Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading an ongoing debate between to gentlemen over what amounts to the Reformational understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition (understood as the history of interpretation of the Bible). Both men say they hold to the true Reformational view, and accuse the other of failing to do so.
One of the two participants, a Presbyterian, seems to think he holds the high ground on what it means to be Reformed. His logic seems to be that since he holds to more of Calvin's views, then he is the one who can and should claim to be Reformed. Clearly then this person views being Reformed as an adherence to the letter of the beliefs of the Westminster Catechism (WC). To an extent I can agree with that notion; one cannot hold doctrines antithetical to Reformed beliefs (like Arminian views of predestination) and still consider themselves Reformed.
That said, must one be lock step with the WC to be Reformed? The other participant, a Reformed Baptist, seems to think not. He seems to think that there is an ethos of the Reformation that is more important when it comes to being Reformed. He seems to be of the opinion that there is a philosophy of handling Scripture that is more at the heart of what it means to be Reformed than the particular conclusions that were reached in the past, and are enshrined in the WC.
So there we have the two positions. One person thinks that the conclusions of the Reformation matter more than the process of reformation, and the other thinks the process of reformation more important than the conclusions of the Reformation. Personally I think the process is more important. One of the central tenets of the Reformation is the idea of "semper reformanda," of the church "always reforming." By definition this would seem to indicate that the conclusions of one generation are not the end of what it means to be Reformed.
The Presbyterian seems to argue that we can do exegesis of Scripture if we want, but we must not venture beyond the matrix of the WC, and that to reach conclusions contrary to the WC is to engage in "nuda scriptura" interpreting the text in a vacuum. But the Reformed Baptist argues against this very thing; he asserts that there is of course a context, but that context that must not be ventured away from is not that of the interpretation represented by the WC, but that of the biblical authors. The Reformed Baptist insists that the Word must mean what it always meant. The Presbyterian seems to insist that the Word must mean what the WC says it teaches.
The Presbyterian has, ironically, given in to a very Roman Catholic way of thinking. His arguments are in fact very similar to that of Roman Catholic apologists; both he and RC apologists argue for the primacy of a historical interpretation of the Bible regardless of whether that interpretation is supportable by normal means of interpretation or not. In cases where the Scriptures do not speak with one voice, as is the case in the question of the proper subject of baptism, the Presbyterian, like the RC apologist, asserts the authority of a creed.
In short, the only two differences that I can see between this Presbyterian and the RC apologist are in the temporal locus and content of the authoritative historical interpretation. The two may disagree on what the content of tradition is, and where in history it is to be found, but both agree that tradition defines what Scripture teaches, rather than the reverse.
The Presbyterian calls himself a Reformed Catholic. It seems more appropriate to regard him as a Catholicised Presbyterian. In my view, as soon as he embraced the primacy of historical theology over sound exegesis, he abandoned the right to call himself Reformed.