A Few Basic Aspects of “Reformed” Faith
Most of what the Christian Reformed Church teaches is held in common with believers around the world. As a denomination, however, we tend to emphasize some teachings. Sometimes we refer to this as speaking with a "Reformed accent". Three words that figure prominently within a Reformed accent are sovereignty, covenant, and kingdom.
It’s all about God! Those of us who speak with a Reformed accent hold a very high view of God’s sovereignty: God’s plan, God’s will, God’s power. Everything that happens in the world, from the acts of nations to the faith of individuals, is ultimately under God’s sovereign control.
We find it very comforting that God’s infinite love and grace is coupled with God’s power and ability to work on our behalf. You see, we know that no human thought or speech or action or desire is completely free of the effects of humanity’s fall into sin. Even our will is tainted. Therefore we cannot help ourselves: we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Our only hope, then, is to admit that we have a sin problem, that we are powerless to help ourselves, and that we need to ask for God’s intervention. Since God has already stirred such a desire in us, we are sure that He will answer our cry.
Mysteriously, God doesn't accomplish his will apart from human faith and action. This means, for example, that we are careful in our language about salvation. We focus on God calling people into relationship with Him, urging people to say yes to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus and offer their lives to God in response. Although we’re deeply involved in responding to God’s love in Jesus Christ, salvation is ultimately God’s work from beginning to end.
Another word that shows up a lot in our Reformed accent is covenant. A covenant is like a contract or a treaty. It involves partners who make promises to each other and then seal the deal in some appropriate way-signatures, for example. The Bible talks of God as a “covenant-making God,” meaning that he makes promises and keeps them. (The word “testament”, as in Old “Testament” and New “Testament”, really means covenant.)
And we acknowledge that God’s covenant promises are not simply made with individuals but to a community, to His people together...in a local church, with believers world-wide, with His People across the generations! We take our cue for God’s Old Testament covenant with the people of Israel. And we note that on the day of Pentecost, in the first Christian sermon, the apostle Peter urges adult Jews to “repent and believe” this new interpretation of the events of Jesus’ life and death and their complicity in it. When they do so, he says, they will receive the promised Holy Spirit, which is “for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). Even in the New Testament, God’s promises are communal and generational.
This means, for example, that with joy we baptize adults who wnat to profess their faith, and with equal joy we baptize infants (a practice that goes back to the early church). There’s a catch, though. Baptism is reserved for children of believing parents (or a believing parent) who are part of the church family, because we know that the Holy Spirit is active in those households. Those children will grow up to experience God’s promises at home and in the Christian community. God extends His promises to our children even though they have no understanding at the time. It is a sign to the whole congregation that God’s grace is a gift we cannot earn: it’s all about God acting first - and then us learning together to respond in faith to Him as we help each other walk with Him.
A third word that’s important to a Reformed accent is “kingdom”. And here the accent gets very broad because “kingdom” takes in all of human culture throughout the world. Unlike nations on earth, God’s Kingdom does not have defined borders. It is not restricted to a certain location, like a cathedral; nor can it be reduced to “religious” activity. By God’s kingdom we mean God’s sovereign rule, God’s sphere of influence. We believe that God’s Spirit is busy extending God’s rule all over creation. Certainly God’s reign is evident in spiritual experiences of renewal and change. But it is also evident in God’s gracious upholding of creation day by day, season by season. God’s reign is evident anywhere God’s will is done-in actions, lives, technology, artistry, and institutions.
God calls each of us to participate in the spread of His Kingdom. The whole world is a place where we can carry out the mission of restoring God’s creation. In the memorable words of Dutch statesman and pastor Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!
Our Kingdom focus means that our denomination has been active in some unique Kingdom-building activities. Avoiding common ideas of division between sacred and secular, we encourage endeavors in any sphere of human activity: media, publishing, law, education, labor relations, caregiving, agriculture, business, social justice, politics...every arena of life! No area of human enterprise is exempt. After all, it’s God’s world.
Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God. His victory over sin and death turned the tide. Though sin, brokenness, and evil are still evident in the world, God’s Kingdom is already here and is still coming. Someday Christ will come again, bringing the kingdom in full. In the meantime we pray and act for God’s Kingdom to come…and we invite you to join us joining Him in this amazing journey!