What does it mean to be Reformed?

W. Robert Godfrey & 3 others
2 Min Read

GODFREY: When we ask the valuable question, “What does it mean to be Reformed?” there are a variety of answers that can be given and justified. Particularly, as we’re celebrating a Zwingli anniversary, a major Reformation anniversary, the answer is not that if you eat sausage, you’re Reformed.

We have to seek the answer in the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches. It’s not a matter strictly for individual definition. It’s not a matter that we should add to or take from. We ought to ask, “What has been the consensus of Reformed believers through the centuries?” We find the answer in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and maybe—on a charitable day—the London Confession.

If you are wrestling individually with the question, “What does it mean to be Reformed? What would it mean for me to say in a full sense that I am Reformed?” then get one of the great Reformed confessions or catechisms and go through it. Use it as a checklist: “How am I doing? What do I think of those things?” Linger particularly over the points where you say, “I’m not so sure that’s true.” I’m willing to predict that you’re wrong and the confession is right, but it’s an important point to stop, think, get out your Bible, and see what the Bible says about the matter you’re concerned about.

NICHOLS: One of Dr. Sproul’s insights was that being Reformed has at its center the doctrine of God, and that’s where we start. We can look at it existentially from our perspective and ask Luther’s fundamental question, “How can I be right with God?” He wasn’t satisfied with the answer that his contemporaries had or the answer that lead him to who God is, which wasn’t good for Luther. That was two steps back. At the center of the Reformed understanding of doctrine and Scripture is the doctrine of God.

Dr. Sproul reminded us that Reformed folks consistently pull the doctrine of God to the next doctrine, the doctrine of man, then to the next doctrine, the doctrine of Christ, then to the next, the doctrine of salvation, and even to the doctrine of the church and our ultimate mission of worship. At the center of our worship is our understanding of who God is. We consistently carry our understanding of God all the way through our theology. That’s what our confessions do for us, head of doctrine after head of doctrine.

FERGUSON: I might add that a great place to begin would be the Heidelberg Catechism.

GODFREY: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

We’re tempted to forget that when we say we’re Reformed, we’re using an abbreviation. Our forefathers said that being Reformed is being reformed according to the Word of God. The church as they saw it in the sixteenth century had been radically de-formed by moving away from the Word of God, and the very essence of being Reformed is to allow our thinking, our living, and our worshiping to be reshaped by the Word of God. We are reformed according to the Word of God.

THOMAS: While the Reformation in the sixteenth century defined the Reformed faith in terms of how it was different from Catholicism, the Synod of Dort just over four hundred years ago defined what is essential to the Reformed faith and the acronym TULIP. It is taking what the Bible says about sin seriously, taking what the Bible says about election seriously, taking what the Bible defines the work of Christ to be, defining what the sovereignty of God in regeneration means in effectual calling, and defining the idea of the sovereignty of God in preserving us in perseverance until final glory. Those five truths are a focus of what is essential to a biblical understanding of the Reformed faith.

This is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey's, Sinclair Ferguson’s, Stephen Nichols’, and Derek Thomas’ answers given during our 2022 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.