Semper Reformanda

You may have heard the phrase “reformed and always reforming” or perhaps just “always reforming,” the english translation of semper reformanda. This phrase comes from a book by Dutch Reformer Jodocus van Lodenstein, who in his 1674 devotional wrote:

The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.

Note however, that the verb is passive—the church is always being reformed, not always reforming—there’s a big difference. Who is the source of action? The Church or God?

If the Church is reforming we’ll get revisionist policies placed upon us by individually motivated malcontents wanting humanism rather than biblical values. If the Church is being reformed by God and His Word, this is an entirely different thing.

I recently posted another quote from N.T. Wright relating to how we ought to respect but not canonize tradition, and the following is a suitable follow up, reflecting the need to, as Rob Bell says, “repaint the Christian faith” for each generation.

In writing as I have, I have been aware of one great need and one great danger. The need…is for the Biblical Gospel to be rethought creatively by every generation of Christians, not to undercut what we already know (though we too need to be semper reformanda) but to develop and mature our understanding of it. God has yet more light—much more—to break out of his holy word. When we find ourselves in an Identity Problem perhaps the most appropriate thing to do is to pray, and work, for that fresh light: to read the Bible as a new book with new things to say – which will at the same time be to go back to its original meaning, to re-emphasize old truths, basic certainties, but often with delicate nuances and emphases we had missed because we had ignored them, which will challenge us to reform ourselves afresh, as we traditionally insist that every one else should do.

The danger, to which Dr. Packer alludes, is that we should apparently add to the Gospel and so in fact subtract from it.[1]


[1] N.T. Wright, “The Evangelical Anglican Identity: The Connection Between Bible, Gospel & Church” in J.I. Packer & N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity: Yesterday and Today (London: The Latimer Trust, 2008), 116.

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