Thanks for all the thoughtful interaction regarding my recent blog post. I’ll pick out Andrew Meredith’s for further reflection:
As part of the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed” movement, I would consider myself an evangelical who has been significantly impacted by the Reformed tradition. Although I have respect for the “Reformed rooms,” I could not agree with the Reformed confessions. My question is twofold: on what basis does one accept these confessions as one’s own belief, and what exactly is there authority in the church?
Many Protestants today—especially in America—view creeds and confessions with suspicion, or at least treat them as suggestive for individual believers rather than as a shared confession of doctrine. However, this is itself a tradition. It’s largely shaped by Anabaptist and revivalist sources.
Roman Catholics are bound to the church’s teachings on the ground that they are simply the teachings of the church. Reformed Christians are bound to their church’s teachings on the ground that they summarize Holy Scripture.
When the practical implications of the Jew-Gentile relationship in the church came to a head, the church of Antioch (probably a group of local churches) appointed delegates (Paul and Barnabus) to a specially called Synod of Jerusalem (Ac 15). Repeatedly we read that “the apostles and elders,” sent from each city, met to deliberate and they concluded with a consensus statement: the first time “dogma” (dogmata) is used in the New Testament. Peter did not act as a pope, speaking ex cathedra. Nor did each local church (much less each member) decide the case. As Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled from city to city, they “delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily” (Ac 16:4-5). Following this pattern, Reformed Christians believe that the church has real authority from Christ and that the interpretations of Scripture by the church in its representative assemblies are binding—though always open to revision in the light of God’s Word.
However, we know that Reformed and Presbyterian churches are not the only visible expressions of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” One of my motives for advocating a more inclusive term like “evangelical Calvinist” is that it might relieve some of the stress between people who like some Reformed teachings (such as the doctrines of grace), but, as you say, cannot “agree with the Reformed confessions.” Evangelical Calvinists can get together at conferences, but we’re all called by Christ to gather regularly for the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Ac 2:39). We’re free to attend edifying conferences, but we’re commanded to belong to faithful churches.
“Reformed” isn’t just a few doctrines; in fact, it’s not even a long list of doctrines. It’s a covenantal way of faith and life. The way our confessions and catechisms talk about even issues like election, justification, and union with Christ is inseparable from the way they talk about sanctification, eschatology, and the nature and ministry of the church. There are some people who call themselves Reformed simply because they affirm a world-embracing faith, even though they deny the “five points.” There are others who affirm the “five points,” but have an at least implicitly Wesleyan-Arminian view of sanctification or a Baptist view of the status of covenant children or embrace a radical distinction between Israel and the church in Scripture.
If something is taught in Scripture, we are obligated to believe it. As a Reformed Christian, I believe that our confessions and catechisms most faithfully summarize what is taught in Scripture. And I confess that together with “a cloud of witnesses”—both in heaven and on earth, across the boundaries of time and place.
It’s wonderful when Christians can affirm “mere Christianity” together. And it’s great when we can affirm the doctrines of grace together. However, we aren’t all Lutherans because we believe in justification or Roman Catholics because we believe in the Trinity or Baptists because we believe in baptism. There is such a thing as the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. Piper, Sproul, Horton, nor anyone else gets to define what that is. We have to submit ourselves to the common confession of Scripture in a communion of saints.