us through our lives and public commitments. I came into the PCA because of godly men who taught me the truths of the Bible that changed my life. Thus, Presbyterian and Reformed sounds like salvation to me and my family.

For all of there reasons I planted two churches with the name "Presbyterian" in them though at the time the expert demographers said that "community church" labels were better. As a former prodigal and pagan, I didn't buy it and both churches were established, in part, by teaching the Word of God and then letting the former Methodists, Baptists, and Charismatics connect those truths with Presbyterian and Reformed.

Thus, for these anctedotal or maybe even logical claims, Sam, I would not see an advantage by changing our name to the World Calvinist Fellowship, or for that matter the World Community Fellowship!

This is more than you wanted but I am sick with the flu and I will stick to that excuse!

17. Sam:

Interesting question about "Reformed." I agree: in many circles it no longer denotes anything approximating orthodoxy. My own preference is "Calvinist," precisely because many folks think you can be "Reformed" while basically denying the essentials of Calvin's doctrines of sin and grace. The only other plausible option that I can see is "Reformation" or "Reformational"--although Lutherans might want to own these as well. Another route would be to choose a person or document/place name, such as "Warfield" or "Westminster"--dare I suggest "Dordt"? But that might be seen as too Eurocentric--nor could we all easily agree on which saint or sacred place to serve as the symbol.

Anyway: my scattered thoughts. Many blessings for this new year, my friend!

18. Sam,

There are pros and cons in the use of the word "Reformed." It does give an historic identity - however, in my view, that is often a misunderstood historic identity. I do not use the word "Reformed" and would certainly not use it in a title....and the term evangelical is becoming not only increasingly meaningless but sometimes negative as well.

I would prefer Christian! But of course to call ourselves the World Christian Fellowship would be a bit arrogant and very open to misunderstanding. How about World Biblical Fellowship? Biblical theology is reformed theology....so why not just use it?

Hope you are well.

19. Since the word "evangelical" is claimed by everyone from Joel Osteen to Benny Hinn to Sam Logan, I have dropped it and,when asked my stripe of Christian, I reply, "Biblically orthodox."

20. Dear Sam,

I think the situation is very different in different countries. In France "Reformed" means the liberal Reformed church, thus the Ev.-Reformed seminary changed its name to John Calvin Seminary. In Swzoterland "Reformed" means "State Church" (not necessarily 'liberal'), thus we call ourselves successfully "reformatorisch" = "reformational" - as there are no Lutherans in Switzerland, this is possible. It is impossible in Germany, but there the liberal 'Reformed' no longer call themselves Reformed, thus we can use the term without problems.

I personally see no alternative to World 'Reformed' Fellowship. With something 'nicer' you might win the one or the other organization, but lose some of those, who are officially 'Reformed'.

21. I think there would be more problems with eliminating the word Reformed than retaining it. Just my thoughts.

22. What we mean by "Reformed" -

Reformed theology gets its name from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Believers in the Reformed tradition regard highly the specific contributions of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox, and particularly John Calvin. However, Reformed theology was not "invented" in the sixteenth century. The stream of orthodoxy reaches back through the ages, ultimately finding its source in the headwaters of all truth, the Scriptures themselves.

23. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word "reformed" as follows:

1. changed for the better or 2.Calvinist Protestant churches

To be honest, changing your name from "Reformed" to anything else will not work. Christians are being associated with all kinds of evil, so why aren't we changing "Christian" to something else? Simply put, we cannot deny who we are. Ashamed that the word "Reformed" is now associated with liberalism? Too bad nobody cared about liberal theology creeping in, seemingly unnoticed. Instead of complaining now, people should have done something about it before.

Reformed means changing things for the better, abandoning unnecessary and dangerous superstitions that put man in place of God.

When I hear the word "Reformed", I think "Calvinism" and its Five Points exemplifying God's wisdom and mercy.

Stay away from:

-adding anything to the finished work of Christ

-confusing justification with sanctification

-confusing faith with works

-rejecting logical thinking

-looking to spiritual experiences

-looking to your own actions

-looking to your virtue

-looking to your sin

-looking to your amount of faith

-looking to all the magnificent things you've done in Christ's name

...and you will do well.