There is a “Reformed faith” insofar as that shorthand expression refers to a particular theology, piety, and practice. Insofar as, however, that theology, piety, and practice is catholic (universal) it is not particular to the Reformed churches. So the question is really how to signal the one, i.e., that which unites us with the church in all times and places, and the many….
NB: The post below contains some friendly intramural discussion between colleagues. It’s what scholars do. It’s how we make progress in understanding, by tossing things back and forth and gaining clarity along the way. This sort of thing troubles some people so let me explain briefly. Several years ago my dear friend and colleague Mike Horton published a series of academic volumes (see below) that were experimental in nature. He was saying, in effect, “here’s what I’m thinking, what do you think?” They were an invitation to dialogue. So far I’ve read two of the four but as I teach history and not theology my attention is usually focused on older (dead) writers. A few of my students have asked me about this question and when I saw it on a sister blog (see below) I did a little digging and offered a comment and then thought I should do some more digging and expand that comment into a post to offer context.
I shared this post with Mike and we are quite agreed. He is looking for a way to signal the catholicity of the Reformed faith, that what we believe is the Christian faith. At the same time we want to signal that the Reformed doctrine and practice (the Reformed confession) is the most faithful expression of Christianity. Amen and amen! Thus, this is not a matter of theology (doctrine) or practice or piety. This is a question of rhetoric, i.e., how we should speak about a certain question.
My dear friend and colleague Mike Horton, from whom I have learned more than I can say in a brief blog post—he was the first one to explain clearly in my hearing, in 1998, what it means to distinguish law and gospel in preaching—has argued in his award-winning volume, People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology that we should not use the expression, “the Reformed faith.” He writes,
In my view, it is inappropriate for us to refer to our [Reformed/Presbyterian] confession as the Reformed Faith. The Reformed churches did not (and do not) believe that they were confessing the Reformed Faith, but that they were confessing the ‘undoubted Christian Faith’ in their confessions and catechisms (p. 123).
…we strive toward a catholic hearing of God’s Word. From this perspective we should not speak of a Reformed faith or an Orthodox theology or a Lutheran confession, but of a Christian faith, theology, and confession, from a Reformed, Orthodox, or Lutheran perspective (p. 210).
My friend and colleague at The Reformed Reader, Shane Lems, posted these quotations to explain why he doesn’t use the expression “the Reformed faith.” Here’s my reply (corrected and expanded). Shane and I have also been discussing this question cordially.
Brothers, I want to dissent a bit. I don’t disagree with the point Mike is making and we should probably say “Reformed tradition” or “Reformed confession” (hey, someone should write a book on that!) more than we do but when I say “Reformed faith” it’s just a shorthand way of saying “Reformed tradition” or “Reformed confession.” In other words, I don’t think it’s as inherently sectarian as or misleading as is being suggested.
First, the history: The expression “Reformed faith” goes back at least as far as the late 17th century.