What is a Reformed Congregation?
At first impression, you probably wonder what a Reformed Congregation is all about. Therefore have we written this article to make ourselves better known to our surrounding community. It is our hope that after reading this you will feel desirous to join us in the worship of God and study of His Word. Let us assure you that you are very welcome!
Our Historic Background
Our name is New Zealand Reformed Congregation. But what does reformed mean? What does congregation mean?
The Early Christian Church
The Christian Church began early after the Lord Jesus Christ returned to heaven (Acts 1-2). Many churches multiplied all around the world. Sadly, however, many began to compromise the truths as God had predicted (1 Tim. 4:1-3). For centuries long, the Bible was suppressed as the only source of truth. People were told to believe numerous fables as God's teachings. In history these centuries are referred to as the "Dark Ages."
Graciously the Lord did revive the truths of the Holy Scripture in the 16th century. The re-discovery of what it actually says in the age-old Scriptures, led to an large revival of the Christian Church. This period is known in history as the "Reformation". God raised up many godly preachers to boldly proclaim His teachings. These preachers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, were instruments to break the grip of the Roman Catholic Church to establish Bible faithful churches once again.
Since the Reformation the Church of God has again gone through various difficult periods. During the last centuries there has been compromise and outright rejection of Bibles teachings. This has resulted in differing views about the Christian religion which explains why there are so many separate churches.
Some of these have radically departed from the teachings of the Holy Bible, as revived during the Reformation. Sadly today there are people who call themselves Christians who yet deny the miracles recorded in Scripture, inspiration of Scripture or Godhead of Jesus Christ. Others have substituted the teaching of Gods Word with a feel-good religion or with an emphasis on healing, speaking in tongues and prophesying. Other churches aim at entertaining the audiences with choirs, actors performances, movies and Christian rock music while watering down Gods truths.
Thankfully, since the 1960s there has been a steady increase in the interest in the teachings of the Reformation. The writings of the Reformers and their successors (Puritans) are republished rapidly and read eagerly within the Western and non-Western world. In itself this is quite remarkable as their writings are over 300 to 400 years old. Recent surveys in some European countries indicate that particularly young people are hungry for these solid Biblical teachings. We hope that this will become true in New Zealand as well. Hence our name: New Zealand Reformed Congregation.
In the name of our church, we have consciously included the word "Reformed." The intention is to establish the link to the Reformation. The truths God did revive in the Reformation, we continue to believe and teach as the core teachings of Holy Scripture. In this clinging to God's distinctive and authoritative teachings on God and man, sin and salvation through Jesus Christ, we define our distinctiveness from other churches in New Zealand.
The word "congregation" simply means that we regularly meet together (congregate) for the worship of God and instruction from His Word.
Our Distinctive Convictions of Scriptures Teachings
Our main distinctive points of truth follow and in this we stand in the line of the Reformation of the 16th century.
The Core teachings of God's Word
As a Reformed Congregation we declare our unwavering conviction that the teachings known as "Calvinism" are the best reflection of Scripture's teachings. These teachings are conveniently summarized with the word "TULIP." Each letter of this word TULIP stands for one major teaching of Holy Scripture
T - Total Depravity of man:
Man, as result of his fall in Paradise, is in absolute bondage to Satan and wholly incapable of exercising his own will freely to trust in Christ for salvation. Salvation is therefore dependent upon the work of God Who must give man spiritual life before he can repent and believe in Christ for salvation. (Gen. 2:16,17; Gen. 6:5; 8:21; 2 Chron. 6:36; Job 14:4; Job 15:14-16; Ps. 51:5; Ps. 58:3; Ps. 143:2; Eccl. 9:3; Is. 53:6; Is. 64:6; Jer. 13:23; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 3:19; John 6:44; John 6:65; John 8:44; Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3; Eph. 4:17-19)
U - Unconditional Election:
God, in His sovereign right as Creator, has purposed from all eternity to save His chosen people to eternal life in His glorious heaven. This election of a large part of mankind is entirely free and therefore not conditioned on any merit or any foreseen act or response on their part but absolutely sovereign and gracious. (Deut. 10:14,15; Ps. 33:12; Ps. 65:4; Ps. 106:5; Matt. 11:27; Matt. 22:14; Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20; Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:28-30; Rom. 8:33; Rom. 11:28; Eph. 1:4; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 5:9; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter. 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:8-9; Rev. 17:14)
L - Limited Atonement:
Christ died on the cross to secure the salvation of the elect part of mankind. Sometimes this is also referred to as the "particular redemption or definite atonement." The salvation that Christ earned includes everything involved in bringing His people into a restored relationship with God as well as restoring their heart condition. (Matt. 1:21; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; John 10:14, 15, 27, 29, 46; John 17:2, 6, 9, 11; 1 Peter 2:9)
I - Irresistable Grace:
Salvation, God makes such sinners willing in the day of His power, and they all will respond to Him with repentance and faith. (Deut. 30:6; Ps. 110:3; Ezek. 36:26-27; Dan. 4:35; John 1:12-13; John 3:3-8; John 5:21; John 6:37 & 44; Acts 16:14; Eph. 2:4-52; Tim.1:9; Titus 3:5)
P - Perseverance of Saints:
The elect sinners are not only saved by God's sovereign grace but also are kept in faith by God's almighty power. Therefore each regenerate soul is absolutely secure in his or her salvation and will persevere to the end. Scripture does not maintain that all who profess the Christian faith are certain of their salvation. (Is. 54:10; Jer. 32:40; Matt. 18:12-14; John 6:39; John 10:28; John 17:2, 11, 12, 15; Phil. 1:6; Phil. 3:20-21; 2 Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Peter 1:4-5; Jude 1, 24-25)
These "Five points of Calvinism" cannot be found anywhere in Calvin's writings in the "TULIP" form. They were cherry picked by the Arminians in the following century as five points they disagreed on, thereby provoking a response from Reformed people in defending them. This inadvertently may have led to a further one-sided view of what the Reformers taught.
Calvin extensively taught the responsibility of man as well as the sovereignty of God.
The following five points can also be gleaned from the writings of Calvin and other Reformers.
- God sincerely calls to sinners to repent and come to Christ, and we are all accountable in our response to this (i.e. we all have a duty, from little children to the elderly, to seek God through His Word and prayer at personal, family, and church levels.)
- Although we are saved by faith alone, yet faith without works (the fruits or indicators that we will be judged by) is dead.
- Nobody will suffer in hell because they were not elected. They will be punished because of their sins against the law, and wilful rejection of the gospel.
- We are to discern people, starting with ourselves, by fruits, not by doctrinal positions.
- Everyone is welcome at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and no-one pouring out their heart in repentance to Him, as an unworthy sinner, will ever be rejected.
"The two parts of a Christian life are: (1) The love of righteousness; that we may be holy, because God is holy, and because we are united to Him, and are reckoned amongst His people; (2) That a rule may be prescribed to us, which does not permit us to wander in the course of righteousness, and that we may be conformed to Christ. The sum of Christian life is to deny ourselves." (John Calvin, points 49 and 50 from the summary of The Institutes of the Christian Religion)
In summary, when a sinner is saved then all glory is to God alone, and when a sinner goes lost the fault is man's alone. In addition, if any doctrine of the Word of God, e.g.: Predestination, is giving us hard thoughts about God, or is leading us to be passive under the preaching, or hindering Christ-like living, then the safest course is "park" the doctrine to one side, pray to God for further light, and fixate ourselves on the law and gospel that we are accountable to.
The authority of God's Word
As a Reformed Congregation we acknowledge the supreme authority of God's Word on all matters of life and doctrine. We see the Bible as the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16) and therefore as infallible and errorless in its original writings. Since the Scriptures are God's Words, we cannot accept any teachings or practices that are contrary to the written Word of God. As a church we uphold that the King James Version is currently still the most trustworthy translation of the Holy Scriptures in the English language. Therefore that translation is used in our member's families as well as in the public worship services and our school.
Importance of Preaching
Unlike many other churches in NZ, the preaching of God's Word has a central role in our worship services. Preaching of the Word is God's instrument to save lost sinners and to nourish the saved in their faith (Rom. 10:14-17; 1 Thess. 3:10; 2 Tim. 4:2). The preacher explains the meaning of the Word and seeks to apply it closely to the conscience and heart. In the fruit of this preaching, we confess ourselves entirely dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit Who needs to bring the Word where man can never bring it (1 Cor. 2:4; 1 Thess. 1:5).
God centered Worship
Our worship seeks to be God-focused and therefore we strive for a sense of reverence and godly fear as we approach God with prayer, worship Him with singing, and hear that what He has to say to us through His preached Word. In the Bible God has revealed Himself as glorious Being and this majestic glory is to be reflected in our approach to Him (Heb. 12:28-29). For this reason any form of entertainment is excluded from our services. We strive that nothing will be added that would detract from the reverence God is due to receive. Besides the preaching of God's Word, we join in prayer and singing of Psalms that are accompanied by the organ.
As a Reformed Congregation we fully subscribe to three of the historic Reformed creeds, also called the "three forms of unity", which we believe fully agree with the Word of God:
We also fully subscribe to the three creeds of the early church, the Apostles creed, the Nicene creed, and the Athanasian creed.
We also wholeheartedly embrace the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. We recognize them all as faithful reflections and summaries of God’s pure teachings.
Full membership within our church is on a voluntary basis and one will be asked to make a public confession of his or her faith. Such membership doesn't only carry the privilege of being part of a portion of God's worldwide church but also brings along responsibilities. We expect our members to attend the ministry of God's Word as well using their gifts and abilities to the upbuilding of God's Kingdom locally, nationally and internationally (Matt. 28:19-20). We also expect that our members live Biblically and each of us has a responsibility to watch for the good of others. Through the exercise of pastoral oversight, we hold our members accountable for their walk of life as well as their convictions of Scripture truth. If a member, after instruction, and where necessary, loving admonition, continues in a lifestyle that is contrary to the Biblical teaching, or promotes errors of doctrine, then such a person will face church discipline which may include exclusion of church privileges and eventually termination of membership (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:14).
We recognize that there are three offices to which God calls men. The preacher or pastor who is called to teach; the elders who are called to have leadership role; the deacons who are responsible for the financial aspect of God's ministry. We maintain the conviction that the church offices are only open to men (1 Cor. 14:34-40; 1 Tim. 1:11-12)
Our Core beliefs are also explained in our doctrinal standards, the Three Forms of Unity:
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- The Belgic Confession of Faith
- The Canons of Dordt
Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
In this section we will address some common questions.
Does this mean that we consider our church to be the only true church?
No, we do recognize other churches in New Zealand as true churches of God when the fundamental truths of the Bible are upheld by them. In other words, their adherence to Gods truths determines the degree of fellowship, closeness and cooperation that we maintain with other churches. The more truth we can agree upon, the closer the official relationship will be. We also maintain close connections with like-minded Reformed Churches in other parts of the world and support their missionary activities. Furthermore we believe that the Lord has His own people in a variety of gatherings all around the world.
Why a separate church from the many others in town or the area?
Such a question is both valid and important. There must be a reason why our families worship together in the Reformed Congregation. The answer has to do with our convictions of Biblical truth. We base our distinctive positions on the Bible and invite anyone to examine them as they are taught publicly every Sunday. We realize that our convictions differ significantly from the main stream New Zealand churches because we consider the Bible to be God's unchanging rule for life and faith throughout all time. We believe that, although our cultural context changes from generation to generation, God's absolute truths are timeless. What was sin 2000 years ago, is still sin today and will be as long as this world exists. What was the only way of salvation then, is still the only way of salvation today.
Aren't you a Dutch Church?
Formerly people thought we were a "Dutch" church and therefore only the Dutch were welcome in our church. Although many of our members immigrated from Holland, at the present there are more NZ-born members than Dutch-born members in our congregation.
What can we do for you?
Feel welcome at any time to join our services. Usually there is someone to help you to find a place and provide you with a Bible and songbook (Psalter). Make an attempt to attend for a period of time. We also have a small library, which you can use. Besides, if you wish to have personal help in understanding the Bible, the Elders can arrange this for you." For any questions call 06 379 9038.