LESSON 7: The Teachings of the Free Reformed Churches
BIBLE READING: 2 Corinthians 3
Our federation of Free Reformed churches have no special doctrines or teachings, and we make no claim to exclusivity. Coming directly from the Dutch Secession church of 1834, we want to abide by the Three forms of Unity (that is, the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort).
The Free Reformed Churches have never adopted or emphasized a special doctrine at the expense of other doctrines of God’s Word. We wish to be confessionally balanced and Biblically experiential. We, in our doctrine and practice, want to live in full agreement with Scripture and the three Forms of Unity, and we do not want to fall into extremes.
This implies that the Free Reformed Churches seek to have a Scriptural preaching with a balance of:
- Guilt, Grace and Gratitude.
- The work of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in salvation.
- Redemption Accomplished and also Redemption Applied.
In practice this means that we desire to be discriminating in our preaching. Not all members of the congregation are assumed to be saved or converted. There are sheep and goats within the Church. We feel compelled to emphasize the need for conversion. We preach the distinguishing marks of saving grace worked by the Holy Spirit. The unconverted must be called to repentance. Their hiding places and excuses must be uncovered; specific sins must be pointed out. The unconverted must be warned and earnestly admonished so that they might be awakened to their lost and undone state and might come to depend only upon the fulfilled work of Christ Jesus for salvation.
COVENANTAL AND EXPERIENTIAL
The promises of the Covenant of Grace are underlined as well as its demands. The promises are directed to all who are under the Gospel. The Lord earnestly calls them to grace. Also emphasizing the total depravity of man, we learn that man cannot convert himself, but must be saved by a sovereign work of God’s grace. Besides this we preach that God is willing and able to do what we cannot do. The balance of promise and demand produces a practical tension which casts the covenant child upon his knees pleading for the needed work of Gods gracious Spirit.
The children of God also have to receive instruction, admonition and comfort in the various conditions of their spiritual life. They need to be warned against backsliding. Their life and walk with the Lord must be explained and their knowledge, faith, love, and hope must all grow. Their daily struggle against indwelling sin, calls for spiritual guidance in the preaching.
All these elements lead to the necessity of experiential preaching. We stress the necessity of Scriptural, experiential, covenantal preaching. Such preaching is in full agreement with the Three Forms of Unity and in particular the Canons of Dort.
WHY ARE WE SEPARATE?
We find in other churches not only different emphases but also erroneous views. There are a number of churches which maintain a view of the congregation which is too optimistic and which assumes that the congregation is completely saved. The call to self-examination, as well as the call to repentance and faith, and also the different aspects of spiritual life are not preached. The work of the Holy Spirit is not explained and does not receive its proper emphasis.
On the other hand, there are other churches which do not teach the free offer of grace. The promises of the covenant are offered only to the elect. As a result Gospel preaching, and in particular the offer of grace are restricted to the context of predestination.
The Lord Jesus cried out to all who heard Him: “Come unto Me and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). This means a call to repentance and then there is also a promise connected to this call. It is a general call to salvation, in which the promises are for all who are under the Gospel (Acts 2:39; Isaiah 45:22). But still some preach that the promises are only applicable to the elect and the sincere offer of grace is also only to the elect.
We can even draw the line of distinction further as we look at the overall church situation. Sadly even Reformed churches (even churches which trace their roots to the Secession!) have compromised in the direction of Arminianism. They teach free will, or deny the doctrine of sovereign election. They deny the need for the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. They give the impression that man’s salvation is in his own hands and thus preach a false doctrine, which gives no comfort and does not glorify God. Such teaching darkens the Biblical proclamation of the truth.
Mainline churches do not preach man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of a sinner. There are few churches which still preach the total depravity of man, teach the sovereign work of God in saving sinners and uphold free grace. Within some Reformed denominations sovereign grace is officially confessed but in reality they pay only lip service to these truths.
We too as churches must be careful to preach and to teach free grace and not to give in to the temptation to ease up on the Gospel of free grace. It is so easy to carve off the sharp edges of the Gospel and to slowly change the views of man and grace and of God and sin. The result is that we end up with another kind of preaching and church life. That is one of the greatest dangers which is threatening the churches of Reformed persuasion. Therefore it is good and necessary that we study the doctrines as they are portrayed in our confessions and especially in the Canons of Dort.
A lot of what is aired on evangelical radio stations is free will. Much evangelical literature is free will. The gospel is promoted as if salvation is only a matter of man’s choice and dependent upon man. Also amongst us ideas are displayed: “Jesus offers salvation. You must believe and you must believe now. You are foolish if you do not believe now.”
The danger is that we follow the reasoning we find in modern evangelical circles which states as follows: “You accept Jesus as your Saviour. You do so now. You believe the Gospel and you confess that you are a sinner. Then you are saved. It is as easy as ABC. Accept, believe and confess.” The impression left is: The choice is all up to you. The danger is that since election and total depravity are matters which are considered to be difficult and even gloomy, they end up neglected in the preaching. That is the trend which has affected the vast majority of churches.
REFORMED UNITY AND FAITHFULNESS
As a denomination, the Free Reformed Churches want to be one with those churches who sincerely desire, in their doctrine, practice and preaching, to adhere to God’s Word, the Three Forms of Unity and the Church Order as complied by the Synod of Dort 1618-1619. Essential to being Reformed is not merely an adherence to the infallibility of Scripture but also an emphasis on the personal appropriation of grace by the work of the Holy Spirit. We must stress that Christ is not only a Saviour for us but must work within us. Therefore we must stress the need for salvation by personal conversion and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Free Reformed Churches have nothing to boast about. We are very small and our strength is weak. We are prone to forsake the Lord and His Word and the precious heritage which our fathers left us. May the Lord be merciful and grant us the precious working of His Holy Spirit, that many sinners may be turned to the Lord and may learn to live in a new life with Him. It is very easy to slide into a form of Arminianism on the one side or to deny the offer of grace on the other side. There must be much prayer among us that God would grant grace to be and to remain faithful to Him and His Word.
- What is a godly sorrow?
- Explain the sorrow of the world?
- Which elements should be present in the preaching of God’s Word?
- What is the work of the Holy Spirit and how is this experienced?
- What are the characteristics of a Biblically Reformed church?
* This Bible Study was produced by the Youth & Education Committee of the Free Reformed Churches,1997, under the title, “Church History.” It is aimed at a Senior Young Peoples level.
Click on the tag “Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History” below for more lessons in this study.