When Eastside Church of the Cross updates the marquee, I like to give further definition as to the meaning of the message. The current message on the sign identifies us as “Covenantal & Reformed.”
WE ARE COVENANTAL
By being covenantal, we mean that we understand the structure of scripture in terms of the covenant of works and the unfolding covenant of redemption. The covenant of works that was made with Adam in the garden ended in the fall of man. God, in his plan to have his name triumph, then made a covenant promise to crush the head of the serpent by the seed of the woman.
This redemptive promise was explained in historical stages until finally in the first century the seed of the woman was revealed. That seed is God incarnated: Jesus. Jesus is the last Adam, and by his works he enacted the covenant of redemption in his flesh. The initial covenant of works which ended in ruin is out-matched by a man who does indeed work for the glory of God (Jesus himself!), and the covenant of redemption which was promised after the fall was speaking of the blood of the covenant by which we are saved.
Saying we are covenantal speaks positively to our view of the structure of scripture and the unified and unfolding drama of God’s self-revelation. It also states that we are not dispensational. We believe that dispensational theology does damage to a right reading of the Bible.
WE ARE REFORMED
“Reformed” speaks to an entire worldview, but if we were to sketch its basic contour we could identify A.) Love, B.) Polity and C.) Reformation Ideas and Principles. We will take up each of those in turn:
The root of the reformation is love of God and love of neighbor. Expressing that love includes fidelity to God, his word and his people. Love is self-giving and is found in Christ on the Cross. The root of being Covenantal and Reformed is love — John 3:16. This love is expressed between Christians and includes responsibility in relationships, the giving of our time to one another, serving each other by praying and living a life of love and mutual care. This is expressed in treating one another as members of one body, forgiving one another, and being ready to repent (Matthew 18:15-19).
B.) Polity (Church Structure and Practices):
Our church polity (which is a fancy way of saying how we are structured) is reformed in that we are organized with elders who are trained in the Word and Biblical studies, with deacons who serve the body in purposeful and special acts of service, and by congregational participation in relationships, worship, the sacraments of baptism and communion. Regarding communion, we believe that we dine with Christ when we participate in his meal. Technically speaking, we are not Zwinglian (which sees the supper as a mere memorial). In Baptism, we believe that it is a sign that is valid even if faith is not united with it. That is, someone who is baptized but who ultimately proves to be unrepentant and unregenerate was still baptized. Baptism, in such a case, is a testimony against the person, and it is a sign of judgment (a watery trial).
C.) Reformation Ideas and Principles:
Claiming to be Reformed means more than a mere five points of doctrine. It includes covenant theology and it includes a form of polity/organization. In terms of stated ideas and doctrines, however, there are specific principles of the reformation we adhere to, and they are listed here in summary form: 1.) Christ Alone 2.) Glory to God Alone 3.) Scripture Alone 4.) Grace Alone 5.)Â Faith Alone 6.) Total Depravity 7.) Unconditional Election 8.) Specific (or Limited) Atonement 9.) Efficacious or Irresistible Grace, and 10.) the Preservation of the Saints. Each of these ten have been expounded upon in various textbooks and councils, and they stand for large ideas that generally go by these names. We affirm these ten ideas and principles, and find them useful for explaining various points of our belief.
A Plea (About “Systems”)
We are aware of professors, churches, pastors and friends who strongly oppose so-called reformed theology (as we have it here). Furthermore, they sometimes claim it is a concocted system that is forced upon the text of scripture (i.e., it does not derive from scripture). And, we do acknowledge that people regularly force doctrines and systems upon the Bible. However, the error of forcing a system onto the Bible is system-indenependent. That is, people who don’t hold to reformed theology can just as easily force a system onto the Bible.
Our goal here is to give specifics about what it is that we believe flows from the text of Scripture so that the individual points may be known and weighed. By being specific on the particular points of doctrine, polity and practice (as has been done here), we are also affirming the goodness of the possibility of a true systematic theology.
Everyone has a system (stated or not), just like everyone has a budget (written or not). We are all Theologians, and we all take the various points of data about God and make summary statements about him. To reject Reformational Theology (on the grounds that it is a system) is not to escape a problem, but is to appeal to another system of doctrine. Everyone has a system of belief, ours is Covenantal and Reformed; at the root is Christ, and one inescapable result is love.