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By Mark Chen

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2003-10-26

Text: Romans 12:1-2

The title of the message today is a well-known Reformed slogan, 'the Reformed Church, always reforming.' Well, what does this mean? It means firstly, that 'the Reformed faith should be 'Reformed,' that is, in agreement with the fundamental principles of the Scriptures, as summarized in the Reformed confessions. However, it should also be 'reforming,' seeking to bring the believer's thought and practice more in line with Scripture, even if that process requires the elimination of some traditions. The Reformers were both: conservative in their adherence to biblical doctrine, radical in their critique of church tradition.' So today, we would like to answer two questions - What it means to be Reformed, and what it means to be reforming.

Firstly, what is a Reformed Church, and are we a Reformed Church? When I mention the word 'Reformed' sometimes to church members and even to other Christians, they get a strange look on their face, like I'm introducing to them something new. It could be because of the word 'Reformed.' It seems to imply that we have changed or discarded the old paths. But 'Reformed' doesn't mean that at all. The Reformed Church is not new - it has its roots in the 16th Century Reformation, which we are remembering today; and that's how it gets its name - Reformation = Reformed. Hence, the Reformed Church carries on the tradition of the Reformation and holds on to blue blooded Protestant teachings. In fact, most of the Protestant churches after the Reformation were not Lutheran (we all know Luther, who famously sparked off the Reformation), but they were Reformed. Which were the Reformed Churches? They were the Presbyterians, Anglicans, Reformed Baptists, Congregationalists, Huguenots (or French Presbyterians); Dutch Reformed, Helvetic (or Swiss) Reformed, German Reformed, etc. They were not Methodists, nor Charismatics, nor Brethren.

But what makes us Reformed? What is our theology, our flavor? Is there something that differentiates us from other denominations? Well, there is a silly story about the characteristics of different churches and cults. It's one of those 'How many persons to change a light bulb' joke, and while it is not appropriate at times for jokes to be told from the pulpit, this story illustrates a very important point - so bear with just this one. It goes like this: How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? And the answer is - Please, no light bulbs, candles only. How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? 4 - One to change it and the other three to pray against the powers of darkness. How many Mormons does it take? 5 - One man to change it and his four wives to criticize him. And lastly, how many Presbyterians? None - it has been predestined whether the light bulb will be changed or not.' Now while this example isn't exactly 100% accurate, it does illustrate for us what Presbyterians hold to. And when you speak about Predestination, you are really speaking about the Sovereignty of God - how God in His power has decided all things to come to pass. 

And the person who really taught this doctrine of God's Sovereignty and Predestination during the Reformation was John Calvin. But Calvin did not invent this theology nor discover it, he recovered these Doctrines of Grace from the Bible, which for centuries had been lost to the people, who were under Roman bondage. How wonderful it was to discover that salvation is of the Lord, who shapes and rules all things. Reformed theology is Biblical theology - it is the Gospel of Christ. 

And this is what Spurgeon, the great Reformed preacher said, 'I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.'

'There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and my God.' And Spurgeon was so committed to the Reformed doctrines he said that, 'No man can add anything to the religion of Jesus. All that is consistent with truth is already incorporated in it, and with that which is not true it can form no alliance. There is nothing new in theology except that which is false.'

And so, convinced that Reformed Theology was true to Scripture, Reformed men began to condense the doctrines of the Bible into creeds and confessions. The Anglicans have the 39 Articles of Religion; the Reformed Baptists have the London Confession of Faith, and the Presbyterians - the Westminster Standards. But nowadays, it seems as if these documents mean nothing. Hardly an Anglican would have heard about the 39 Articles today; neither do those in Presbyterian Churches know what the Westminster Confession of Faith is. And by that token, there is really now, no difference between a Presbyterian and a Methodist, or an Anglican from a Charismatic. The lines are blurred. And if Reformed Theology is Biblical Theology, why have these Churches allowed this to happen? There can only be one explanation - they have forsaken their Reformed heritage - their Reformation spirit. They have taken away their emphasis off the whole counsel of God to focus on peripheral things. They have removed their focus on God alone as their help and looked to men. They have sought after modes of worship that pleased them, rather than considering if God was pleased. They have not adhered to their Confessional standards. And that is the first step to losing our Reformed heritage. 

Now, some of you are thinking, is a Confession all that necessary? How does it and why should it define the doctrine of the church? Why can't we just base it on the Bible? Well, if we say that, then we wouldn't be Presbyterian. Part of being Presbyterian is our belief in the good purposes of creeds and confessions - sure, these documents aren't on par with Scripture, but they are faithful to Scripture. Creeds and confessions have been tried and have shown forth their usefulness. We may use only the Bible, but cults also claim they use the Bible. Which is why during the Arian controversy, the Athanasian Creed resulted, which stated as dogma that Christ was 100% God and 100% Man, which the Arians denied. So without creeds and confessions the Church in general would not be where it is today - we may still be arguing over the controversies of the early church. So what are the purposes of creeds and confessions? 

Presbyterian Historian Philip Schaff says that they are for the purposes of defining theological standards, of distinguishing one church from another, of defending the faith by guarding against false doctrines and practices, of disseminating doctrines to succeeding generations, of developing sound interchurch relationships, of discipling and nurturing and teaching young Christians, and of deepening our connection and understanding of the church in the past. And this is very important. And there's one more purpose that Schaff did not articulate - creeds and confessions promote matured and charitable liberty; things which are not dealt with in these documents are peripheral and secondary. Questions concerning whether women should cover their heads during worship or if it is okay to eat out on the Sabbath are peripheral - it's up to your conviction and liberty - just don't force it on others. But questions concerning who Christ died for or how the people in the Old Testament were saved, these are dogmas, nonnegotiable. And this in a nutshell is what the Reformed faith is about.

But what does it then mean to be Reforming? If all the doctrines of the Bible are neatly explained and laid out in the Confessions and if we hold on to them, isn't that enough? Absolutely not. We may be very orthodox and doctrinally correct, but where would our practical Christianity be? The Reformers did not aim just to have correct doctrines, but they aimed to completely reform their own lives. They pursued after righteousness, after Godliness, after Christ-likeness. They were not just stuffy old men who insisted only on correct doctrine, but they understood what the Christian life ought to be - how every believer in Christ should want and desire after Christ. The Reformers were voracious readers of the Bible, their personal piety was beyond reproach, and many of us may never be able to compare with their devotion to Christ. They wanted Christ so badly, they yearned after Him and desired others too, to yearn after Him. If anything in their lives hindered them, if anything prevented them from knowing Christ and loving Christ, they removed it. Their purpose was singular - they said together with Paul, that their one desire was to know Christ. The motto of John Calvin was 'My heart, I offer unto thee, O God, promptly and sincerely' printed underneath a picture of a hand offering a burning heart to God. This is constant consecration, and that is what it means to be always reforming - to look in our lives and to determine what we need to change, not to be sparing in our criticism but to be very eager to reform, to set our lives in order in accordance to God's Word.

The idea of consecration is given in our passage - Romans 12:1. This is the main idea, which is enlarged upon by verse 2. The verse reads 'I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.' Paul encourages us and pleads with us to offer ourselves - our whole selves as living sacrifices. Just as the Israelites in the Old Testament had offered their sacrifices to the Lord, so were the Christians to do this. However, what exactly does Paul want to convey here?

When the Israelites brought their sacrifices, they would bring unblemished lambs, bullocks, pigeons, wheat, etc. However, the best sacrifice was considered the yearling calf - a calf which was a year old. This was valuable because it took a year's worth of grain and care to raise this calf, and because of this, the calf was thus considered to be valuable and costly. To offer it to God was considered the best offering. It was considered the best because it cost the sinner something. And likewise, when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we are thus saying that our whole lives belong to God - we must die to ourselves - our wants, our needs, our dreams, our aspirations, we must give to God. And when we consecrate ourselves, it is not a small part, but all of ourselves.

And when we do this, Paul calls his act of consecration our reasonable service. It is reasonable, or rational because of what Christ has done for us. Indeed, Christ died on the cross for us and shed His blood, paying the ransom that we might be saved. The Greek word is logiken - from where we get the word 'logical.' Is it not reasonable and logical to expect that we should do only this little thing in return, by consecrating ourselves to Him and to devote our lives entirely to His will? This is what Paul means. However, we know all too well that it is hard to carry out, right? 

But what does Paul mean by the word 'service?' The word for 'service' literally means 'religious act of worship.' The religious worship of the Jews was to bring their offerings to be burned, just as burning paper money and joss sticks is the religious worship of the Chinese. But the Christian's religious worship is to offer himself. He, himself, would be the burnt offering. This is the kind of worship God desires of us. It speaks of our attitude. Interestingly, the English word 'worship' coming from the Old English word worthship, comes from two words 'worth' and 'shape.' In a sense, we shape our behavior and our attitude according to the worth of the object we revere and love. We all have role models, idols, and people whom we respect. And the way we act in front of them shows the kind of reverence we have for them. This is in fact worship, to a certain extent. That is why the Bible tells us not to have respect of persons or regard the face of a person - to show no favoritism, because this is a kind of worship. Only God deserves our worship. And this speaks of our attitude - what is our posture and our behavior before God knowing His worth? How are we reforming our lives after knowing who He is? 

A very important principle I want to share with you is the Reformed principle called Coram Deo. This Latin phrase literally means, 'before or in the presence of God.' This is a phrase used by the Puritans, who were later Reformers. They desired to live every moment of their lives, as if they were in the presence of God. So whatever they thought, whatever they spoke, whatever they did was patterned after this principle. Their activities, their recreation, their profession, their dressing, their conversation, their family life, their music, their affections, their testimony in the world - all these were subject to their devotion to Christ. They wanted to live their lives in the presence of God, as if He was there by their very side. 

This is consecration. But how, how do we consecrate ourselves? Verse 2 tells us - we are not to 'be conformed to this world: but be ye transformed (be reformed) by the renewing (the reforming) of your mind.' We are to depart from the things of this world - from its affections, its values, but we are to renew our minds - to know the Scriptures and to apply them in our lives. And when the Christian separates from worldliness, he embraces godliness. And when he embraces godliness, he grows spiritually. 

The Reformed Christian will be a mature Christian. He will know that his primary goal in life is to glorify and to enjoy God. He will know that the 4 crowns awaiting him in glory are more important than 4 A*s in his PSLEs, or 10 A's in his O levels, or whether he is able to go to university, a good paying job, the 5 C's, etc. But in his calling in the world, he will nevertheless work hard, persevere to do well, because he knows his God-given responsibilities; but yet not at the expense of his spirituality. He will have a quiet confidence in the Sovereignty of God - he may have honestly tried his best, but may not be able to succeed due to his own limitations, which God himself placed there - but he would rather be a road sweeper with Christ vibrant in his life, than a successful lawyer who is very spiritually dim. His affections will be set on higher things. His devotional life will be deep and fruitful, if he has a family - the family altar will be kept, he will be a serving Christian, he will always examine his activities to see if they need reform, he will be well-versed in the Reformed Confessions, and above all, he will have a deep love for Christ. And the Reformed Church, comprised of mature Reformed Christians will be a vibrant Church.

To reform one's life is not an easy thing to do. One must have a deep love for Christ, and a vision of Christ - who He is to us. I'd like to quote Samuel Rutherford, a Puritan, who wrote about who Christ was to Him. 'Oh, what a fair One, what an only One, what an excellent, lovely, ravishing One, is Jesus! Put the beauty of ten thousand worlds of paradises, like the garden of Eden in one; put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all sweetness, all loveliness, in one: oh, what a fair and excellent thing would that be! And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest Well-beloved, Christ, than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths. Oh, but Christ is heaven's wonder, and earth's wonder! What marvel that His bride saith, 'He is altogether lovely!' I can neither speak nor write feeling, nor tasting, nor smelling: come feel, and smell, and taste Christ and His love, and ye shall call it more than can be spoken. To write how sweet the honeycomb is, is not so lovely as to eat and suck the honeycomb.' 

I end by quoting another Puritan, Thomas Brooks, who wrote of Jesus 'Christ is lovely, Christ is very lovely, Christ is most lovely, Christ is always lovely, Christ is altogether lovely.' Indeed, only the Reformed Faith shows us true devotion to Christ, and only by true devotion and a true vision of Christ can we reform our lives. Imagine what the Church would be.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25