Q/A Friday: What Does the Term “Reformed” Mean?

Reformed can refer to a Calvinistic system of theology. And by Calvinism, I am not suggesting everything Calvin taught. Mostly, the term Reformed refers to the five tenets that have comprised the acronym T.U.L.I.P. This acronym, which Calvin did not devise, was put together in 1618 by the Synod of Dort as a reaction to a growing theological view referred to as Arminianism. T.U.L.I.P. stands for “total depravity”, “unconditional election”, “limited atonement”, “irresistible grace”, and “perseverance of the saints.” Churches that say they are Reformed usually mean they ascribe to T.U.L.I.P.

Reformed can also refer to a series of statements that summarize the doctrinal battles of the Reformation. Not limiting itself to John Calvin or Martin Luther, Reformed doctrine can be a way of summarizing a simplistic statement of faith called “the Five Solas.” They are Sola Scriptura (meaning “Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (meaning “faith alone”), Sola Gratia (meaning “grace alone”), Solus Christus (meaning “Christ alone”) and Sola Deo Gloria (meaning “to God’s glory alone”). Someone who says they are Reformed may intend to communicate that they believe these five Sola-statements that were the rallying cry for the Reformation.

Reformed can also refer to personal reformation or growth. Often, when we hear about reforming law or doctrine, we are talking about change or correction. Someone who says they are being reformed can mean they are changing or maturing for the better. Richard Baxter wrote a book entitled The Reformed Pastor, which is not a book about Calvinistic doctrine or the Reformation at all, but the importance of ministers growing and maturing beyond their current spiritual state.

Is one use of the term “Reformed” better than the others? Not necessarily. But it is vital when someone uses the term that you know exactly what they mean by it. For example, when I use the term Reformed I use it to refer to the second definition listed above – the Five Solas. I rarely use it to refer to Calvinistic theology, because there is too much baggage and a need for even more definition.

My usual answer to the question to the question, “Charles, are you Reformed,” is “It depends on what you mean by Reformed.” I am not a particular fan of theological labels and more often prefer to simply say, “I strive to be biblical.” So, whatever label that gives me, call me that.

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please it to charlesheck@cox.net or pose your question in the comments section of this post.

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