Church Ceiling

Semper Reformanda. A phrase attributed to the Reformation, generally believed to have arisen in the Twentieth century, and often misused and abused. Rather than being a slogan reminding us that we are always being governed and (re)shaped by a higher authority than ourselves--namely the Word and Spirit of God--it has been turned into a clarion call for novelty, innovation, and the deforming of the church.

In its simplest form, the phrase can be traced back to 1674 to a Dutch pietist, Jodocus van Lodenstein, who lived during what is referred to as the Dutch Second Reformation. This was a time in which Reformed ministers turned their attention not to the external components of the faith, but rather to the internal side of the Christian religion[1]. 

For these ministers, the external components--doctrine, worship, and church government--had been effectively resolved in the Reformation, as leaders like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli pointed the church back to Scripture, and confessional documents were written to summarize its teachings. What was still needed, however, was a reforming of the people's lives by God's Word[2]. Thus, the slogan in its entirety: Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei. The church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God.

Today, however, a case could be made that the original intent of this phrase has been lost. Instead of emphasizing the ongoing necessity of internal reformation according to the Word and Spirit, the slogan is employed as the impetus for enacting external changes on the church's doctrine, worship, and government, driven more by personal agendas and cultural cues than by Scripture and our confessions. 

Often, it is said, this is for the sake of contextualization. But as A. Craig Troxel points out: "Our changing world and times demand keen sensitivity if we are to proclaim the Gospel effectively. But it is quite another thing to believe that Christian doctrine should be revised as it navigates the world's numerous changing social and historical settings.[3]"

Reformed and always reforming, but into what? Have the changes that have taken place been driven by the lordship of Christ and authority of Scripture, or by the spirit of our age and an implicit effort to keep up with our culture? In our efforts to be contemporary, relevant, and inclusive, has Reformed Christianity, and in particular, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) to which I belong, lost what it means to be distinctly Reformed? Have we, as James K.A. Smith writes, "settled for generic evangelicalism or bland Protestant liberalism?[4]" And where do we go from here? 

In the spirit of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I wish to humbly submit four areas in which reform according to the Word of God could be well served:

  1. Renewed Emphasis on the Covenantal Community
  2. The Gracious Use of Church Discipline
  3. An Evangelistic Confessionalism
  4. Tempered Cultural Engagement

As we look to the future, how do we envision ourselves being reformed? How will we answer the question: What does it mean to be Reformed? Over the next four weeks, I will take up these four areas of reform, tracing them through Scripture, applying them to our current circumstances, and imagining the possibilities that could come of them for the glory of God, as well as our good and joy.  

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[1] W. Robert Godfrey, "Semper Reformanda in its Historical Context," Tabletalk (November 2014), accessed online April 25, 2017 at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/semper-reformanda/. 

[2] Ibid.
[3] A. Craig Troxel, "Reformanda," Reformation21 (February 2006), accessed April 25, 2017 at http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/post-32.php.

[4] James K.A. Smith, "Buried Treasures?" Discipleship in the Present Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press, 2013), 19.  

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