Reformata, Semper Reformanda.
No, that’s not a new Italian dish that I have cooked up. It is the phrase that means reformed, and always reforming. It is a phrase that I believe should guide all Christians and Christian churches today. And that means that in the unfolding kingdom of God, the status quo, the way things currently are now, is not the end point, but always the starting point for what comes next.
This month is the 495th anniversary of the Reformation. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology, on Oct. 31, 1517, with hammer and nails and 95 reasons why the church should reform, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Castle Church (a Catholic church) in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther’s intention was not to split the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, his intention was to reform the church by doing away with the practice of selling indulgences, paying the church money to have the Pope forgive sins and release a loved one from purgatory.
Luther, correctly, saw this as an abuse of power by the Pope and the church, and counter to what scripture says about forgiveness by grace through faith. Luther found in his study of Romans 3:21-28, that forgiveness is through God’s free gift of grace and our faith in Jesus Christ. Not by the clanking of coins in the coffer.
Once reformed, the question before the reformers was, “Now what?” And that’s where reformata, semper reformanda comes into play. Can the church, and by that I mean the universal Church of Jesus Christ, survive if it is not constantly reforming? What do you think?
The challenge Christians face for reformata, semper reformanda, reformed and always reforming, is to be constantly reforming; we must realize that some things are constant and some things are not.
What is constant? Our belief in Jesus Christ, our belief that salvation is through God’s free gift of grace for all people, not just the ones we might want. Our belief that “for God so loved the world that he gave only son that whoever, not just the ones we might want, but whoever, believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Our belief that in baptism we are all claimed as children of God, our belief that the Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ and God’s good news of salvation and hope for all people, not just the ones we might want, but all people. Those are foundations of Christian faith. Those truths are the essence of Christian faith. Those are truths that cannot be reformed because they are the revelation of God’s unconditional love for all people.
This question of reformata, semper reformanda, is not a question for 500 years ago. It is a question for today. Think about the church in your lifetime. The constants of faith have not changed, but the church, for better or worse, has changed. I pray that the church and all Christians, in genuine Christian love and caring, will continue to reform, to realize that it is Christ’s church and not ours, and it is the Holy Spirit who guides us and calls us to welcome all people.