Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
What is Reformed Theology?
by Tony Warren
Reformed: ri-farmed', from Old French, reformer; or Latin reformare, from re- ‘back’ + formare ‘to re-form, shape.’ a, to be corrected by removal of faults, abuses, etc.; to reinstate something; to repair to a good or proper state; having turned from unlawful ways to obey the law--as a reformed criminal; to restore good to a bad state; to reestablish good; a rearrangement which brings about a better order of things; (cap) restoring biblical precepts, as pertaining to Protestant Churches, esp. those retaining the principles of belief in the total sovereignty of God, predestination, supreme authority of scripture over men, and the doctrines of Grace alone, through faith.
he terms Reformed or Reformation (as used in Christianity) are historical terms that have their roots in the early 1500's. They comes from a period of time when the church underwent a return to the faithful doctrines that had become corrupt under a system of authorities of men, orders, unethical regulations, ostentatious ceremonies, and unbiblical traditions produced by ecumenical councils. The aim of the reformation brethren was to bring the doctrines of the church back into agreement (thus the word, Reformed) with the truths written in the laws of the Holy Bible. God's word is the anchor and foundation of any true church, and so man's subjection to it was deemed essential to Godly service. These faithful men of old were convinced that true and proper worship of God required a strong rejection of every doctrine that would conflict with, or be contradictory to God's own divinely inspired word. However, the Roman church rejected this basic principle of supreme scriptural authority and its leaders held steadfastly to rule of church hierarchy and traditions of men over both the scriptures, and the church. Noted Theologian Martin Luther, who understood this great error of usurping authority from God, took the stand that is often looked upon as the watershed of the Reformation. For all intents and purposes, he started the historical Reformation movement in 1517 when he nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the Roman Church in Wittenberg.
What has become known as Reformed Theology was not some new or diverse teaching of the Scriptures, it stands in the original tradition of the Christian church of searching the Scriptures to establish divinely inspired truth (Acts 17:11-12). The only way to establish truth is from God and not man is to try the Spirits (1st John 4:1) by the word of God itself. However, the Roman Catholic Church held that its leaders were appointed to define scripture. In response, the faithful Christians of the day stood in 'protest' of this (thus, they were called Protestants) and exhorted all who would listen that it must be God's word alone (Sola Scriptura) that is to be held above even the rulers in the church. This ultimate authority the understood was clearly the most basic and fundamental rule governing Christian trust. The truth being, God indeed was above all, and so His divinely inspired word necessarily "likewise" must reign supreme over every other word. Be it of Priest or Pope. When Martin Luther came before the royal diet in the city of Worms on April 18, 1521, he spoke quite clearly and boldly of the necessity for the reformation of the church and its acceptance that the Holy Canon be supreme over all men. He stated:
"Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the pope nor the councils alone, it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I cannot and will not recant any thing against the conscience."
For Martin Luther, the truth was as simple as the question, "What constitutes the supreme or ultimate authority over men?" Was it the word of God (scripture) itself, or was it the words and traditions of men or appointed church leaders? It would seem to be a question for which the answer would be easy for the conscientious Christian. Nevertheless, for the Roman Church hierarchy and the indoctrinated laity of the day, this simple question was by necessity was obfuscated and complicated by vain justifications. For when men are determined to hold their rule over God's words and people, they take the obvious and they make it abstruse and ambiguous. Notwithstanding, it was by the Spirit of God that the Reformation faithful discerned that the church was not built upon unstable human traditions nor sanctioned by men in the laity, but upon the solid rock of the holy scriptures sanctified by the Spirit. What authority could possibly be higher than God's very own inerrant word? Therefore, no obfuscating proclamations or words of nullification could obscure this simple truth from God's people. It was His word alone that reigned supreme over all men. A simple question deserves a simple answer, which was that it was God's word alone, understood in light of itself, that was the ultimate and undeniable final authority for the church.
The fact is, Reformation Theology is in many ways (though not all) synonymous with "Biblical Theology." That is to say, most of the doctrines that the Reformed Church held were grounded solidly in the written precepts of God. This was in stark contrast to the many unbiblical doctrines of not only the Roman Church, but many once faithful Protestant Churches today as well.
There are some today who charge that Reformed Theology is graceless and lacks the evangelical spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reformed Theology is at its core, unwavering in the teachings of the doctrines of Grace alone. It is nonetheless 'evangelical' Christianity, holding to the superiority of missions in the preaching of the gospel message of salvation over church rituals, penance, or ostentatious ceremony. It gives no provision for doctrines of human merit, nor any works of atonement by man that would make God his debtor (Romans 4:4). This because to those who deserve anything for his labor, the wages are not counted as favor (grace), but as debt (that owed). Reformed Theology is built upon the premise of God's favor that we do not merit. And als basic to this true Biblical faith and inextricably linked is the Reformed doctrine of inerrancy of the word of God that makes it the ultimate authority, rather than of leaders over the church. It is self evident that following God, by necessity entails following His word, rather than the words of men (Romans 3:4). Reformed theology is anchored in the faith that sinners are saved from death and given the gift of eternal life through belief in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And "finished" means that nothing else is required for man to receive it. His life, death, and resurrection was sufficient to secure the salvation of all His people. No works of men can contribute to their salvation in any way. Our good works are simply the evidence of God's working within us (Philippians 2:13), rather than the reason for our salvation. These testimonies to what the Holy Scriptures declared were in direct opposition to the doctrines that the Roman Catholic Church espoused. Thus began the division or schism from the church of Rome by those who insisted upon faithfulness to God, rather than to men. This restoration of the precepts of God soon spread throughout Europe and spawned all of what is today's Protestant denominations. It was a return to abiding by the laws of God and the faithfulness of the Apostles of the church. This movement is now simply known as, "The Reformation!" It was led by men like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and others faithful to Scripture who had protested the abandonment of the lawful authority of God's word, and the errors that the Roman Church had fallen into. They effectively began what is today commonly called, Protestantism. Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Machen, and nearly all the great Christians that followed, all carried the banner of Reformation Christianity in their allegiance to "Biblical Theology."
When people ask "What is Reformed Theology," the answer is that it is the Biblical theology that teaches that the salvation of man is by God alone, to the glory of God. The Reformation cry was that the Saviour of man was Christ Alone (known by the Latin term Solo Christo), saved by God's Grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide), to the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria), and that Christianity must have as its ultimate authority, God's word alone (Sola Scriptura). This is the only way that man can avoid being deceived by unrighteous rulers, pastors, leaders, or self-serving teachers within the church.
1st John 4:1
Dedicated Reformed Christians are committed to serving Christ by making their calling and election sure through faithfully trying (testing) the spirits of the teachers in the church. In other words, they search the scriptures "themselves" to see if the words of men (congregational leaders) are in agreement with what God has "actually declared" in His divinely inspired word. This is just as the more noble Bereans did (Acts 17:11-12) when the Apostle Paul told them things that their teachers and leaders taught against. They searched the scriptures diligently rather than defer to their own understanding, pastors, or congregational dogma. As a result, they were commended of God for being more open minded to receive what the scripture actually declared over what their Jewish leaders had taught them. God praised them as being more noble or honest (Acts 17:11-12) in their searching the scriptures to see if these things they heard were actually true. I.e., they were more noble than the other Jews who simply trusted their congregational leaders for truth, and were thus condemned of God. These Jews of Berea dealt with the scriptures honorably, not according to their leaders words, but according to what was actually written in the text. Thus many of them were saved.
- "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
In New Testament Biblical Theology, there are no more special divinely inspired priestly fraternities, man ordained and endorsed special saints, or church appointed uninspired orders. We take seriously the Scripture teaching that "all" true believers, regardless of rank, are divinely appointed Priests and Saints through Christ, and are thus divinely bidden to full-time Christian service in their various talents or callings. The truth is, saints are not church appointed, they are God appointed. Their work in this life is to evangelize, encourage, strengthen, and better the church, not to artificially prop up man made traditions. For until we reach the ultimate glory, we dwell in a robe of flesh and can never be satisfied with either ourselves or the society in which we must toil "Till He Come." We don't compromise that we may lesson trials or persecution, indeed we expect struggle and conflict in the pursuit of the things that God wants us to do (John 7:7, John 16:33, 2nd Timothy 3:12). Yet we are also thoroughly convinced that there is ultimate success of the church both now, and throughout time as God sees fit to give it. Not in man's humanistic definition of success, but as God's defines church success. The Kingdom of God on earth is accomplished through evangelizing the elect, and our faithful adherence to our task of spreading God's word. The great commission that Christ gave to the church was to go into all the world and preach the gospel truth to every creature, baptizing and teaching those who believe. It was not a passive suggestion, but an absolute command that has all but been abrogated in many church groups today. Traditional Reformed Theology has the tradition of taking all these precepts to heart in remaining faithful to both evangelism as well as the doctrine of election.
The Fundamentals of What is Reformed Theology
In our day there are many churches that call themselves Reformed, but are Reformed Churches in name only. It is self-evident that any church can slap the title "Reformed" over its entrance, but the basic teachings of the doctrines of grace in God-centered, historical, Biblical Christianity must remain constant. We do not change with the shifting winds of time, nor with the social, political or moral climates of our culture. We forever stand as strong as the solid rock of scripture upon which the church is built. The following are some general guidelines of the doctrines of true Historical Reformed, Biblical Christianity.
- We accept without question that the 66 books of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, are the divinely inspired Words of God to man (Psalm 119:160).
- We believe that the Bible (in its original manuscript) is infallible, and thus must be the supreme authority for the Christian church today (2nd Timothy 3:16).
- We believe in one God, revealed in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This God is sovereign creator and ruler of the universe (1st john 5:7; Isaiah 48:16), and upholds all by His power.
- We believe in the personage of the spirit of Satan, and his present rule over unregenerate man (Luke 22:3; Gal. 4:3).
- We believe in the fall and lost estate of man, which places him under the curse of sin. He is a slave (in bondage) so that he cannot please God with his good works, unless he is regenerated unto righteousness by the Spirit of God (Jeremiah 17:9-10; Romans 3:10-18).
- We believe in the necessity of regeneration, or being born from above, a new creation in Christ Jesus. Every person who is justified before God, must be born from above (John 3:7).
- We believe in God's irresistible grace, that all whom God has chosen unto salvation, and all for whom Jesus Christ died, will be drawn of God, by absolutely no merit of their own, that they are saved through the faith (John 6:44; Ephesians. 2:8) of Christ.
- We believe that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour (Acts 4:12), the God-Man who was crucified in our stead, that we might have forgiveness of our sins through that purging. It is in our wearing His robe of Righteousness, that we are accounted worthy to stand righteous (1st Peter 2:24) before God.
- We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, His miraculous virgin birth, and His fulfilling the prophesy of the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:34-35; John 1:14; Isaiah 53;) to be Saviour of man.
- We believe in the Sovereign right of God, in which:"..He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'what have you done?' " -Dan. 4:35We believe that God, before the worlds were made, has Chosen us in Christ, that we should be Holy and without blame. As Scripture makes clear, "He will have mercy on whosoever He will have mercy, and whomever He will, He hardeneth." (Romans 9:18).
- We believe in His realized redemptive death, and we understand the faithful truth that Christ did not die in vain for any man, thus He couldn't have died for every man, or indiscriminately for all mankind. The wages of sin is death, and He died for the sins of His People who were known only to God from before creation. They are those who were pre-determined to be saved, for His own purposes. His death was sufficient for His people, that every sin that went to the cross with Him, was atoned for, providing a "real" substantive redemption of man from those sins (Matthew 20:28; John 10:15, 26; 17:9).
- We believe that in Christ's resurrection from the dead, we were raised up with Him in spirit. And as He was raised without sin and without corruption, so we are risen without spot or blemish unto an eternal redemption, that efficacious work being finished. God thus succeeded in saving all those for whom He died (Matthew 1:21), and not one was lost or in vain.
- We believe in Christ's resurrection from the dead, His present exaltation at the right hand of the father, and in due time He will come again and bring all of His saints with him, that His people will reign in life and glory evermore (Luke 24:1-8).
- We all believe in the spiritual, indivisible (not invisible) church, the body of Christ that is bound together in the Holy Spirit. We believe that the "true" indivisible body consists only of those who are born from above, for whom Christ now makes intercession in Heaven. We believe in the visible return of Christ to this world for final judgment (Acts 17:31).
- We believe in eternal security, where all for whom Christ died, washing away 'every' sin, cannot have that sin return wherein they could be lost again.
- We understand that the belief in man's ability to lose his salvation, is not only an unbiblical doctrine, but also an illogical and indefensible one. For it is self-evident that "if" all sins were washed away in Christ's blood, we cannot come into condemnation for any bad works, or lack of works (sin). Else all sins were not atoned for in the first place.
- In this, God is revealed not as an idle bystander, but as an active Spirit in all of nature and of the affairs of men, that He keeps His elect secure, and will not slumber (Psalms 121:3). Those who "truly" receive salvation from God are sealed (secured) by the holy Spirit and preserved in strength of His faith, that they endure to the end (John 10:27-29; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2nd Cor. 1:22). This is not by their own merit, but by the meritorious work of Christ.
What is Reformed Theology and is it really that Important?
"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set. -Proverbs 22:28
Virtually all Protestant Churches once held to most of these "fundamental truths" and were Reformed or what could be termed, Biblical churches. This seems amazing, considering some of the unbiblical doctrines coming from many Protestant denominations today. It's hard to believe that they started out as "generally" faithful reformers. But as more and more churches began to remove the ancient landmarks that preserved the boundaries of our inheritance (Job 24:2; Hosea 5:10), more and more of the church strayed from the fruitful path to liberal theologies, drifting farther away from these basic truths of scripture. In doing so, they have effectively separated [apostasia] themselves from the evangelical faith and scriptural authority that once characterized the historical Protestant Church. Doctrines that were once axiomatic to the church are today looked upon as archaic and even as socially unacceptable. We are living in a day in which practically every church denomination is being attacked from within by the spirit of disobedience. And almost invariably the line of descent can be traced from Reformed Theology, to the many forms of Arminianism or the exaltation of man inherent in "Free Will" doctrines. Teachings that basically allege that we decide, not God. This theft of God's sovereignty by the modern church is fed by the willfulness and obstinate pride of man. Christians are routinely taught that God is an idle bystander, and that they must do the 'work' in coming to Him. Lost in these unsound theories is the knowledge that such beliefs are dishonoring to God. For they inherently suppose that our Lord is having a difficult time in His struggle to redeem man. The supposition is that God is doing His best to try and persuade us to be Christians, but without our help, He is unable to accomplish what has been His eternal and sovereign purpose from the very beginning. But what God are they conjuring up that is so impotent or so dependent upon the will of man to accomplish His purpose? In fact, the idea of His helplessness couldn't be further from the truth. God is not an idle observer of the free "will of man," and He is not some impotent God who is behind the scenes wringing His hands in futility over the stubborn unrighteousness of mankind.
Salvation is not of what man (by his free will) wants. Salvation is God's sovereign right to have mercy on whosoever He chooses, and to harden whosoever He will. As is so clearly stated, it's not by the free will of man, but by the sovereign will of God. He is a self-determining God who shall have "His" will to be done, rather than ours. In this regard, He has sent His Spirit to work within us in order to get His will done (Philippians 2:13, Ephesians 1:11) on earth, as it is decreed in heaven. When He has mercy on someone, it is according to His will, not man's (alleged) free will (Romans 9:15-16).
- "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
- So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."
The history of decline in the Church shows that these foundations have deteriorated and the people have strayed from these historic truths unto worldly, social and humanistic doctrines that cloud their true calling and mission. The Christ centered principles of the Reformation, and indeed of the Apostles, are imperative for a healthy and God glorifying church. Sadly, these doctrines of God's sovereign grace have fallen and are being abandoned. In today's politically correct society, keeping God's word faithfully is both unfashionable and unpalatable in many circles. So the term 'Reformed' is now generally only applied to those churches that faithfully follow the Biblical doctrines of Predestination (sovereignty of God), irresistible grace, and salvation by faith alone. These doctrines are sometimes (errantly) called Calvinism, but are nothing more (or less) than the timeless doctrines of Christ. For we don't follow Calvin, we are faithful followers of Christ. We don't follow Calvin's words or doctrines, we follow the Word of God alone, and we can quote it word for word. It is our belief that there should be no confusion between Christ's name (Christian) which we bear, and Calvin's doctrines. They aren't his, and should thus not bear his name. Selah!
These "Doctrines of Grace" distinguish Reformed Churches from other modern day Protestant congregations. These doctrines are orthodox, meaning they are not anything new. Conservative orthodox doctrines have fallen out of vogue with today's worldly denominations. Nevertheless, we believe in conservative doctrines as they relate to scripture and Christianity. This is not to be confused with conservative politics, as many professed Christians sometimes do. A quick check in your dictionary on that word will assure that you understand it accurately.
CONSERVATIVE: kon-ser'va-tive, a. from the late Latin. conservare-conservat-conservativus. the tending to conserve, save, keep, protect, preserve or safeguard; inclined to faithfully preserve existing doctrines, institutions, cultures or things; being opposed to radical or arbitrary change; One who maintains or sustains standards; believing in the value of established or traditional practices in politics, religion or society; A advocate of caution or non-modification; One who conserves or has an adversion to changes or new ideas; one who prevents degradation; A preservative; --con-serv-a-tive-ly, adv, -- con-serv-a-tive-ness, n.
Conservatism is exactly what the true church is tasked to do--preserve existing doctrines faithfully. That's what the Reformers were seeking to do in turning away from the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church. The "fact" is, all true Christians have a Spirit led tendency to preserve the Word of God faithfully, and to 'keep' or guard from loss these existing laws and precepts. Our new nature is against rationalizing doctrines away with every new liberal idea or philosophy of a degrading society. The morals of society may change, and some Protestant Church beliefs may change, but Biblical Theology does not change. And true Biblical Christian will 'keep' scripture faithfully, and it is not because they are legalistic, have a works gospel or think they are better than anyone else. They keep God's word because (as those who are Spirit filled and Spirit led) they have been given an inward aversion to changing or twisting it to suit their own will. Faithfulness is holding tight to God's Word that we endure and won't fall away in time of trial and temptations.
He that truly loves God, keeps His word faithfully. The importance of Biblical Christianity that is so well represented in what is called Reformed Theology, is self-evident. In a nutshell, it's the doctrine of keeping (1st John 2:3-5) the true doctrines of scripture, which were restored to the church during the Reformation period. It's the preservation of God's Word that is of Christ within our hearts.
- "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers."
We conserve it, keep it, hold on to it, guard it from loss. The fact is, being conservative with regards to Biblical doctrines was the norm for centuries, and it still is part of the new nature of 'all' true believers. We will not remove the ancient landmarks.
- "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.">
Keeping God's word is not the reason we are saved, it is one of the evidences that we are saved. In fact, the very Greek word [katecho] that is translated "keep," literally means to "Hold Fast," and by implication to "guard against loss." It is this guarding against loss that separates the "true" Christians from those whom God declares are simply lying to themselves:
- "But that on the Good Ground are they, which in a Honest and good heart, having heard the word Keep it, and bring forth FRUIT with patience."
1st John 2:4-5
God says "hereby" or this is how we know that we are true Christians. In other words, it's a tangible evidence of our true salvation. By keeping, guarding from loss, or holding fast the word of God, we show forth an evidence of being true children of God. It's nothing more than faithfulness where we are preservers or conservatives, that we will retain or not let scripture suffer loss. Our attitude toward God should be to honorably keep His commandments wherein it might control all of our thinking, and be evident in our daily lives. We cannot seek to change scripture so that it agrees with the times, world philosophies, or the political correctness of society. And that's the real difference between most Reformed, Biblical Christianity, and other Christian groups and churches. The earnest desire not to compromise God's Word for convenience, humanism, or because of importunity. God's word doesn't change with time, so neither does its meaning. Predestination, the doctrines of grace and sovereignty of God are timeless and always applicable.
- "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
- But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him."
So, again, "What is Reformed Theology?" In the true sense of "Biblical Theology," it is a doctrine of humility to the exaltation of God. This has been the objective of the true church from the very beginning. Reformation Theology (in its faithful sense) is important because it recognizes God in His Proper position, and consequently, man in his. It Glorifies God, and portrays man 'honestly' exactly the way he actually is, rather than the way he may wish, think or imagine he is. Biblical, Reformed Christianity has most often been illustrated in the acronym TULIP.
(Unsaved man is in bondage, a slave to sin) Luke 4:18; John 8:34; Hebrews 2:15
(The unmerited, totally unconditional Grace and favor of God!) Matthew 10:8, Romans 4:4, 9:15-16, Ephesians 2:8
(Christ died ONLY for the sins of His People, and not one in vain!) Matthew 1:21, Joh 10:26-27, John 17:9
(Whosoever God chooses, and justifies "will" be Saved!) John 6:44, 2nd Timothy 1:9, 2nd Peter 3:9
Perseverance of the Saints:
(Sealed or secured by the Spirit, eternal Salvation is assured!) Ephesians 4:30, Philippians 1:6, 1st Peter 1:5
These truths of scripture have been so compromised that there is a greater than ever need in today's church for a return to the Biblical theology so characterized by the Reformation. The honest preaching of the faithful gospel message, regardless of man's reaction to it, has almost become as rare as moon rocks on earth. Preachers today teach gospels that tickle the ear, or that they believe that many will enjoy hearing. They preach gospels that cause the hearers to feel good about themselves, instead of ones that would cause them to examine themselves. Lost in these modern ideologies is the simplicity God instituted in sound doctrine. The churches seem content to wade in the mire of worldliness and deception, rather than benefit from the unadulterated truth of Holy Canon.
What Reformed Theology is was never someone's new opinion about a needed change in doctrine, rather it was a greatly needed exhortation to "return" to the doctrines that were already in scriptures, and that had been the authority of the church for centuries. We are building on the legacy of the faithful of the historic church that has preceded us. Their studies and conclusions are included in the historic creeds and confessions that we effectively use to help steer us to the truths found in scripture. There is usefulness and effectiveness of these creeds, but we understand 'clearly' that they are subordinate to the Holy Bible. We never place our creeds or confessions above the scriptures, and we recognize they are man-produced documents that may need to be changed if it is shown that the bible teaches otherwise. The Reformed Church believes that the Holy Spirit has led and enlightened the church throughout its history. We believe that there has been mistakes made by those of the church (no man is infallible), but the true indivisible church perseveres. We take seriously the commands to "Love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves." And we believe that the totality of man is to live for the glory of God in every possible way (Ecc. 12:13; 1st Cor. 10:31).
Romans 11:36This Biblical Christianity known as Reformed Theology holds these things dear and will not deviate from that "Christ-centered in all things" ordinance. These are words that we have hidden in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Psalms 119:10-11).
- "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To whom be Glory forever. Amen!"
In conclusion, Reformed Christianity in its biblical sense, is important because it was the faithful and true Christianity of the doctrines of Grace preached by Christ. Not according to men's traditions, but according to the word of God upon which it is built. Faithful Christianity is the true measure of what is called Reformed Theology, not the other way around.
..We humbly pray that the Lord our God, who is Gracious above all, may give us all the wisdom to discern the truth, and the knowledge to understand His most Holy Word.
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Copyright ©1998 Tony Warren
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