Reformed Tradition

“Eventually I came to the point where led by the Word and Spirit of God I saw the need…to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own word.” – Zwingli (1484-1531)

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The name derives from the fact that the leaders sought to “reform” the church and return it to its proper historical beliefs and practices, focusing mostly on the Bible rather than tradition and faith rather than works or ceremonies. The originator of the Reformed Tradition was Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)1

Institute For Reformed Theology

The leaders of this branch of the church understood themselves to be “reformed” in two ways: first, they were “reformed” from what they believed to be the defective practice of Christianity promulgated by the corrupt Roman Catholicism of the day. Sometimes, this position is summed up in the phrase “Ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda,” which means “the Reformed church, always to be reformed.” In the context of the sixteenth century (and the mind of the Reformers) this phrase does not mean that the church is always morphing into something new with the passage of time (a common misconstrual in our own day). Instead, this seventeenth-century motto is consistent with the Reformers’ idea that they were not innovating, but “turning again” to the form of the church and belief originated by Jesus Christ, lived out by the first disciples and early church, and born witness to in the writings of the Old and New Testaments [or Book of Mormon] shorn of later additions.

Second, as implied above, Reformed means rejecting the idea that tradition can provide a sufficient form for matters of belief. Instead, the Reformers insisted that “the Word of God” was the only ultimate source of appeal in matters of faith, and that all other sources of knowledge, including a church’s tradition, had to appeal to this central source. 2

An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition

Eventually I came to the point where led by the Word and spirit of God I saw the need…to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own word. (G. W. Bromiley, ed., Zwingli and Bullinger, Vol. XXIV of The Library of Christian Classics, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953, pp. 90-91, as cited by John H. Leith in Introduction to the Reformed Tradition, Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1977, p. 34)

  • The radical emphasis of the Swiss Reformation on reform according to the Word of God is the basic source of the designation “reformed.” (p. 34)
  • The authority of the Bible had figured significantly in his (Calvin’s) conversion to Protestantism, and he sought to cleanse the church by returning to its source in revelation. (p. 36) 3

Noah Webster’s Dictionary

Reformed: Corrected; amended; restored to purity or excellence; said, specifically, of the whole body of Protestant churches originating in the Reformation. Also, in a more restricted sense, of those who separated from Luther on the doctrine of consubstantiation, etc., and carried the Reformation, as they claimed, to a higher point. The Protestant churches founded by them in Switzerland, France, Holland, and part of Germany, were called the Reformed churches.

John Calvin

  • Diversity of opinion respecting…non-essential points ought not to be a cause of discord among Christians…It is of importance, indeed, that we should agree in everything; but as there is no person who is not enveloped with some cloud of ignorance, either we must allow of no church at all, or we must forgive mistakes in those things, of which persons may be ignorant, without violating the essence of religion, or incurring the loss of salvation. (A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, ed. Hugh T. Kerr, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964, p. 157)
  • If…any one wish to have a simple statement, what are the human traditions of all ages, which ought to be rejected and reprobated by the Church and all pious persons…they are all laws made by men without the word of God, for the purpose, either of prescribing any method for the worship of God, or of laying the conscience under a religious obligation, as if they enjoined things necessary to salvation. If either or both of these be accompanied with other faults, such as, that the ceremonies, by their multitude, obscure the simplicity of the gospel; that they tend to no edification, but are useless and ridiculous occupation’s rather than real exercises of piety; that they are employed for the sordid purposes of dishonest gain; that they are too difficult to be observed; that they are polluted with impious superstitions; – these things will further assist us in discovering the vast evil which they contain… (p. 175)
  • I approve of no human constitutions, except such as are founded on the authority of God, and educed from the Scripture, so that they may be considered as altogether Divine. (p. 177)
  • That article of the Creed, in which we profess to believe THE CHURCH, refers not only to the visible church of which we are now speaking, but likewise to all the elect of God, including the dead as well as the living. (p. 152)
  • The Church is called CATHOLIC, or universal; because there could not be two or three churches, without Christ being divided, which is impossible. (p. 152)

  • Many people frequently ask me how they should conduct themselves in the midst of Papists, where it is not allowed to worship God purely, and where everyone is constrained to use many ceremonies which have been fashioned contrary to the word of God. (John Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, Dallas: Protestant Heritage Press, 2001, p. 47)
  • …inquire and query about what they should do, not to subdue their affections to God by submitting to his word, but so they may have free rein, and having an answer to their liking, may flatter themselves enough to remain in their evil-doing. In shrt, as the prophet Ezekiel says, they are looking for cushions to put their consciences to sleep, and for someone to make them believe they are alive when they are dead. (pp. 47-48)
  • I grant that it is a hard thing to put oneself in danger of losing body and goods, of arousing everyone’s ire against oneself, of being held in contempt and scorned, of leaving the land where one can live comfortably in order to depart for a strange land, like someone lost. Yet, what is the first lesson we must learn in the school of Jesus Christ, but to renounce ourselves? (p. 48)
  • First, let us be mindful that when we first enter his school, Jesus Christ, gives us all this lesson: if we are ashamed of him before men, he will likewise be ashamed of us when he appears in his majesty with the angels of God (Luke 9:26). So behold how our Lord is not satisfied if we recognize him in secret, and in our hearts. Rather, he strictly requires that we declare by an outward profession before men that we are his. He does not avow us as of his kingdom except upon this condition. (p. 51)
  • On the other hand, let us listen to what is said of them who did not dare to confess Jesus Christ after having believed on him: “They loved the glory of men better than that of God.” (John 12:43) (p. 53)
  • I quite understand what most people will say to me. “Alas it is quite true that we ought to prefer God to everything, but we do not have such strength and constancy.” Or, “We have father and mother who keep us here.” Or, “We are responsible for a household. So, what can we do?
  • To that I say, since their weakness keeps them from following what they recognize to be the most sure and salutary counsel; since for fear of men they stray from the proper path, they should confess their sins before God, and mourn over them with tears and sighs, accusing rather than justifying themselves. Then I admonish them not to fall asleep, as they become used to their evil-doing. Rather, let them daily urge themselves to be displeased and saddened, that they may obtain mercy before God. (pp. 94-95)
  • If everyone thus applied himself to his duty, I do no doubt but that our Lord would work in a different way than he is presently doing, and would cast down the abominations and idolatries which reign upon the earth. However, we do not feel our wretchedness, and are not touched by it as we ought to be, but rather disregard it because we have become hardened. (p. 95)
  • This vanity of seeking one’s good and happiness only in this corruptible life rules everywhere. This shows how very debased men are. For we were created with quite a different purpose, namely, that in our dealings in the world, we should aspire to God’s heavenly kingdom. This is why the present life is called in the scriptures a “path” or “road.” Therefore, anyone who does not wish to deprive himself of God’s eternal inheritance must begin here; he must prune himself of all foolish desires and fancies, which would only detain him and keep him in this world; so that his chief desire would be to go to God and to let nothing obstruct him in the least bit. I say “in the least,” because it is essential that all worldly affections which serve only to distract us from God be utterly plucked from our hearts, so that we may travel light on this journey which we must undertake. (pp. 177-178)
  • We know that the Holy Spirit calls all assemblies “church” where the word is preached, his name is purely declared, and the sacraments are administered. (pp. 260-261)

Links: International Museum of the Reformation

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