Semper Reformanda Beyond Morals?

Following the Protestant Reformation of the 16th-century, we evangelicals have been given an important heritage. Many will be aware of the five of sola’s:

  • Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
  • Sola fide (by faith alone)
  • Sola gratia (by grace alone)
  • Solo Christos (Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone)

These were, no doubt, important foundation stones in the midst of some rather nasty things taking place in the Roman Catholic Church of the west in those days. Martin Luther also championed a very important phrase, semper reformanda, or in longer fashion, Ecclesia semper reformanda est. This Latin is best translated as, ‘the church must always be reforming.’

That’s our heritage as Protestant-evangelicals, and I recognise it as a very healthy and biblical heritage to pass on to us.

But this would be my bone to pick with some evangelicals.

While, in the vein of our Reformation fathers, we might give lip-service to the ever popular phrase of semper reformanda, I think some might only accept this bedrock of an expression in one important area of our lives rather than two.

The one area I believe we easily allow for continuing reformation is with our character. We recognise that sin has ravaged us and we need to be ever-transformed into the image of Christ, to walk as he walked and live as he did by the power of the Spirit.

That’s not so difficult to accept.

But what I believe we are not so willing to recognise is that we must continually be open to God with regards to theological-doctrinal change as well. Not just character, but also in our beliefs.

Now, of course, having said that, I believe the lip-service would remain that we are actually very open to theological change. And we can even point out areas of which we have changed in our Christian walk. I can do the same.

But let us think about our most precious pet-doctrines as of now. How open are we to seeing them change? Yeah, I’m included in this as well.

Part of the problem is that this when we do change theologically, it comes from a rather individualistic approach, i.e., one realising they need to see reformation come into their understanding of salvation. Maybe moving from more of a Calvinistic perspective to an Arminian one. Or vice versa.

And while this is good and does take place, what about a time for more holistic changes? You know, in the vein of a Luther. Luther was not only challenged in his personal beliefs. He challenged the church. Hence, Ecclesia semper reformanda est. or, the church must always be reforming.’

Now, I am aware of the ‘in’ thing in our world today. The popular thing to partake of is that of what Michael Patton recently identified as theological swinging. It’s quite fashionable, in vogue today to embrace a somewhat off-the-wall theological approach and become a champion of it. It’s part and parcel to our 21st century, postmodernist perspective (though I don’t think postmodernism is inherently evil).

So we must guard against joining any old (or new) theological band wagon that pops up just to be different. And I charge myself with this.

Yet, having said that, I am very aware of the sense that Jesus is not so interested in maintaining the status quo. Read the Gospels. He had no time to entertain such. It was time to move forward in the new covenant purposes of God. And it has been time to move forward ever since into the ever-expanding purposes of our God in our world. Oh, we have a sure and strong foundation of which the new covenant writers laid out for us, connecting back to the sure and strong foundation of the old covenant. But, I’m assuming Luther’s statement of long ago still speaks into the present. And I’m assuming even more that the challenge Jesus brought 2000 years ago remains relevant for God’s people today.

Of course, time will tell with a lot of these things. I don’t say that in a kind of laissez-faire type way – whatever happens is whatever happens and it will all kind of pan out theologically one day, so don’t worry about thinking things through. But I am reminded of the early Jesus movement in the first century. Many saw it as a sect within Judaism. Many thought it would die out. But I find these words interesting from an old and wise Jewish man:

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39)

The new perspective on Pauline studies, women in leadership, evolutionary creation, emerging church perspectives and a whole host of other things might fail. They just might be absolutely nothing at all. Or they could be the necessary points given to us by God Himself to stir that ever-reforming call into our theological perspectives.

Hmmm. What if the former were true? What if the latter were true?

We come from Luther and company. We come from a people who recognised that, even after 1500 years, we had not arrived at full theological understanding nor in character. We had some way to come. And since then, though I grieve some of the effects of a continually splintered church, we must recognise that the call of semper reformanda has continued since the Reformation. Great leaders recognised Jesus had called them not to maintain the status quo, but to bring about a transformation to the church worldwide.

It’s not easy to think about. It’s not easy to accept. Some of our pet doctrines will have to die. I personally have had to experience that in a few areas. And I’m sure you have too. And I believe we must remain open, not just as individuals, but as a church in an ever-changing world as we grapple with the faith that was established in the pages of the New Testament, and has been outworked for the past 2000 years and will continue to be until it is time that we marry our Bridegroom.

Semper reformanda today.

3 thoughts on “Semper Reformanda Beyond Morals?

  1. Awesome. I’ve been experiencing this myself quite a bit over the couple years. Some theological positions that I had been taught and held dearly since childhood or young adulthood I have recently been finding have been based more in tradition rather than in scripture. While it’s been a struggle, it has also been freeing, like peeling away scales. When we lay aside traditional views in favor of the true openess of the gospel message, it shows us just how small a box we tend to put God in. His ways our not our ways, and may it ever be so. May we never be so small-minded as to think we have “arrived” in our theological position on ANYTHING save salvation alone.

  2. Without a doubt the early and even early post generation (Beza, to Turretin, etc.) Reformation/Reformers knew and recognized the Church as a Catholic reality. But this has been quite lost in many of the Reformed and Reformational Churches today! To my mind at least, modern Pentecostalism is very problematic here! And as much as I like Gordon Fee for example, he too is problematic here, on church and even soteriology. Again my thoughts at least. 🙂

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