What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 4 of 10 - Scripture Alone

[Editor's Note: Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series.]

We believe that Scripture alone may bind the consciences of men because it is the ultimate authority from which we know of God and his salvation!

How do we know Jesus Christ and his good news?

Reformed Christians believe that salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. We know this to be true because it is the clear message of Holy Scripture. Man’s wisdom did not and cannot conceive of the foolishness of the cross apart from God’s revelation in Christ recorded in the words of Scripture. Therefore, Reformed Christians are fundamentally committed to submitting to whatever is taught in the Scriptures. Whatever is affirmed and taught, we must affirm and believe. Whatever is commanded, we must obey. The Scriptures must narrate our lives and provide the lens through which we interpret our experience. No Christian or church should create commands, rules, or laws for others unless Scripture requires such things, because, in matters where Scripture does not lay down a command or teaching, Christians have liberty to exercise wisdom and love in their various contexts.

There are several important implications of this doctrine: the sufficiency  of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and the clarity of Scripture.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Reformed Christians believe that the Scriptures contain all that is needed for salvation and godly living. In other words, we do not need God to give us further revelations in order to know how to be saved or to live wisely and righteously. We have everything we need from God set down in writing in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We need not pursue direct speech to us from God. We don’t have to wonder if there is some word of God out there yet to be discovered. The Scriptures are sufficient for us to know God in Christ, to be saved from sin, and to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Authority of Scripture and The Role of Tradition

This does not mean, however, that we ought to only read the Bible and nothing else. It is a huge mistake to think that, because the Scriptures are sufficient for salvation and godliness, the writings of Christians throughout the history of the Church are not needed or are dangerous. Reformed Christians are not “Bible only” people or “no creed but the Bible” people. The creeds, theology books, and Scripture commentaries collected over the centuries are hugely important for the Church, not because Scripture isn’t enough, but precisely because we should seek every aid in properly understanding and applying the Scriptures. Scripture alone carries with it God’s authority. Because only the Bible is God’s word, no church council, creed, theologian, or pastor may command others to believe and obey unless they rightly apply Scripture itself.

So tradition is important, not because it can command us, but because it can help us to see the Scriptures rightly. When it is clear that traditions of the church do not faithfully reflect biblical teaching, Scripture trumps tradition. But we must be careful not to assume that our reading of Scripture, uninformed by what Christians have said for ages, is automatically the right one. Many things in Scripture are not immediately clear.

The Clarity of Scripture

While the meaning of many parts of Scripture may not be immediately obvious to us, Reformed Christians believe that the basic message of Scripture, the good news of Jesus Christ, is clear. We are not so dependent upon the tradition that we cannot know what God’s Word teaches unless we first hear it from those before us. We would be foolish to ignore them, but salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone is so clear that we should encourage Christians to read the Scriptures and not limit their exposure to the Bible to times when others explain it to them or read it for them. There are many complicated and difficult passages in the Bible, but this should not distract us from the clear message of the Bible, that God sent His Son into the world to die for sin, that he was buried, and that he was raised into new life to bring forgiveness and new creation.

Reformed Christians believe that God has given us all we need in the Holy Scriptures to be saved and to live faithfully before him. Man’s wisdom must never be imposed upon the consciences of others because our invented laws, practices, or principles of “wisdom” always fail and serve to burden people and hinder them from the grace of the gospel. The church’s tradition is important and a helpful guide, but it too stands under the authority of Scripture. This is why Reformed Christians often describe themselves as “Reformed and always reforming.” 

[Editor's Note: Read part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]

What do we mean when we say we are a “Reformed” Church? Part 2 of 10 - Salvation in Christ Alone

[Editor's Note: Read part 1 of this series.]

We believe that salvation from sin to God is in Christ alone!

The Cross of Christ

Reformed Christians confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He stands at the center of all things, and it is only through his mediatorial and substitutionary work on the cross and the victory of his resurrection that sinners are saved. Jesus stands between God and mankind, representing God to man and man to God, bearing God’s judgment and presenting us innocent and righteous to God. He gave his life as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners by bearing the penalty for their sin, God’s wrath in the judgment of death. Only through his substitutionary work of atonement can sinners be saved.

The Story of the World

This good news sits at the climax of God’s plan for the world. The plotline of this plan is marked by four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Everyone, religious or irreligious, narrates the history of the world and their own life in some way, but Christians receive the story of the world from God through His word. God’s story becomes our story. The Triune God is king over all created all things, and he made mankind as his image bearers to live in his kingdom in covenant fellowship with him.  Mankind rebelled, broke covenant, and fell from innocence before God in an attempt to establish our own kingdoms. God redeemed sinners, sending his Son to be king and to overthrow the kingdoms of this world by dying for sin and rising again in victory to bring forgiveness. When the Son, Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, he will bring a new creation as the consummation of God’s redemption. Christians repent of the false stories we have adopted to narrate and shape our lives, and we trust in God’s story and his saving work in Jesus Christ.

There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. This storyline (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) provides the foundation from which Reformed theology draws its doctrines and its understanding of the gospel.

The gospel is not the same as the storyline of Scripture. It isn’t everything God has done. The gospel is the good news concerning Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and the bringing of new creation. The gospel is the climax of God’s dramatic story of the world.

Christ the Only Savior

While it might seem obvious to Christians that Jesus is the savior, the Reformed tradition has been especially aware of our tendency as sinners to replace Jesus as savior or to incorporate other powers, people, or things into the saving work of Christ. Reformed Christians insist that we must not add to or take away from Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Therefore, we reject any false savior.

We maintain that we cannot save ourselves and that Christ alone has the power to save. We cannot merit, earn, or secure our salvation through our efforts and good deeds. We cannot achieve salvation through self-denial, discipline, or abstaining from bodily pleasure. We cannot reason our way to salvation or educate ourselves to enlightenment.

We maintain that no other person, whether a Christian leader, saint, or martyr, can achieve our salvation but that Christ alone redeems us from sin. We naturally drift from trusting in Christ alone for salvation to putting our confidence in pastors or priests who lead us and pray for us. We naturally seek some other power, apart from the Holy Spirit given by Christ, to intervene on our own behalf so that we are saved. Some even pray to Apostles, to Mary the mother of Jesus, and to other saints. But no one has the power to forgive sin or help us grow in Christ-likeness except God.

We maintain that no created thing can save us. We naturally trust in all sorts of created things (money, power, status, comfort, security, love,  approval, etc.) to save us from our problems. But our ultimate problem is our sinful rebellion against God, and only Jesus can take away our sin.

Jesus Christ is the only savior, and we must flee from accepting any powerless rivals. So Reformed Christians believe that salvation is in Christ alone.

[Editor's Note: Read part 3part 4part 5part 6part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]