Discussion of the Meaning of the Word "Reformed"
A number of weeks ago, one of the organizational members of the World Reformed Fellowship determined that the word "Reformed" should be removed from the name of that organization.
Here is the announcement of that change (which was posted on the WRF website):
The Faculte Libre de Theologie Reformee Is Now the Faculte Jean Calvin
We might think we know what’s in a name, but what’s in a change of name?
There are several reasons that lead us to take this rather surprising step and perhaps some people will have difficulty understanding why "reformed" was abandoned.
Since 1974, when the FLTR was founded, the world has seen tremendous changes. Globalisation, internet and virtual communication, the rise of more and more sophisticated technology, the intermingling of peoples and beliefs, the threat of terrorism: all of these things have brought about dramatic changes in our society, in ways that are often disturbing. We are living in a different world and this is true of the Church and theology as well.
At the Seminary, a great deal of thought has been given to the religious changes in our society, particularly to the most immediate challenges. For starters -dechristianisation means France is no longer a Roman catholic country, traditional ethical values have gone out of the window, the presence of Islam makes itself increasingly felt and the rise of new age spirituality and "do-it-yourself" religion have all had an impact.
Within French Protestantism there has also been a numerical falling away in the "main-line" institutional churches with a corresponding decrease in their influence and the rise of "relational" churches also within evangelicalism.
In view of these sea-changes, what does the word "reformed", that the Seminary chose 35 years ago, mean? Elsewhere "reformed" refers to Reformed theology, "reformed according to the Word of God", to quote Dr Pierre Courthial, one of the founding fathers of the Seminary. However it’s not the case in France! Very few people understand it that way, because the major Protestant church, the French Reformed Church, is pluralistic.
The word "reforme" had become ambiguous in the present church situation and is simply synonymous with theological liberalism and modernism. It was time to find a new name that conveyed our identity while avoiding all ambiguity. But what name should we choose? Several unsatisfactory suggestions were made, but finally our president, Pascal Geoffrey, came up with the name FACULTÉ JEAN CALVIN. 2009 was the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, and it seemed a good way to bring Calvin home and honor him in his native France.
The new name gives a more accurate take on our theological position. Calvin’s name is inseparable from the unchangeable Gospel he dedicated his life to, the Gospel of grace revealed through the Holy Scriptures. Calvin’s theology honors God’s sovereignty, the unique place of Christ as mediator between God and man and the work of the Holy Spirit. His teaching on the "two graces" that flow from Jesus Christ, our justification and sanctification, on the authority of Holy Scripture inspired by God and on the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross are the foundations of evangelical theology. This is the teaching that powered revivals in many countries and missionary activity throughout the world.
The Seminary holds to the great doctrines of grace epitomized by the Calvinistic Reformation: Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, salvation by faith alone, the glory of God alone, our Creator, our Redeemer and our hope.
Our vision is to see these great truths preached today and in the years to come, in France and throughout the world.
The mission of the Seminary has not changed: the name of John Calvin will make its commitments clear to all. It is not intended to show an attachment to Calvin for Calvin’s sake, nor do we unconditionally agree with all that Calvin did or said, but it shows our deep concern for the proclamation of biblical truth that characterised his action five centuries ago.
Dr. Paul Wells
Dean & Professor of Systematic Theologypwells@club-internet.fr
Shortly after the above item was posted on the WRF website, a number of our members shared their perceptions about the meaning and usefulness of the word "Reformed" in today’s world. That discussion has continued during the succeeding weeks.
Below are all of the responses received to date. The names of those who sent these responses have been removed but, if it becomes urgent for anyone to make direct contact with any specific responder, contact can be made with the WRF International Director ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and the writer of the specific comment can be contacted to see if he/she would be willing to discuss these matters directly.
The responses have 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; 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; a Professor Emeritus of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; a Professor of Church History at New Theological College in Dehra Dun, India; a Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and many others.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Every comment listed 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.
Before proceeding to the list of responses, it seems appropriate to insert here the comment of a WRF member and Board member who served as the "Doyen" of the seminary at Aix-en-Provence for many years. It also seems appropriate to identify this individual (because he gave specific permission to do so). Here is his comment:
Thanks, Sam, for sending the responses of those who commented on the change of the of the name of Seminary in Aix-en-Provence. They were most interesting.
I want to make it clear that this name change was done as a Seminary for strategic reasons within a specific secularized cultural and church environment as well as within the context of a dynamic evangelical movement . We remain totally committed to the reformed faith and world and life view (thus the reference to John Calvin) and continue to teach it with great enthusiasm. The name, John Calvin, has both theological and cultural aspects to it and we want to make sure that both be heard within our French culture and churches (including the evangelical and pentecostal). We pray and strive for reformation in every aspect of thought and life, both in the Church and on the public square.
This of course implies that there are different strategies according to different cultural settings in which the word "Reformed" will be most appropriate. What is important is holding fast to te whole Council of God, making sure that the truth of the Gospel is communicated to our contemporaries in a way they can appropriately understand it and that we don't place stumbling blocks on their paths.
On the world level, the question of the change of name is set in a different context, a global one involving a diversity of cultures and churches in which I think the word "reformed" is appropriate. Maybe what we are striving for is both specificity and catholicity.
With my warmest greetings in Christ Jesus,
Pierre BerthoudProfesseur Faculte Jean CalvinAix-en-ProvenceFrance
PS You can post this response on the website with my signature
#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:
I identify myself and my church as "Reformed," but I don’t like it when that identification is distorted by those who use the name but have corrupted its meaning by teaching and/or conduct. Also those who are ignorant of the reformed tradition and teaching too often have a stereotype of who we really are that causes this identity to be a hindrance to the communication of the gospel. I believe that the reformed system of doctrine reflects more accurately the teachings of the Bible than any other doctrinal system. Although God’s truth does not change, we are finite living and ministering in a rapidly changing world; therefore, the idea of "reformed and always reforming" keeps the faith communicated in the Bible, that was so faithfully and systematically reflected by John Calvin in his day, continually relevant to whatever context we might be in.
Consequently, having some understanding of the French context and how the so called "reformed churches" are perceived generally in France I understand why the Faculte Libre de Theologie Reformee changed their name to Faculte Jean Calvin. This is likely a prudent action in the French context.
However, no matter what name we might choose there will be those who will fail to understand what we mean by that chosen identity. Identifying ourselves as "Reformed" has a rich and long history, and since WRF is a global movement my thought is that we should continue to use the term "reformed" and define clearly what we mean by using it as well as what we do not mean. We should correct the false stereotypes by every communication means available to us.
Burk Parsons in his book John Calvin: a Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology written in commemoration the 500th anniversary of John Calvin is an example of the way we should correct erroneous perceptions of the reformed faith. In today’s context a book is likely not the best means, but the trust of this book is what needs to be expressed on the internet in the form of illustrative videos prayerfully depending on the Holy Spirit to open closed minds.
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.
I am hosting a Pastor's Forum on March 15, 2011. The Title is Orthodox 3D - - Defined, Declared, Defended.
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!
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!
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.
#24. Dear Sam,
These are my reflections on "Reformed."
In Latin America the preferred term to identify ALL non-Catholic people is Evangelical. It has been used as a preferred term since the term protestant was used since the beginning as a derogatory term. So Evangelical has a positive connotation, and Reformed is almost not known, at least in a popular way. Academic circles would know its distinctive meaning. Terms likes Presbyterian are better known.
In North America, it is my appreciation, Evangelical covers a wide range of mainly conservative, fundamentalist Christians, and it is politically identified with the Right wing. Some of its more vocal representatives make many of us feel uncomfortable to be identified as Evangelicals.
As Latin American I prefer much more the term Reformed. It has historical roots, and defines much better who we are. It is of course a term that among the wide Reformed family, many would like to appropriate just for themselves and exclude others, to their right or left, but the genius of the Reformed family is that it is quite wide and encompasses a broad range of expressions.
#25. Dr Logan:
Christian reformed is simply a member of the Christian church trying to live, teach and restore the early Christian doctrine corrupted by the human hand.
26. I'm reminded that in Germany "evangelisch" means Protestant and "evangelikal" is a brand-new word that tries to mean what Americans mean by evangelical. Perhaps speaking of grace-focused or Christ-focused is what we mean but that has no cutting edge, so Warfield's word that everyone on his knees is a Calvinist would come true as everyone would desire that. Maybe focusing on the new WRF Statement of Faith?? Or the family of creeds, WCF, Heidelberg, Philadelphia [baptist] 2nd helvetic, would reinforce the other great Warfield saying, that Calvinism is where all our creeds agree.
#27. Dear Sam,
See below what I recently answered to a friend. It has to do with "Reformed."
At the EuCRC in November, I was given the opportunity of presenting a workshop outlining the missionary work amongst Muslims in the Rijnmond area. What have we been able to do these past years? What were the criteria? What are the plans? However, Muslims were not only the subject of this particular afternoon of the second day of the conference. The word "Islam" was a recurring chorus from day one to the last.
About seventy-five brothers from various European countries spent half a week, as Calvinists together, considering plans in order to be of use to the continent in which our churches exist. Dr. David McKay already set the tone on the first evening in his lecture on Calvin’s missionary zeal. It was clear to everyone that Muslims could not excluded in the following discussions.
It is very useful to contemplate our mission towards Muslims in a European setting. Muslims see themselves as Turkish, Bengalese or Indonesian and also as British, Italian or Dutch. They especially see themselves as belonging to the worldwide "emmah," the Islamic equivalent of "communion of saints", but not in the last place definitely also as European Muslims! It is noteworthy in this respect that the "European Council for Fatwas" is stationed in Dublin.
When the question was posed in one of the sessions what issues we could tackle together, I pointed out why I thought Islam explicitly deserved a place on this list. At the time there was no opportunity to explain this opinion further. I will now try to do so in the following rudimentary sketch. As Reformed believers in particular, we have an important contribution to offer in the dialogue with Muslims. While on the other hand, Muslims ask us exactly those question that renew our awareness of that which rediscovered, since the 16th century, as a great treasure: sola scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide. In particular in rediscovering what this means in relation to our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the first place I called attention to the typically Reformed emphasis on redemptive-history. Muslims too have their redemptive-history. Internally: the dispensations of Mecca and Medina (whereby Muslims in a minority situation can renew the experience of the Mecca dispensation). And externally: Islam considers itself the perfection of Judaism en Christianity: a final upgrade, defended with a rigid replacement-theology.
By placing Jesus in the centre of God’s revelation (and nothing else!) Muslims can learn why, from a Christian perspective, Islam is not a progression but even a step backward! After the goodness and truth that came with Jesus, Law again rules. A different Gospel, that for us does not even deserve that title.
Secondly, it is part of the Reformed tradition to stress that belief is not a religious view but a way of life. Not something for on Sunday, but for every part of every day. Religion is not just for the soul, but also for the body. And even though we as church have no longing for worldly power, we most certainly feel our responsibility towards society - even when we are forced to operate as an oppressed minority. It is typically Reformed to serve your neighbours both near and afar, with words and with deeds, to allow missionary work and relief to go hand-in-hand and to evaluate neighbourly love shown by Christians positively, even if it does not result in the neighbour’s conversion.
There is no better alternative to the Islamic claim that Islam is the only religion that encompasses one’s whole life. In their case, with prescriptions for every trivial detail of life and with theocratic claims that confuse religion and ideology, forcing people to bend to the rules.
We do not argument this with better rules. We know Jesus Christ as the "Sharia." He was the fulfilment of the Law of Moses. His Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to expect salvation not by Law. Not without it either, but by the law written in the human heart.
Thirdly, because of our Reformed view on the Covenant , we are not set back by an Israel view that makes our testimony towards Muslims irrelevant on forehand. Dispensational pre-millennialism believers in the Middle East however, work within a program that grants the State of Israel such an important position that it rules out any kind of friendly relationship with Muslims. By incorporating a political program in the theology, they are at risk of becoming accomplices to a new holocaust. When the continued existence of the land of Israel is part of the articles of your creed, you make yourself impossible to Jews and to Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian.
Because of a healthy Reformed vision on the relation between the Old and the New Testament, we have no reason to join Eastern Orthodox Christians who, in order to survive, reject Joshua the son of Nun. On the 2007 EuCRC conference rev. Lucius de Graaff pointed out the connection between the baptism of children and the Israel vision. Whoever cannot see that baptism has the same meaning as circumcision, namely the blood of Christ and a new world, is doomed to continue expecting material promises of land for Israel.
The above deserves systematic theological working out. It also deserves to be tested in the practice of dialogue with European Muslims from different backgrounds: colonial or from the Ottoman Empire, refugee or immigrant labourer, but all with the same double ( or triple) loyalties. Lastly it deserves our common evaluation so that it can bring to us Reformed believers an original vision with which we, however small in number, can be of use to the societies within Europe.
#28. Dear Dr. Logan,
These were wonderful comments. I agree with the consensus. The word "Reformed" is the best term. It is who and what we are historically, theologically, ecclesiastically and personally. It is not only a name but it is an address as well as an identity and most importantly a vision. It sounds like most are married to the word and the ideas it represents.
To change it will only lead to many time consuming questions. Even if the the questions are answered the imagination of the suspicious is often worse than the reality. WRF will never fully escape the lurking suspicions that the change will inevitably bring. Besides If a change is made it is only a matter of time before deconstruction discolors the new word as well
If there is a real concrete concern with the perceived message the word carries maybe it would be best to take the opportunity to clarify, inform and defend the word and maybe give it new life for the 21th century. That would both honor and be true to the spirit of the word which is to renew, restore and to reestablish.
Thank you for the question.
#29. Dear Sam,
The word "Reformed" -
The seminary in France changed their name because of the danger of their identity being misunderstood. This is perfectly alright. This change was necessary because of their particular context.
Should the WRF think of changing the word "Reformed." It should, if there are very pressing reasons. How would we know if there are such reasons? If the majority of our members have issues about the use of this word (as far as I know we haven’t had such a situation).
Should we (the WRF) think of clarifying who we are? If you read through "World Reformed Fellowship: A Brief Case Statement" on the website, many of the questions that have been raised have been answered already. However, expanding the "Affirmations" section (under the above-mentioned head) to include specifically "Reformed" doctrines might be appropriate, especially including a missional statement. I say this because, even though every voting member subscribes to one of the historic expressions of the Reformed faith, having these spelled out clearly would help in many ways. Perhaps we should consider having all members affirm these core doctrines as well as their own particular denominational Reformed confessions.
I hope this is helpful,