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What Is "Reformed"?

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

R. Scott Clark argues that churches that confess the historic Reformed documents have strayed from their Reformed roots in theology, piety and practice. He offers the following thought-provoking analysis of how we arrived at this place:

“In North America, beginning in the early eighteenth century, Reformed theology, piety, and practice were profoundly and adversely affected by synthesis of the Reformed confession with pietism. The result of this synthesis was a turn away from the objective to the subjective. In this chapter, this turn to the subjective is described as the quest for illegitimate religious experience, the desire for an unmediated encounter with God apart from the ordinary means. Gradually, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the restraint of confessional orthodoxy was eroded, pietism came to dominate Reformed piety.”

Dr. Clark advocates a return in Reformed churches to a piety that is drawn from the church’s confession. He describes this piety as, “… Christ-centered, grounded in the gospel of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners, and in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the ordained means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. According to the Reformed churches, Christ has promised to use these means to bring his people to maturity and sanctity.”

He goes to great pains to communicate that he is not opposed to religious experience. But he is advocating a particular kind of religious experience over against another kind. He summarizes quite simply, “We are not on a quest to experience God apart from the divinely ordained means.” Believers in Christ do experience God; but the Scriptures call us to expect Him to work through the means that He has ordained. “We confess a living religion that is organized around the means of grace, not an a priori definition of religious experience.”

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