Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda Secundum Verbum Dei -The Abuse!

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Do you know the history of Semper Reformanda? Do you know what it really means?

The truth is the Reformers never actually used the phrase. The phrase was actually started in the Second Dutch Reformation and was used in 1674 by Jodocus van Lodenstein. According to these theologians, the Reformation reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation. So it did not really have to do with doctrine and Orthodoxy but with Orthopraxy, with how we live our lives as well as our practices of God’s people. Lodenstein and other Second Dutch Reformation theologians were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism; they did not believe that they were in error, they simply wanted to see that teaching become more thoroughly applied as well as understood. It is also true that that the Second Dutch Reformation theologians saw that further Reformation was needed that was not touched or barely touched in the First Reformation. Those things had to do with the Civil Magistracy and it’s proper roles to guard not only the Second Table of the Law but also the First Table of the Law, Preceptive Civil Magistrates, How to properly deal with Tyrants as well as matters of the Church Calendar such as Christmas, Easter, etc.

The phrase “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” The verb is passive: the church is not “always reforming,” but is “always being reformed” by the Spirit of God through the Word. Also it is done corporately and not individually. The phrase was never intended to become a license for corrupting the Reformed faith.

The Confessions, Creeds, Testimonies confess the faith that we all share across a multitude of cultures and eras. It is one Faith, One Baptism, One Church, One Spirit. “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The Reformed standards summarize what Reformed Christians believe to be the clear teaching of God’s Word. They are systematic summaries of what we believe the Scriptures teaches. They are the work and fruits of the Spirit of God upon the Church.

The Reformed Faith wanted to reform everything to the Word of God. Not by novelty, creativity or by any human whim are we to determine for our doctrine, worship or lives.

‘Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda Secundum Verbum Dei’ is often abused by liberal churches but it can also be abused by conservative churches who want to encourage a broader definition of the Reformed Faith. It is usually invoked as a way of expressing dissatisfaction with Reformed theology as received and expressed in the Reformed confessions and the Historic Reformed Faith.

One thing that is extremely important though is that confessional Reformed churches must also beware of not forgetting that our doctrinal standards are subordinate authorities but still authorities.

As I stated earlier, They are the fruits of that great work of the Spirit as it continues to guide us through our confessions and catechisms corporately as the Church.

Should we change our doctrine if found in error? Sure but it should be done through the Courts of the Lord as He has given to us through Presbyteries and Synods. But as Dr. R. Scott Clark has said, “we should not, under cover of this late-seventeenth-century slogan, subvert what Scripture teaches for a continuing, never-ending Reformation that leads us away from the heart and soul of what we confess.Ÿ”

So the next time someone falsely uses Semper Reformanda, I will say Balderdash! And PoppyCock!

**Quoting R. Scott Clark is no endorsement of him for all things, just on this issue.

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