What denominations are Reformed and what is the difference between them Evangelicals

I was wondering what exactly does a denomination that calls it self Reformed mean.

Is it a Calvinist denomination or one the Evangelican or Fundamentalist groups.

Someone was saying they were Reformed today and are investigating the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

She mentioned that her whole family are Reformed and her husband and family are not happy about her decision. She must hide her books on the Church Fathers etc.

I suggested she pray for her husband as it must be very difficult for her when her family makes anti Catholic remarks to her. She seems very intelligent and has a good understanding of why the Catholic Church is correct in its teachings.

Yours in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary


Any church or person who calls themselves “Reformed” is generally referring to Calvinism. On the European Continent, the followers of Calvinism called themselves Reformed.When John Knox brought Calvinism to Scotland, it became known as Presbyterianism because the Reformed churches followed presbyterian church government. So, Calvinist, Reformed, and Presbyterian all refer to the same thing.

Evangelicalism is simply defined as:

*Belief in the need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
*A high regard for biblical authority;
*An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
*Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

So, you can have all kinds of Evangelicals. You can have evangelical Calvinist/Presbyterians, evangelical Anglicans, evangelical Lutherans, evangelical Methodists, and so forth.

So, a Reformed Christian maybe evangelical as well. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a denomination within the Reformed tradition, but it is generally thought to be mainline rather than evangelical. Then there are other Presbyterian churches that are evangelical, the most obvious being the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Unfortunately, this is because “Reformed” means “Reformed from Teh Ebils Ob Teh Papists!!1!” :eek:

As a result, any group which still identifies itself via the term is at risk of replaying sixteenth-century political disputes, and casting any Catholic as inherently evil.

So, yes, she is certainly in a position deserving quite a bit of prayer.

The Reformed tend to be very emotionally-charged about subjects, whether Rome or something else. They have kept a lot of the bitterness of the Huguenots, Dutch, Genevan Calvinists, and the English Puritans, all of whom considered themselves to be “Reformed” Catholic Christians, the “abuses” of the middle ages thrown out.

This theology is principally identified not by a hatred of Rome (that’s more of a secondary characteristic), but by the adjective TULIP:

Total depravity: all human beings are totally depraved in every faculty, will, and natural ability. We are thus unable to come to God of our own power, or to do truly good, holy works of our own power. “Total” depravity, I have heard some Reformed people say, does not indicate that we are all as completely evil as we can possibly be, but rather that the totality of our human nature is depraved or fallen: every part of our body, heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Unconditional Election: all human beings who are to be saved are elected to be saved by God before the beginning of creation; consequently, all human beings who are to be damned are elected to be damned by God before the beginning of creation. This is usually argued as a natural consequence of God’s total sovereignty over time, space, and existence itself. This naturally puts our free will in question.

Limited Atonement: Christ the Lord died in a limited way, for those He had elected to be saved only. His Atonement is not considered to have been unlimited, for every sinner in the world, as the Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Arminian (free-will-believing Protestants) say.

Irresistible Grace: The idea that God’s divine holy unmerited grace is so strong that it automatically converts everyone it is applied to (i.e. the elect). We cannot say no to it, nor can we say “yes” to merit it.

Perseverance of the Saints: Often called “Once Saved Always Saved”, the doctrine that everyone who truly has faith cannot possibly be lost or fall away into infidelity again. Based on John 10’s good shepherd allegory, about Christ’s sheep always hearing His voice, and He gathering them to Himself infallibly.

These are the main statutes of the “Calvinist”, “Reformed”, “Presbyterian”, or “Radical Reformation” movement. :slight_smile:

Evangelicals are mostly Arminians; that is, they believe God’s grace may be resisted by proud men, that holy men can come to God by their own will only by the help of God’s grace, and that we have free will.

Another minor distinction is this: Evangelicals believe sola scriptura, but Reformed tend to believe solo scriptura. Sola scriptura means “by scripture alone”, and it indicates that all core essential doctrines come only from Scripture. Solo scriptura means “scripture alone”, and it indicates that not only all core essential doctrines should come only from Scripture, but all liturgy, behaviour, morals, and even comparatively trivial things like dress etc.

Actually you have it backward. The Evangelical/Fundamentalists tend to be solo scriptura. I went to a Reformed Seminary in the 1970s- Westminster- and they did not teach that we could not use Sacred Tradition, but that it must be subordinate to Scripture. We studied the major Medieval theologians and learned much from them. I did not learn *solo *scriptura from Westminster at all.

All Catholics are called to be Evangelical also, unfortunately the term has become associated with other Christian denominations, and many Catholics shy away from the term because of bad experiences with “In-your-face” types of Evangelicals, and the tendency of some to target Catholics (which is more widespread than some care to admit). We most definitely believe in in the need for personal conversion, have a high regard for biblical authority, emphasize the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and actively express and share the Gospel. After all, we’ve been doing this for 2000 years, that is how Christianity spread.
I am not saying this to cause an argument, I am pointing out a fact that may of our Protestant brothers and sisters, and also, unfortunately, many Catholics are not aware of. Fortunately the Pope has called for a new Evangelization, and many are again taking that call seriously and learning what it means to evangelize.

I will proudly call myself Evangelical according to your definition.:slight_smile:

Not really…The Methodist Evangelical church I grew up in is not solo scriptura. The Lutheran-based Evangelical Free Church I attend is not solo scriptura. I’ve also attended a large Evangelical-ish Presbyterian church in Philadelphia that was not solo scriptura. I have friends and family members who go to Assemblies of God and Baptist churches and those churches are not solo scriptura.

This brings back my experiences of some 20 years ago in a dormitory room post bible study discussion where I was the only Catholic. First I insisted that Catholicism was not in any conflict with being biblical. Then later I said, you’re Presbyterian and evangelical and your Evangelical Free then I don’t see why I can’t be Catholic and evangelical. It shut them up and had them wondering how nuts I might be. We all stayed friends for many years. A few later came to understand Catholicism much more and apologized for their constant attempt to convert me. One time maybe 5 years after graduation, I had a frantic call that one of their relatives was becoming Catholic and needed assurance that that they were not falling away from Christianity. Taken aback, I just said they would be fine and still very much Christian, but after hanging up I was very upset that they still had such a doubt.

It depends, but basically it’s the same thing as “Calvinist.” The “Reformed” were originally basically those Protestants who did not entirely agree with Luther (especially on the Real Presence). They are also known as “Calvinists” because Calvin was the first major systematic theologian of their tradition–he pulled together ideas from earlier Reformers, including Luther.

The Reformed tradition, like other Protestant traditions, spans a spectrum from liberal to conservative. The “mainline” Reformed denominations in America are the Reformed Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and the United Church of Christ. The first of these is the American counterpart of the Dutch Reformed Church; the second corresponds to the Protestant state church of Scotland and its English, Welsh, and Irish “dissenting” counterparts; and the third is a merger of several different groups, mainly the German Reformed and the Congregationalists (the latter being English dissenters with a more radical ecclesiology than the Presbyterians, who came to America early on and functioned as the “Puritan” state church of New England during the colonial era). The UCC is by far the most liberal of the three, and the RCA the most moderate/conservative.

All three major branches of the Reformed tradition in the U.S. (Dutch, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist) have more conservative representatives, though not very many in the case of the Congregationalists. The Dutch tradition is represented by the moderately conservative Christian Reformed Church and some more extreme conservative groups such as the Protestant Reformed Church. The conservative Presbyterians are divided into a bewildering variety of denominations (as Scott Hahn pointed out, they are often dubbed the “split P’s”). From most moderate to most conservative these would be:

The Cumberland Presbyterians (descended from very revivalistic Presbyterians in the 19th century who softened their Calvinist beliefs; these are basically a “mainline” denomination, but a fairly conservative one)
The Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (these are the newest Presbyterian denomination, having just split away from the PCUSA over homosexuality)
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (an older splitoff from the PCUSA; they ordain women, unlike the more conservative groups that follow)
The Presbyterian Church in America (this is the biggest conservative Presbyterian denomination, originally splitting off from the Southern Presbyterians just before the latter reunited with the Northern Presbyterians to form the PCUSA; the PCA spans a spectrum from extremely conservative Calvinists who don’t use musical instruments and only sing Psalms, to evangelicals who use contemporary worship and play down the distinctively Calvinist elements of their theology)
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (this is the original conservative splitoff, originating in the North in the early 20th century)
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (descending from Scottish dissenters who rejected the compromises made by the state Presbyterian Church)
The Bible Presbyterian Church (fundamentalists with Calvinist soteriology)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (only sing psalms)

There are also several denominations of Baptists which are explicitly Calvinist, and many members of other Baptist groups who hold Calvinist beliefs (particularly among the Southern Baptists). There are many Anglicans who also hold Calvinist beliefs (our 39 Articles are basically Reformed, though the majority of Anglicans don’t consider themselves Calvinists today), and a couple of small conservative Anglican denominations (such as the Reformed Episcopal Church) which are explicitly Reformed. And finally, there are independent churches and small denominations which identify themselves as “Reformed” (in a very conservative sense) without having any historic organizational decent from the Reformed churches of hte Reformation era.

Is it a Calvinist denomination or one the Evangelican or Fundamentalist groups.

These terms aren’t mutually exclusive. Some folks of Reformed origin are very liberal, though more conservative Calvinists would argue that these folks aren’t really Reformed, or even perhaps Christian. Other Reformed Christians would identify themselves with evangelicalism and/or with fundamentalism, while other conservative Calvinists insist that they are quite different due to their emphasis on doctrine, church order, and in some cases also the sacraments and the liturgy. Also, classic Reformed soteriology is different from standard American evangelical soteriology in that it emphasizes God’s sovereignty rather than human choice. The First Great Awakening–from which modern evangelicalism stems–was largely Calvinist (the Wesley brothers being the main exception). The Second Great Awakening, which did a lot to shape American evangelicalism, generally moved away from Calvinism although many Calvinists participated in it. (Many Reformed blame Charles Finney for this shift in evangelicalism at the time of the Second Great Awakening–Finney was a Presbyterian originally, but he believed in human free will in a sense that did not agree with traditional Calvinist theology, or even with traditional Wesleyan theology.)

She mentioned that her whole family are Reformed and her husband and family are not happy about her decision. She must hide her books on the Church Fathers etc.

Conservative Calvinists do tend to be very anti-Catholic, but to give them their dues they typically have sounder theological reasons for this than other Protestants. By this I mean that they can articulate exactly where they disagree with “Rome” theologically, whereas other Protestants often attack Catholicism based on prejudice and stereotypes. (Calvinists do this too, unfortunately, but they depend on it less.) Fulton Sheen’s famous statement that most people who think they oppose Catholicism only oppose what they think Catholicism is applies to many Protestants, but not generally to conservative Calvinists.

On the sola/solo scriptura issue, it depends what you mean. The term “solo scriptura” was coined fairly recently by a conservative Reformed theologian, Keith Mathison (drawing on the work of another Reformed scholar of a more “mainline” sort, Heiko Oberman). As Mathison uses the term, “solo scriptura” is not a Reformed position–it holds that you can just pick up the Bible as an individual and get your theology from it without consulting scholars or working within a church community. However, WeSeeLight is referring to a traditional Reformed view called the “regulative principle,” which means that you use Scripture to determine what may be done in worship (and also in church government), trying to derive your principles from Scripture rather than simply accepting traditional practices that don’t seem to contradict Scripture. This isn’t really solo scriptura in Mathison’s sense, because the Puritans who did this actually depended on all kinds of complex theological arguments to work out just what the implications of Scripture were for worship, church government, politics, etc. The conservative Reformed position believes that Scripture is a guide to all of life, but not that individuals should just run around reading the Bible on their own and applying it in a naive, literal way.


Just a couple of points, which I’m making only because I see this claim a lot. I sincerely am not trying to nitpick or pick on you.

  1. *“Solo” scriptura *doesn’t technically mean anything at all, and you certainly won’t hear any Protestant using that precise phrase to express their beliefs. Individuals like Keith Mathison have used the phrase as a part of their specific presentations, and others have followed him in his approach. However, the phrase is grammatically incorrect, and comes across as ignorance if it is not explained first that it is intentionally grammatically incorrect. The concept makes sense within a book-length presentation like the one I linked to, but it shouldn’t be tossed out there as if it’s in standard usage. To use another example from that book, if you went up to the average Reformed person and asked what are your views of Tradition I?, chances are better than average that they wouldn’t have a clue as to what you’re on about.

  2. Sola Scriptura does not mean by Scriptura alone. That would be per solam Scripturam. Again, this claim is just something that needs to be refuted because of how commonly it’s made. However, Reformed folks tend to be on rather the intellectual side of things, and if they hear you making claims like this, they might very well write you off as someone who has not taken the time to study the issues.* If you can’t understand the nuances of the Latin phrase itself*, they may argue, how will you understand the much more complex arguments behind the concept? (Indeed, a lot of their argumentation hinges on the meaning of Greek words like theopneustos, artios, and exartizo.) Just be careful when making claims.

If a congregation or person refers to themselves as “Reformed” it can mean many things because people tend to be imprecise with their language and use of terms. I have spent a lot of time studying this subject, and I can share a bit of what I have learned.

  1. Strictly speaking, a Christian is considered Reformed if they hold to the teachings of the Protestant Reformation. This is a body of theology grounded in the scriptures, the teachings of the apostles, the teachings of the church fathers. A true Reformed Christian would embrace the study of books by the church fathers. In fact, that which is called “Calvinism” is really “Augistinianism.” Calvin wrote theology that was consistent in most cases with Augustine.

  2. Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism have a history related to the rise of Liberalism in the late 19th century. As Liberalism began to hold sway in Protestant circles, Fundamentalism grew out of a reaction to it. At first, the movement was a beneficial call to return to the teaching of the reformers. In the early 20th century, however, Fundamentalism changed such that it started making exclusivity claims and calling for breaking of fellowship with those who did not tow the doctrinal line on certain issues that had never been part of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”). As they began to focus more and more on attacking evolutionists and insisting on a particular interpretation of the end times (“premillenialism”), some Fundamentalists backed away from the movement. In search of a way to refer to themselves, the term “Evangelical” was chosen.

It is difficult, then, without deep investigation, what a label means to a particular body of believers. If the group that eschews the reading of the church fathers calls themselves “Reformed” I would guess that they don’t really understand what the term means.

Probably what scares the woman’s family the most is that she is investigating religions that have a view of God’s revelation that is in opposition to theirs. A fundamental tenet of the Reformation was sola scriptura, which means “only scripture”. This does not mean that tradition is bad or not allowed. Sola scriptura means that the teaching of the apostles as captured in the Bible is the only source of infallible revelation. All traditions and teachings must be evaluated in light of the scriptures. The Catholic church, on the other hand, teaches sola ecclesia, or “only church”. Sola ecclesia means that all traditions and teachings, including the interpretation of the scriptures, are evaluated in light of the teachings and pronouncements of the church. These two solas present radically different interpretations of God’s revelation. The implications of choosing one side or the other are enormous.

Certainly, Catholics can be “evangelical”, but there are certain ideas inherent within Protestant evangelicalism that are not compatible with Catholic theology. So, it can get confusing when we all use the same terms but imbue those terms with different meanings. For example, “a high regard for biblical authority” for Protestant evangelicals usually means something akin to the primacy of Scripture over Tradition. Likewise, the conversion experience is usually the moment most Protestant evangelicals define as becoming a Christian, which to my understanding contradicts Catholic beliefs about baptism.

This once the target convert prays Jesus into his heart and his conversion is complete nonsense is one of the worst concepts that often times springs from this Evangelical theology and replacement of Baptism.

Catholics understand much better that we need mercy, forgiveness, growth in the spirit and our faith life, and continuous conversion. This engenders a long time commitment to the beginnings of a convert to the faith rather than a pray and “we got you” mentality. Also, Catholics and the Mass exhibit much more humility in our working out of our growth and overcoming our "most grievous fault"s.

Untrue. Sola Scriptura can be ablative/instrumental.


Understanding “that we need mercy, forgiveness, growth in the spirit and our faith life, and continuous conversion” is not an exclusively Catholic trait. There are many evangelicals who realize that too. And I would humbly and most respectfully add that there are some Catholics who do not understand the need for “continuous conversion” either.

Yes—That’s pretty standard Evangelical teaching. I would say not only many, but most, Evangelicals understand that.

It not been my experience over many years from many different churches, but I understand they have realized this and have been making adjustments to their teaching to counteract this over the last 12 to 15 years.

You make evangelicals sound monolithic. They are not. You may have been to a lot of evangelical churches in your life, I’m sure they all have been different to one degree or another. From my experience, we’ve always taught the need for continual forgiveness, mercy, and grace in one’s life. It’s not a new fad. It’s been preached on and written on forever.

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