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Reformed churches identify with the protestant reformation – a movement in the 1500-1600s – which saw churches strive to ground their faith and life completely in God’s word, as opposed to church tradition or human reason.
Churches in the reformed tradition share several key values. These are Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and the over arching commitment that all of life should be directed to God’s glory alone.
When we talk about the value ‘Christ alone’, we are saying we rely solely on Jesus Christ and what he has done for our acceptance with God our Father. Jesus is the only way to God, and the only mediator between God and people.
God only has one reason for loving and rescuing people, and that is sheer grace. Nothing we do and nothing we are could ever be valid grounds for God to accept us and love us. It is a challenge for us to accept this, but it is also a wonderful comfort. God’s love and life in Jesus is full and free.
God’s saving grace is a free gift. God commands us to use our will (which he enables) and our mind (which he cleanses) to accept his grace in Jesus. This can only happen by faith alone. Sin and the fall penetrate every aspect of who we are. For this reason, our deeds, our reputation, our high moral standards, even our greatest acts of sacrifice can never be the basis of God declaring us right with him.
At different times in church history, church rules and traditions were given as much weight as Scripture. At other times – much like the present day – human ideas and thought were given more authority than Scripture. Church traditions and human reason are important, but we believe Scripture has ultimate authority. Because it is God breathed, Scripture is the only authoritative rule for faith and practice.
To God Alone Be the Glory
Living for God’s glory alone means we will live and work for the sort of world that God would delight in. We seek to bring his transformation of all things in Christ to concrete expression in any and every life context. Only the Lord is worthy to receive this glory and honour. So in response to all we have received in Jesus Christ, we happily dedicate our lives to God’s glory alone.
When we call ourselves ‘reformed’ these are the primary faith and life values we are referring to. These convictions shape our worship, our witness and our daily lives. They have also given rise to the historic statements of faith (the various Reformed Confessions) that we hold to.
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The Westminster Confession of Faith was the work of the Assembly of divines which was called together by Parliament and met in London, at Westminster Abbey, during the years 1643-1648. It was this Assembly which also produced the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Confession and the Catechisms are used by many churches as their doctrinal standards, subordinate to the Word of God.
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The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Canons of Dort. It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht in 1618-19. Although this was a national synod of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, it had an international character, since it was composed not only of Dutch delegates but also of twenty-six delegates from eight foreign countries.
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The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation “Confessio Belgica.” “Belgica” referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Bres, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567. During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Bres prepared this confession in the year 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession.
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The Heidelberg Catechism was composed in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, who ruled the Palatinate, an influential German province, from 1559 to 1576. An old tradition credits Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus with being coauthors of the new catechism. Both were certainly involved in its composition, although one of them may have had primary responsibility. All we know for sure is reported by the Elector in his preface of January 19, 1563. It was, he writes, “with the advice and cooperation of our entire theological faculty in this place, and of all superintendents and distinguished servants of the church” that he secured the preparation of the Heidelberg Catechism. The catechism was approved by a synod in Heidelberg in January 1563. A second and third German edition, each with small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published the same year in Heidelberg. Soon the catechism was divided into fifty-two sections so that one Lord’s Day could be explained in preaching each Sunday of the year.
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