Saturday, July 23, 2005

What does it mean to be Reformed?

Today I learned a valuable lesson. It had to do with how to explain what it means to be Reformed. While I did not respond the way I think I should have, I hope this will encourage others to think about what they would do in a similar situation.

Today I went to a family reunion picnic. I met a woman there who goes to a large and prominent Arminian church in town. She and I got to talking about churches, and I mentioned that I go to a Reformed Baptist church. She then asked me what was, since it sounded like an oxymoron. I answered that we are Calvinists and that we basically agree with the Presbyterian Westminster Catechism except on baptism and church government. I then mentioned that the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as other famous Baptists, were Calvinists. I basically had to leave it at that. I wished for another chance to discuss this, but God did not see it fit to grant that.

Now, what I said is true, but was it what I should have said? Did it truly explain what it means to be Reformed? I concluded that it did not. Here are the reasons why:

1. It bases the definition of a Reformed Baptist on "well we agree with this historical confession except for x, y, and z."

2. It presupposes that the other person has a correct understanding of what a Calvinist is or what the Westminster Confession says.

3. It doesn't give the other person something to chew on and meditate on.

4. It doesn't open a channel for discussion later, and it may even intimidate someone.

5. It was an opportunity that should have been used to declare the sovereignty of God.

6. It may leave the wrong impression that Calvinism is man's thinking rather than the Bible's teaching.

So, what should I have said? Perhaps something like this:

"Well, to be Reformed means to believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation. God is the Potter, and we are but the clay. Salvation is truly of God. We don't earn it or deserve it. The Bible says that those who are in Christ were chosen by God before the foundation of the world. They used to be God-hating lifeless rebels, but now, because of God's sovereign choice, He has caused His elect to be born-again and granted to them the gift of faith. And those who are in Christ will persevere to the end, as God is the one who chose to save them in the first place. So 'Reformed Baptist' is not an oxymoron, as the early Baptists believed in these truths, though they happened to disagree with the Presbyterians on baptism and church government."

I honestly was not expecting her to ask what a Reformed Baptist was, to tell you the truth. And I am grateful that God gave me this lesson so I could reflect on what I will say next time this happens. I also pray that God will lead the woman to an understanding of God's sovereignty in spite of what happened today.

Update: Here is a great sermon by Dr. James White on "Explaining Our Beliefs to Others" I really like his point about using the term "the absolute freedom of God."


At 8/09/2005 04:26:00 PM , Blogger Curt said...


At my fledgling blog (, I am going to be dealing with the issue of Calvinism serially. I started the blog in the first place because my daughter nagged me into it, but then she also asked me to do some posts on Calvinism. So I have begun and we'll see where it leads.

At 9/21/2005 06:55:00 AM , Blogger Aaron said...

It sure is hard to be "ready with an answer", but I like your reflections on the event very much!

At 10/21/2005 09:31:00 PM , Blogger John said...

I think a good way to explain what it means to be Reformed is to start with the 5 Solas. I used to start with T.U.L.I.P but it seemed like people would start TULIP people would start give me their problem with it before I had a chance to finish. The 5 Solas are something that people can not argue with as easily. I think its a better starting point because it is not a polemical since people since TULIP was a response to Arminism and also gives the heart of what it means to be reformed.


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