from “A Comparative Study of Church Bodies” by Pastor Rob Raasch
The Reformed View of the Means of Grace
1. Zwingli objected to the medieval sacramental system in which the grace of God (forgiveness and salvation) was supposed to gradually filter down through the use of the seven sacraments of the Roman church.
2. In an overreaction to this sacramentalism (and the veneration of relics), Zwingli decided that God did not need any external means in his dealings with man. Zwingli declared, “The Holy Spirit needs no vehicle.” This became a fundamental tenet in Reformed doctrine, namely, that The Holy Spirit works directly on man apart from, or independent of, the Word and Sacraments.
3. Calvin expanded on this idea and drew a distinction between the outward word of the Bible and the “inner word” by which the Holy Spirit speaks only to the elect. This belief is sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm.” It has paved the way for some Reformed sects to discard the Bible as their source of doctrine in favor of their own visions, dreams, revelations or emotions.
4. Scripture teaches that God converts man and keeps him in the saving faith through the Word.
John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
1 Cor 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
5. That same Word of God is also connected with the water in Baptism and with the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar. Through these instruments, the Holy Spirit transmits to us God’s saving grace in Christ.
6. The Reformed deny that the sacraments are means or instruments through which God creates or preserves faith. Instead, they are regarded as merely symbols and outward ceremonies of what the Holy Spirit does in the heart directly and immediately without any means.
7. The Reformed view of the sacraments, combined with Arminian emphasis on “decision” theology” makes infant baptism both ineffective and unnecessary.
8. Other implications of this view of the means of grace include:
* a de-emphasis on regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper
* baptism becomes an act of obedience (dedication) to God
* in the search for certainty of salvation, the focus is shifted from the objective (Word and sacraments) to the subjective (faith, experience, emotions, reason)
Additional Characteristics of the Reformed Churches
1. An emphasis on God’s Law
a. Calvin viewed God as the sovereign Judge. God is primarily the Master; man is His servant.
b. The Bible is regarded as chiefly a code of ethics and rules for good behavior to the glory of the Master.
c. Luther viewed God primarily as a gracious Father. The Bible is his love letter to his dear children.
d. Certainty of salvation for the Reformed is largely based upon how well they are obeying the law.
2. “Deeds, not creeds”
a. Much of the Reformed movement (Methodism, etc) began as a protest against the cold formalism of the church and the moral laxity of the people.
b. John and Charles Wesley attempted to revitalize their national church by inducing people to live sanctified lives. Their concern was Christian life rather than Christian doctrine.
3. Attempts to reform society (and the church) by means of the law
a. This involves a confusion of the purpose and power of the law and the gospel.
b. This is evident in the political activism of some Reformed churches.
4. The doctrine of the “inner witness” and “sure salvation”
a. Both of these terms refer to an emotional experience as proof of faith.
b. Because Wesley passed through a serious struggle under the conviction of sin and then suddenly experienced the assurance of salvation, he believed that this experience was necessary for salvation. (“Salvation must be felt.”)
c. This contributed to the emotional excesses of American Revivalism (cf. also Quakers).
5. An emphasis on charismatic gifts (e.g. speaking in tongues)
a. This is most prominent in the Pentecostal churches (Assemblies of God, Churches of God, etc.)
b. The gift of tongues is the most sought after charismatic gift.
c. It is often regarded as “proof” of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in a person.
Strengths of the “Fundamentalist” Reformed Churches
* A high regard for the inerrancy and authority of Scripture
* A clear proclamation of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone
* A strong desire to live a moral life
* A willingness to testify to society