20150519_081431What we believe

 

REFORMED ‘ACCENT’

 
 

Most of what the CRC teaches and believes it holds in common with believers around the world. Yet as a denomination we tend to emphasize some teachings or Scriptural interpretations more than others. How can this be?

 

If you think of the worldwide church as a body, then you can imagine denominations as individual organs. Each organ contributes to the proper functioning of the body, and each performs a unique function. Or imagine a room full of English speakers from different corners of the world— Georgia, Australia, Britain, South Africa, Scotland, and Toronto. Each speaks the same language, but their accents make them sound very different! Sometimes we refer to our particular emphases as speaking with a Reformed accent. Three words that figure prominently within a Reformed accent are sovereignty, covenant, and kingdom.

 

Sovereignty

 

It’s all about God! Those of us who speak with a Reformed accent hold a very high view of God’s sovereignty: God’s plan, God’s will, God’s power. Everything that happens in the world, from the acts of nations to the faith of individuals, is ultimately under God’s sovereign control.

We find it very comforting that God’s infinite love and grace is coupled with God’s power and ability to work on our behalf. You see, we know that no human thought or speech or action or desire is completely free of the effects of the fall. Even our will is tainted. Therefore we cannot help ourselves; we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Our only hope, then, is to admit that we have a sin problem, that we are powerless to help ourselves, and that we need to ask for God’s intervention. Since God has already stirred such a desire in us, we are sure that he will answer our cry.

Mysteriously, God doesn’t accomplish his will apart from human faith and action. This means, for example, that we are careful in our language about salvation. We don’t urge people to “accept Jesus into your life”—which could imply that human will has the power to keep God out, as if we are the directors of our own destiny. We’d rather focus on how God calls people into relationship with him, urging people to say yes to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus and offer their lives to God in return. Although we’re deeply involved in responding to God’s love in Jesus Christ, salvation is ultimately God’s work from beginning to end.

 

Covenant

 

Another word that shows up a lot in our Reformed accent is covenant. Perhaps that word isn’t familiar to you. A covenant is like a contract or a treaty. It involves partners who make promises to each other and then seal the deal in some appropriate way—with signatures, for example. The Bible talks of God as a “covenant-making God,” meaning that he makes promises and keeps them. (The word testament, as in Old and New Testaments, really means covenant.)

This is a very good thing to know! Because the sad truth of the matter is that we have a hard time keeping our promises. Think of all those New Year’s resolutions that dissipate in the light of January 2. More sadly, think of the number of marriages promises, made in complete sincerity, that are broken. God makes firm covenant promises to love and protect, to care for and guide his people—in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer. Though our promises prove feeble, God’s are firm. In fact, God can carry our covenant all by himself.

Here’s where our accent gets a little more pronounced. We profess that God’s promises are not simply made to individuals but to a community. Not only that, they are generational. We take our cue from God’s Old Testament covenant with the people of Israel. And we note that on the day of Pentecost, in the first Christian sermon, the apostle Peter urges adult Jews to “repent and believe” this new interpretation of the events of Jesus’ life and death and their complicity in it. When they do so, he says, they will receive the promised Holy Spirit, which is “for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). Even in the New Testament, God’s promises are communal and generational.

This means, for example, that with joy we baptize adults who want to profess their faith, and with equal joy we baptize infants (a practice that goes back to the early church). There’s a catch, though. Baptism is reserved for children of believing parents (or a believing parent) who are part of the church family, because we know that the Holy Spirit is active in those households. Those children will grow up to experience God’s promises at home and in the Christian community. Infant baptism is about God extending his promise to our children even though they have no understanding at the time. It is a sign to the whole congregation that God’s

grace is a gift we cannot earn: it’s all about God acting first.

 

Kingdom

 

A final word that’s important to a Reformed accent is kingdom. And here the accent gets very broad because kingdom takes in all of human culture throughout the world. Unlike nations on earth, God’s kingdom does not have defined borders. It is not restricted to a certain location, like a cathedral; nor can it be reduced to “religious” activity. By God’s kingdom we mean God’s sovereign rule, God’s sphere of influence. We believe that God’s Spirit is busy extending God’s rule all over creation.

Certainly God’s reign is evident in spiritual experiences of renewal and change. But it is also evident in God’s gracious upholding of creation day by day, season by season. God’s reign is evident anywhere God’s will is done—in actions, lives, technology, artistry, and institutions.

God calls each of us to participate in the spread of his kingdom. The whole world is a place where we can carry out the mission of restoring God’s creation. In the memorable words of Dutch statesman and pastor Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Our kingdom focus means that our denomination has been active in some unique kingdom-building activities. Avoiding any division between sacred and secular, we encourage endeavors in any sphere of human activity: art, media, publishing, law, education, labor relations, caregiving, agriculture, business, social justice, and politics. No area of human enterprise is exempt. CRC communities have established Christian schools from preschool to graduate school—not to protect students from the world but to give them the tools to engage any aspect of culture from the perspective of God’s kingdom.?After all, it’s God’s world.

Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God. His victory over sin and death turned the tide. Though sin, brokenness, and evil are still evident in the world, God’s kingdom is already here and is still coming. Someday Christ will come again, bringing the kingdom in full. In the meantime we pray and act for God’s kingdom to come.

 

God

 

God is a spirit.
God is also referred to as the Trinity.

The Trinity is the three person partnership of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Father is generally seen as our Creator and Sustainer.

The Son is generally seen as responsible for our salvation.

The Holy Spirit is generally seen as our comforter, encourager, and motivator, and lives in our hearts.

We learn about God from two sources. The Bible and nature. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy in II Timothy 3:16-17, that “all Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Bible is the Word of God and God reveals himself and the way of salvation throughout the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired men to write down the words of the Bible and guided them as they wrote.

God commands, invites, and encourages followers of Christ to spend time on a regular basis reading His Word and studying it with others in the church. What are your normal patterns for interaction with God’s Word?

The Bible also teaches that God reveals himself in His creation. The Psalmist declares in Psalm 19:1-2 that “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”

God also makes himself known to us through prayer. Jesus taught the disciples to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. God also commands, invites, and encourages followers of His Son Jesus to pray often. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to pray always, giving thanks to God for everything. What is your normal pattern for communicating with God in prayer?

 

Jesus Christ

 

Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God.
He died on the cross for the sins of the world and was raised to life to win the victory over the devil and evil in the world. Now He reigns over the world at the right hand of God. He is my personal Savior because he died for my sins, and has secured the victory over evil in my life.

Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. We do not understand this mystery, but realize that it was necessary for one without sin to pay the price for those who have sinned. Only God’s Son could live a live without sin.

“Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God” (IICor. 5:21 NCV).

 

Sin

 

A transgression of God’s law. Living outside of God’s will. Disobedience to the teachings of Scripture and Christ.

Sin breaks our relationship with God. Adam, our forefather, was the first to sin and break his relationship with God. We inherit Adam’s sinful nature and are born inclined to hate God and our neighbor. Scripture teaches that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23). Therefore, everyone is guilty of sin and deserving of God’s punishment on sin. The only way to be relieved of our guilt is to follow Jesus, live for him, put our faith in him, and he will bear the punishment for our guilt on the cross.

 

Faith

 

Faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel

that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation

 

Salvation

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18)

Believing in Jesus is the only way to be saved from eternal death, and also from a meaningless life on earth. We are not saved because of anything that we do ourselves, but because what God has done for us in Christ.

Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved.

 

Grace

 

Grace is best understood as a gift. God acts toward us in a favorable way even though we don’t deserve it. Another way to understand grace is to remember one word for each letter in the word. This way, grace can be defined as God’s Riches At Christ Expense.

 

Sacraments

 

There are two sacraments. They are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross (Heidelberg Q&A 66).

The two sacraments are, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism was instituted by Jesus and in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

And in I Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul records the instructions he received from Christ regarding the Lord’s Supper, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Becoming a member of the catholic or worldwide church of Christ contains certain privileges and responsibilities.

The privileges include partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and also becoming a part of God’s family and community of believers. This community of believers commits themselves to care for you, pray for you, and grow with you in your knowledge of God. They also vow themselves to encourage you in your faith and hold you accountable to the commitment you make.

When becoming part of the church, you take on the responsibility

of submitting yourself the community and offering your gifts in service to the church and the people of God and the world. God has given gifts to all of his people to be used for the building up of the body of Christ and to spread the good news of life in Jesus Christ.

When you become part of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, you become part of a church that traces its roots back to Pentecost. At Pentecost, God sent his Holy Spirit to the followers of Christ to comfort them, encourage them, and teach them the ways of God.

For about 1000 years there was only one church – the Roman Catholic Church. After 1000 years the Church of Christ split into two branches, the Eastern and the Western Church. Immanuel finds her roots in the Western branch of the Church. About 1500, the western branch experienced another split during the Reformation. Key leaders who desired to reform the church to return to the teaching of the Bible were Martin Luther and John Calvin. The main principles promoted by Luther and Calvin were the following five:

1. God’s word, the Bible, is the primary source of instruction for the Christian life.
2. Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind.
3. Mankind is justified or made right with God only through faith (Ephesian 2:8-10).

4. God is sovereign. That is, God has created the world and is in control of everything.

Nothing happens without his knowledge or permission. 5. Everything we do, in all areas of our lives should be done to God’s glory. John Calvin used a

Latin phrase to express this idea: “Solo Deo Gloria,” which means “to God alone be the glory.”

These five ideas are at the heart of the Reformation and are shared by churches that trace their roots to that branch of the

Church of Christ called Reformed Churches.

In addition, churches that traces their roots through the Reformation normally adhere to three Confessions that summarize the teachings of Scripture. They are sometimes called the three forms of unity in the Christian Reformed Church. They are:

 

The Heidelberg Catechism which explains the way of salvation and discusses the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments.
The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism have been cherished by believers for centuries as a statement of faith.

Q & A 1 Heidelberg Catechism

 

“What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

 

The Canons of Dordt, which are a defense of the Reformed understanding of the way of salvation.

 

The Belgic Confession explains what the Reformed churches believed during the 1500’s and still adhere to today.