Remember that the term “Reformed” is a humble label. It makes no sense to only say “I am a Christian” or “I believe the Bible” since Mormons and JW’s say the same thing. To use historical labels is a humble way to say “I am not the first person to believe all the things I believe” and “I understand that in God’s providence He has used other believers in history to fight battles that I get to benefit from.”
So when I use that label, what do I mean by it? I mean at least four things. First, I am a Protestant. The word “Reformed” comes down to us mainly from the word “Reformation.” In the 1500’s there were many Christians who looked to reform the Catholic Church. They protested many long-held Catholic teachings. Hence, the Protestant Reformation began.
And let the Bible settle it for you, but I believe all the things the Reformers fought for were correct. And by God’s grace, the true Church was rediscovered during those years, and has been reforming for the good ever since.
Some of the main issues that were battled over during that time: the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of justification (and necessarily related, sanctification), and the authority of the Pope (and necessarily related, the nature of the Church and the Sacraments). Hardly irrelevant issues, to say the least.
And though Protestantism has gone in many different trajectories since then (and I mean many), the one thing that the Fathers of Protestantism agreed on– men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli–they agreed that justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And it is all for God’s glory alone. And any debate over any doctrine must be settled, finally, by Scripture alone.
It is probably the “faith alone” and “Scripture alone” parts that help distinguish us from other Christian traditions more than anything else. “Faith alone” means not a single good work (or bad work) has any bearing on your righteous standing before God– it is the work of Christ alone. “Scripture alone” means that every other authority– Pope, pastor, tradition, conscience, common sense, secular psychology– every other authority must submit to, and cannot contradict anything in, Holy Scripture.
These issues separate us from more than just Catholics, but make no mistake: Protestants and Catholics are not together on the doctrine of justification, among other things. And if I am understanding justification correctly (Galatians 2.16), then the differences are of an eternal nature. So we must not pretend the differences are small. At times, we must be willing to be hated even by our Catholic friends. To be Reformed, first of all, means we are unashamedly Protestant. Lord willing, more to come.