The Reformed tradition begins with the Bible, if it didn’t, I’d hate it.
Why? Because God is the Author of Scripture, not man. God is Definer, we are defined. The Bible has authority over all of life because it is inspired by God Himself. We must submit to it because when the Bible speaks, God speaks. We should not or cannot presume to set out for ourselves the principles to govern our lives. For God has done it already in giving us His Word which in its principles, touches on every area of our lives from worldview to how we ought to drink orange juice. A good summary of this mindset is: God has said it, I believe it, that settles it. Or as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in chapter 1.2, “…all the books of the Old and New Testaments…are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.” The reformed tradition believes the Bible to be inspired, inerrant, and infallible (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). This means that the Holy Spirit inspired the Biblical authors to write down what they did, not in a robotic manner, but in such a way where the personalities of the authors were not destroyed but used in the process. Reformed churches believe that because God revealed Himself to us in a book, we ought to labor all our lives to know that book as well as we possibly can. The Bible should be not only known, but studied, dug into, examined, and treasured because in it we meet God face to face. The more we know God’s Word, the more we know God Himself.
Because the reformed tradition believes that the Bible ought to be studied vigorously, they have often found it good and necessary to state what they believe about God and His Word through creeds and confessions. Thus, you may hear any of the following creeds recited within a reformed church: the Apostles Creed (325), the Nicene Creed (391), the Chalcedonian Creed (431), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Belgic Confession (1566), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and the London Baptist Confession (1689). Do you notice that most of the creeds and confessions either come from the 4th and 5th centuries or the 16th and 17th centuries? This was due to what is called the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was led by people, such as Jon Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and John Calvin (and many others), who desired not to start a new church but to reform the existing church of their day, the Roman Catholic Church.
What was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church? From around the 4th century up into the 16 century the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) had set up a system of church government, with good intentions, to govern the Church. After a time, this system began to be abused and withhold many things from the common people. They believed the Bible was too advanced for the common man to understand. The RCC’s power grew too great, and the abuses could no longer be tolerated.
The reformers wanted to stop the abuses of the RCC and give the Bible into the hands of the common man. Many of them gave their lives for such a task. For example,
-John Wycliffe was persecuted and killed by the RCC for translating the Bible into the common man’s English in 1384.
-John Hus was killed in July of 1415 for translating the New Testament into the common man’s Czech and teaching against the abuses of the RCC.
-Martin Luther, the Catholic monk turned reformer, stood against the abuses of the RCC and translated the Bible into German around 1520 so the German people could read the Bible for themselves in their own language.
-John Calvin, a Frenchman who lived in Geneva, Switzerland had a large influence on the Church through his life and theological writings. Calvin’s influence proved to be so large that the word “reformed” is now synonymous with the word “Calvinism.”
Although these men did not want to start a new church, they were forced to leave the RCC and begin what came to be known as Protestantism. From the Protestant Reformation came a large amount of new denominations – Lutherans in Germany from Luther’s influence, Presbyterians in Scotland and Ireland from the influence of John Calvin and John Knox, Puritans in England through the influence of John Owen, and eventually the some other groups (Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal) came in also.
Their desire ought to be ours as well – getting the Bible back into the hands of the common man.