Pastor Briefing: Semper Reformanda
With Reformation Sunday coming at the end of the month, I thought it timely to discuss a valuable principle from church history. This insight was expressed by the motto, ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming). This adage urges us not to rest on our Reformed laurels, nor to conclude that the project of reforming the church was completed in the 16th century.
Every succeeding generation must grapple with applying the Word of God and the doctrines recovered at the time of the Reformation in their own time and culture.
The phrase itself appeared for the first time in a devotional book written in 1674 by Dutch pastor, Jodocus van Lodenstein. Although it came more than a century after Luther and Calvin, the saying captures the spirit that propelled the Reformation forward.
When Lodenstein coined this phrase, the worship, government, and doctrines of the surrounding churches were largely Calvinistic. Previously, ministers and lay-people courageously stood and suffered for the sake of the gospel and God was pleased to bless their faithfulness with a strong, vital Reformed church in what was to become the Netherlands. Indeed, a plurality of the population joined local Reformed churches.
The succeeding generation continued to be well taught by faithful pastors and parents. The churches were well-regulated. Their worship, government, and doctrines were consistent with the Heidelberg and Belgic Confessions. And yet, Pastor Lodenstein became deeply concerned about the spiritual well-being of the churches.
The danger Lodenstein identified was the problem of formalism. The church people of his day knew the right answers concerning the Bible and theology, but these powerful truths were failing to penetrate their hearts. The church was challenged with the problem of individuals just going through the motions. There was spiritual lethargy, lovelessness, and a lack of vital faith in the hearts of many. The churches were in need of a new reformation or at least a fresh application of gospel truths.
There is a sense in which every generation of Christians needs to wrestle anew with the glorious teachings handed down from the past. We need to be convinced that the doctrines of grace are rooted in and flow directly from the Scriptures so that the church is being authentically reformed by the Word of God. Today, we have to take time to think in fresh terms of what the gospel means in a digital age in which most of us are wired and tired.
Christianity should always be first-generation new. And if it isn’t, it often leads to a dry, dead, orthodoxy—and in turn to dry, dead Christians.
Two questions we are prompted to ask are these:
What are the unique challenges that we are confronted with in our time?
Where do our churches and our own lives need to experience a fresh reformation?
May we recover the truths that filled the reformers with indomitable strength and courage. May we take to heart the need to be the church reformed, always reforming.