Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda
(The Church Reformed, Always Reforming/Being Reformed)
October 31, 1517. An Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther, incensed at what he saw as abuses within the operations of the church he loved, posted a series of statements (known as the 95 Theses) as an invitation to debate. Generally speaking this act is seen to have launched the Protestant Reformation.
A century later the Western Church, which had believed itself to be wholly unified, was split asunder. Luther and other Reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli and Knox had started something that the hierarchy and structure of the Roman Church could not contain (at the same time the Roman Church itself went through its own reforming). And the division would continue until this day, as new denominations would form and split from others for a variety of reasons and arguments.
Reforming movements in the church, starting with Luther and Calvin and continuing with Wesley and on into General Booth (who founded the Salvation Army) have a commonality. There is always a sense of trying to reclaim something that is lost, even as that reclamation leads to new practices, emphases, and understandings. The reformers of history were not trying to create something new, they were trying to remind the people around them of some of the basics that may have been lost.
The original origin of the Latin motto above is unclear. The original understanding is unclear as well. One suggestion is that it grows out of a comment by Augustine that named that God is constantly at work forming and reforming the church. And that is the reality that it is meant to point us to. One version of the motto I found in my searching actually includes the words “secundum verbum Dei (according to the Word of God)” [it appears this is a later, likely 20th Century addition though I doubt that any major theologian or Church leader of the past would really argue against the concept]. This additional phrase reminds us that the reforming work within the church is not up to the whims of human though but relies on our being open to where God is pushing us to go. It is not, and never has been change for the sake of change. So when I look at the motto now, 500 years after Luther launched the Reformation I have to ask, how is God forming and reforming the church today.
What have we maybe lost that God is pushing us to reclaim?
Have we putting our emphasis on the right things? Or should we shift that emphasis somewhere else?
One of the factors in the popular success of the Reformation was new technology (particularly the development of movable type and the printing press). This, along with a growth in literacy, allowed pamphlets and books sharing the arguments of the reformers to be shared more widely. How is/can the church use new communication techniques to share our understandings of what God is doing in the world today?
I suggest that these are questions that always need to be floating around in our collective consciousness, as God continues to form and reform the church. They need to be the questions that shape how we operate as individuals and as a congregation.
How do you see God shaping the life of St. Paul’s United Church? Are we following God’s lead or are we resisting?