What is “Reformed”?

Reformed Christians are a small part of a much larger body of believers who love and serve Jesus Christ. We’re part of a family that includes Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, and a host of other churches that confess and practice the Christian faith.

Reformed teachings are shared by denominations other than the Christian Reformed Church. What’s different is the emphasis that we might place on them. Cornelius Plantinga writes:

Our accents lie more on the sovereignty of God, on the authority of Scripture, on the need for disciplined holiness in personal Christian life, and finally, on Christianity as a religion of the Kingdom.”    A Sure Thing: What We Believe and Why (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 2001), p. 281

Reformed Creeds and Confessions: Speaking as One

1. Heidelberg Catechism

From his castle in Heidelberg, Elector Frederick III ruled the most important German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. In 1562 he commissioned the preparation of a new catechism for guiding ministers and teachers in instructing the people in the Christian faith.

The Heidelberg Catechism is among the world’s best summary documents for gaining access to the Reformed way of talking. It is a dialect of the faith that we who are Reformed should want to know about, embrace, and cherish as our own.

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2. The Belgic Confession

The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church. Its chief author was Guido de Bres a preacher of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, now known as Belgium. During the 16th century the churches in this country were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government.

To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were no rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Bres prepared this confession in the year 1561. It stands as one of the best symbolical statements of Reformed doctrine.

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3. Canons of Dort

The Synod of Dort was held in order to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius, a theological professor, questioned the teaching of John Calvin and his followers on a number of important points. Arminians taught election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. In the Canons, the Synod rejected these views and set forth the Reformed doctrine on these points, namely unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints.

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4. The Belhar Confession

The Belhar fills a significant gap. There is little mention in our three historic Reformed confessions (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) of the large biblical themes of unity, reconciliation, and justice. These three confessions were written within sixty years of each other and were adopted within the then context of conditions in northern Europe. Much has been learned about the fullness of the Reformed faith since that time, and the Belhar Confession supplements the confessions that have guided Reformed churches.

The Belhar Confession’s content is the gospel and is fundamental to our faith. The biblical themes of the Belhar Confession are larger in Scripture than some of the themes the historic confessions focus on. For example, Scripture is less explicit about total depravity than the obligation for God’s people to live in unity. Further, countless passages of Scripture indicate God’s concern about justice for the poor, widows, orphans, the suffering, and so on. This scriptural emphasis is substantially greater than the verses addressing the doctrine of reprobation.

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