A Church Constantly in Need of Reforming

A Church Constantly in Need of Reforming August 15, 2022

In the 16th century, Christianity changed forever.

The Western Church went through a season of seismic change.

Now commonly called “The Reformation,” a series of teachers and churches began to challenge the status quo of the dominant Roman Catholic Church, calling into question many of her established doctrines and practices.

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The result was the birth of “Protestantism,” a “protest” movement (hence the name) that split off from the Catholic Church and began a whole series of new denominations.

My own current tribe, the Anabaptists, were another splinter of this new movement, and can be read about more here.

The Protestants were concerned about numerous things: Catholic theological convictions of the time that were difficult to justify by Scripture; extreme excesses of worldly wealth and power they saw in the Church; and structures and practices in the Church that were long-standing traditions but which couldn’t be found in the Bible, or in the example of Christ and His apostles.

These leaders turned to Scripture, determining that Scripture alone was the ultimate authority on all matters of Christian faith and practice – not people, not institutions, and not traditions.

As they searched the Scriptures, the Protestants helped to recapture many biblical ideas that the Church had drifted from over the centuries, such as salvation by faith and not works, the priesthood of all believers, the supremacy of Scripture, and the power of Christ’s grace at work in us, amongst other things.

These convictions altered the course of Church history forever.

However, many Christians today believe that we settled everything back then – once and for all!

Surely we nailed down all our theology perfectly 500 years ago, got all our structure and practices down, and don’t ever need to re-evaluate anything ever again, right?

Such an idea is, as they say, “bonkers.”

The whole reason the Protestant Reformation happened was because the Reformers rightly felt that, over time, there were areas of faith and practice where the Church had drifted away from Scripture and away from Christ.

The Reformers were calling the Church back to both.

Do we really believe it possible that we couldn’t make the same mistakes today as the medieval Catholic Church back in the day, even if the specific issues are different?

Could we not also possibly have moved away from what we should be believing and doing?

A phrase that arises from time to time in Church history is “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” – Latin for, “the Church reformed, always reforming.”

In other words, the work of reformation in the Church is ongoing.

The concept is the same as what the medieval Reformers thought – the Church (and any church!), over time, can drift away from the words of Scripture and/or the way of Christ.

Surely there is no church or denomination on earth who has “nailed it” perfectly, who doesn’t need to do any more wrestling with the Word, or rethink their beliefs, or take a look at their structure, or re-examine their practices.

Let us not be so arrogant as to think, “We could never mistakes like the 16th-century Catholic Church!”

Of course we could. We are as human as they.

Let us not be so foolish as to think, “The Reformers already did all that wrestling and figured things out, so there’s no more work to do!”

Of course there is. No human has mastered God, Scripture, or the Gospel yet.

We are all capable of missing it, of misunderstanding the Word, of moving away from the teachings and examples of Jesus, of getting complacent in our love for others, of getting caught up in the cultural values surrounding us, etc.

The Church is in constant need of reforming.

The Holy Spirit began this work in the book of Acts, and He continues this work up to this day.

The Church is in constant need of reforming.

The work is never done.

We should always be asking questions.

We should always be digging into Scripture.

We should always be looking to Christ’s example.

We should always be re-examining.

We should always be open to having tough discussions.

We should always trust that truth which really is the truth will still stand as truth after an exploration.

When looking at our doctrinal statements, our church structures, our practices, our methods of execution, etc., we should regularly be asking questions like these:

  • Is this biblical?
  • If so, is this Christ-like?
  • If so, is this consistent with the Gospel?
  • If so, is this faithful to the calling of the Church?
  • If so, is this consistent with the Greatest Commandment to love God and neighbour (Mt 22.37-40)?
  • If so, is this glorifying to God?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then whatever we are examining may well need to be adjusted, reimagined, or even removed and/or replaced.

Such was the tradition of the Reformation, and such is the ongoing job of the Church today. Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.

Seismic shifts like the Reformation don’t need to happen at that same scale if the Church is regularly examining and checking herself, making adjustments, and constantly aligning and realigning herself to the Word of God, both written (Scripture) and embodied (Christ).

When we are humble and open to this, we allow the Holy Spirit to continue His ongoing redemptive, purifying, and healing work in His Church.

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