I am often asked if the name “Reformed” is a good designation for one’s own theological position in the present era. I believe that it is but I am well aware that there are a myriad of ways this term is used and many of these uses I find unacceptable. This is true of all such historical labels. When I read how some people refer to me and my views on social and theological issues I often wonder how they possibly could have chosen a particular label for me? One blogger, for instance, recently referred to me as a proponent of what is called the Federal Vision. (He meant this in a terribly negative way!) Now I think I know what the Federal Vision is, and while I have a certain sympathy for some of what I hear proponents of the vision saying, I would not consider myself an advocate of something that I have never once written about or ever embraced in print.
So of what value is the label Reformed?
Sam Logan, the president of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF) and a great personal friend, asked several members of WRF to respond to the question of what value the name Reformed had in our organizational name? I wrote the following:
I have pondered this question for almost my entire adult life of more than forty years. Like all terms I have looked for meaningful alternatives and modifiers. In the end, I prefer to say that I am a catholic first and then Reformed. The reason should be obvious. This is what the Reformers themselves confessed. Evangelical has a useful role but the 21st century calls it into question more than ever.
Reformed does refer to a historical moment, in the 16th century, in Western Europe. And, of course, it refers to important doctrines recovered/found there. But it doesn't stay there. In time it spreads globally. Though there are Reformed voices that deny classical Christian truths, thus truly catholic truths, in the end I prefer the term without the modifiers. Thus I refer to myself as a catholic and Reformed Christian. By this, I mean that I am rooted in ancient faith, impacted deeply in how I have been formed by the Reformed side of the Protestant Reformation movement. I live in the 21st century but I remain rooted in these historical times confessionally. At the same time this does not lock me into a "single way" of living and confessing the faith. [This is why I am not opposed to new confessions and thus to the addition of one like “The Confession of Belhar,” which was added by the RCA this year to our confessional statements.] One can be Reformed and be in many denominations, as we all know. I think the word Reformed refers to a way of thinking about the centrality and sovereignty of God while it never forgets that there is much more to the faith than this great affirmation that must be preserved for the health of all Christianity. (When Calvinism becomes preoccupied with five-points, so-called, it very quickly loses its soul and becomes a sectarian movement with a small agenda, namely challenging other Christians continually about their view of how salvation is accomplished!) We Reformed Christians contribute to the whole catholic church a way of life, an emphasis, a world and life paradigm. This is very good so long as we do not think we represent the whole church in some sectarian (unique) way.
Indeed, after decades in a non-Reformed denomination I became an ordained minister in the Reformed Church (RCA) precisely because I saw real value in self-identifying as a Reformed minister and in being under the discipline of my church.