What is a Reformed Church?

“So what is a Reformed Church?” you may be asking. Although we would prefer not to have any “labels” at all, to be known only as a biblical church, we do recognize that in a culture that extensively uses labels, it is merely impossible to accurately communicate who we are without some identifying terms. In fact, every church faces this problem.People will perceive, whether accurate or not, ideas about a church based on its “terms” of description or identifying “labels.” So Heritage has chosen to use certain “labels” to help communicate who it is to aid others in discerning the biblical character of the ministry. One term that helps describe our ministry is the term “reformed.”

The term “reformed” describes three things about Heritage. First of all Heritage is a reformed church in that we identify with the teachings of Christ and His apostles that were recaptured at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The key doctrines of the Reformation were summarized in the following five Latin slogans:

  • SOLA SCRIPTURA (Scripture Alone) – the Scripture alone is our final authority in every area of life, because it is the Word of God;
  • SOLA CHRISTI (Christ Alone) – Christ alone, in His perfect life and atoning death in the sinner’s place, is the basis for our acceptance;
  • SOLA GRATIA (Grace Alone) – the grace of God alone in Christ, not human effort, is how God saves sinners;
  • SOLA FIDE (Faith Alone) – faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ apart from our works of righteousness or human merit is the means by which sinners receive or appropriate this grace of God; and
  • SOLA DEO GLORIA (To God Alone be the Glory) – for saving sinners and for everything else in this life and the life to come, eternal.Therefore, one aspect of the label “reformed” is to understand that we are dedicated to God’s Word, God’s ways, and God’s glory as summarized in these slogans.

A second area where “reformed” describes Heritage is in our doctrinal position. Reformed teaching holds to the Doctrines of Grace (more information of the Doctrines of Grace can be found in the booklet “Doctrines of Grace” by John Piper). The doctrines of grace express the great truths of Scripture regarding God and the salvation He provides for undeserving man.

In short, these doctrines state: 1) man is lost in sin and most undeserving and incapable of fellowship with God (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21); 2) God graciously elected sinners unto salvation according to God’s sovereign will alone (Ephesians 1:4,11; Romans 9:11); 3) Christ, the Son of God, came to die in the place of God’s people to save them (John 10:11; Ephesians 5:25-27); 4) God always takes the initiative in salvation and thus draws us with His special grace where we come willingly to Christ (John 6:37,44,65); and 5) God completes the salvation He began in us, so that the believer never finally or completely falls away from the grace of God in Christ, but is eternally saved and secure in Christ (2 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 1:6).

In a day where religion is man-centered, the doctrines of grace reveal that God is central and He alone is where our purpose and joy in life are centered. The truths of Scripture, rightly handled, do not leave man dwelling upon himself and his problems, but transcends man from his needs to the throne of grace and focuses upon the God of our salvation.

The doctrines of Grace are a fuller expression of what we mean in the five Latin slogans delineated above. God is the sole author of our salvation and hence receives all the glory for His wonderful grace in saving undeserving sinners.

Thirdly, Heritage is a reformed church meaning that we hold to reformed theology (or covenant theology). Reformed theology is a “system” of theology. A system of theology details how someone unifies the Scripture—that is, how one understands the Bible as a whole, from Genesis to Revelation. Everyone has a “system” of theology—the way he/she sees Scripture unified, whether he realizes it or not, whether it is implicit or explicit.

Two popular “systems” in Christianity today are Dispensationalism and Covenant (or Reformed) Theology. At Heritage, we believe that the biblical approach to understanding the Scriptures is what Scripture reveals about itself through the covenants. Scripture reveals that God always relates to man through covenants, and because the nature of the Bible is redemptive, God has revealed Himself through the course of history in covenants. In fact, the Bible is divided into two major sections: the Old Testament (or covenant); and the New Testament (or covenant). These two testaments are not mutually exclusive but are unified in the Person and Work of Christ Whom they both reveal.

Reformed Theology sees the Scripture unifying the whole Bible together through the covenants. For example, the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 9:8-17) is still in effect today and applicable to us all as we are reminded every time we see a rainbow in the sky.

The covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 15) is applicable to all believers today, for Galatians 3:7 says, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Scripture itself identifies how it is unified and this, we believe, is through covenants.

Therefore, the third aspect of what the “reformed” label describes about Heritage is how we interpret the Scriptures, that is, by comparing Scripture with Scripture and seeing that covenants are the unifying element. This covenantal system is upheld and taught by our confession, The Westminster Confession (1647) and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Covenant theology not only helps us understand how the Scripture is unified, but aids us in the practical outworking of our doctrine.