The Heart of the Reformed Faith
The heart of the reformed faith – the heart of biblical Christianity – is God-centredness: the conviction that God himself is supremely important. We define all our doctrine in a God-centred way. Sin is horrible because it is an affront to God. Salvation is wonderful because it brings glory to God. Heaven is heaven because it is the place where God is all in all. Hell is hell because it is the place where God manifests his righteous wrath. That God-centredness is the distinctive feature of the reformed faith. A Christian may say lots of true things, say about sin (sin is damaging, sin leads to wretchedness..) but if there is not the God-centred perspective, the most important emphasis of all has been missed.
I remember how struck I was years ago, reading an essay by Leon Morris, asking “What is the most common word in Romans?” (I presume he’s omitting such words as “the” – I’m not sure). What would you guess? Grace? Faith? Believe? Law? No – the most frequent word in Romans is “GOD”.
Just skim through the opening chapters and you see it immediately. All the great theological statements in Romans have God as their subject: “God gave them over..” “God will give to each person according to what he has done..” “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ..” “God set him forth as a propitiation..” “God justifies the ungodly..” “God has poured out his love into our hearts..” “God demonstrates his own love to us in this..”.
We can preach things that are true – we can even be five-point Calvinists – but if we lose that “from him – through him – to him are all things” awareness, then we’ve lost the heart of Christianity.
God-centred doctrine must work itself out in God-centred piety. Again this is the distinctive note of reformed Christianity. We are obsessed with God himself. We are overwhelmed by his majesty, his beauty, his holiness, his grace. We seek his glory, we desire his presence, we model our lives on his attributes.
Other Christians may say that evangelism, or mission, or revival or reconstruction is their great concern. But we have only one concern – God himself – to know him, to mirror him, to see him glorified. We refuse to absolutise any other objective. The salvation of the lost is only important to us in as far as it leads to the hallowing of his name and the coming of his kingdom. The purifying of society is only important to us in as far as it leads to the doing of his will on earth as in heaven. Biblestudy and prayer are only important to us in as far as they lead us into communion with him.
This has been the great hallmark of reformed Christianity down through the centuries. Whether you’re reading the journals of Presbyterians like Andrew Bonar, or the letters of Anglicans like John Newton, or the sermons of Baptists like Charles Spurgeon, this is the note that comes throbbing through. They are obsessed with God himself. They live their lives and do their theology and fulfil their ministry in passionate admiration for God himself. Everything else flows out of their awed worship of God and their trembling love for him.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]