Semper Reformanda

The Latin phrase “semper Reformanda” (from “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda,” i.e. “the church Reformed and always reforming”) )was not intended to mean nor does it mean, “always evolving.” The phrase has been hijacked and abused thus but abuse doth not a definition make. It means: “to recover the Reformed confession.” The pattern of the church, in all ages (canonical and post-canonical) is to fall into corruption and then, sola gratia, to be Reformed according to the Word.

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  1. Scott,
    Andrew McGowan edited an excellent book on this subject. But I think there are two abuses of the “Semper”: (1) liberals who use this catchphrase as a license to abandon Scripture, and (2) others who use it as a license to argue for the infallibility of the Reformed tradition. Surely it means (3) continually reforming ourselves to come into line with Scripture.

  2. Hi Mike,

    I’m not arguing the latter, as you will doubtless see when you get to RRC. There are elements of the book that are positively “progressive” but I don’t want to spoil the fun.

    With the domination in the West by Enlightenment rationalism and empiricism and with the consequent reaction, we lost a good bit of our theology, piety, and practice. We have a lot to learn from the tradition. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. We’re not slaves to it (as I try to show in RRC) and it must always be Reformed according to scripture, but “evolution” or “devolution” is not necessarily “Reformation according to the Word.”

  3. “Krankenbesoeckers”

    I need to learn some Dutch if all the words are as good as this one!

    Mike, I’ve got a permanent mark on my forehead from when I bang my head on the table after someone’s used the number 1 misuse of the phrase.

  4. I thought I heard somewhere that it was Barth who omitted the “according to the Word of God” tag at the end of the phrase.

    • BC,

      Good question. Don’t know. I think the phrase is actually quite late. Jason Stellman (if I remember correctly) has done some work on it. It’s certainly been abused quite a bit by those who want to retain the name Reformed but not the substance of the faith.

      The fundamental question is one of relation between names (nomen) and substance or between sign and thing signified. For more nominalist types, the name is a mere convention. There’s no necessary connection between the name and the thing signified.

      Most Reformed folk haven’t been total realists (“there can be no change ever between the sign and the thing signified or the sign IS the thing signified) but neither have we been sheer nominalists. But such is the spirit of the age (Zeitgeist).

  5. Hi Scott,

    Your post says this is an area we’ve lost in the pastoral prayer, but it’s really area area we’ve lost in pastoral/elder visitation of the sick.

  6. Speaking as a humble high-school Latin teacher, I have often been somewhat alarmed at the loose-ness with which people bandy about the accepted translation of this Latin tag, twisting it as you say to suit an ‘evolutionary’ agenda. A more literal translation might be ‘always reformed and always needing to be reformed’ (gerundive of obligation), which fits much more neatly with the idea of recovery rather than that of evolution in church practice and belief.

  7. Well with all due respect Dr. Clark given most NAPARC churches do not practice what would would call historical polity, practice and piety (and remember I love NAPARC and I’m a member of a NAPARC church and will be there at the meeting this year) and historically you would have to include the PCUSA, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, the Christian Reformed Church and the ____ and they would acknowledge covenant theology but as a whole deny the center of the Gospel I don’t think you’re deffinition holds that strongly either. I think the best way to define Reformed in the 21st century is to say all those who can confess the canons of the synod of dort as the truth of the Bible plus the ecumenical creeds. And Given historically reformed churches are so small and isolated they kinda I think lost the right to define themselves to their liking. Evangelicals clearly have won that battle in terms of book sales, congregations, missionaries, etc…

    • Joseph,

      The imperfections in the practice of the faith do not change the confession of the faith. The uncomfortable fact is that Reformed folk and baptist folk confess very different things on central questions.

      Your persistent appeal to the 21st century is a non-starter. It doesn’t matter what century it is. It’s always been some century. In the 17th century the modernist movement said, “It’s the 17th century….” So what? This is a Renaissance and Enlightenment fueled rhetorical move which implies, “Given the relative lateness of the hour, we should have matured beyond the old divisions over ______ (fill in the blank).

      Nonsense. Truth is truth. Either God has said, “I will be a God to you and to your children” or he has not. Either my children and I are baptized or we are not. One cannot have it both ways. Either the new covenant is new relative to Abraham or it is so utterly new as to be substantially different not only from Moses but also Abraham.

      Of course there are defects in NAPARC practice. This is a fallen world. If there weren’t I wouldn’t have written the book. There are material differences, however, between defects in practice and out and out corruption of the faith at the constitutional level as has occurred in the PCUSA and in other of the 7 Sisters.

      NAPARC is still reformable because the NAPARC churches still confess the faith in good faith. Such is no longer the case, except in exception instances, in the mainline.

      Have you read the book?

      • «The uncomfortable fact is that Reformed folk and baptist folk confess very different things on central questions. » This is where you and I find our biggest difference. On baptism, the nature of the covenants, spiritual gifts, etc… we may disagree but outside of the Church the Gospel (person and work of JC and justification by faith alone) does indeed unite us to such a strong degree that our differences can be tollerated for the sake of the advancement of the Kingdom of God. I could never join in membership a credo-baptist church but my dearest and most intimate friends are credos because of our common bond in Christ. I think things like T4G which say we can disagree but still unite under the Gospel are great things and that our ministries should be about the Gospel and not a tradition. The Gospel Coallition another great organisation that doesnt minimize doctrinal convictions but realizes that there are times when the fight over some doctrines are more important that others.

        We can confess the same truths in different clothing, teaching the timeless truths in timely ways and that is what we younger calvinists (as a whole not every single person clearly) want. We don’t think method is neutral but that there are some methods better than others for different times and that in this new world it is time to change methods but confessing the same truths.

        Why does it it bother you that Grudem, Piper, Mohler, Mahaney, etc… all call themselves reformed? They preach the true Gospel. The sacraments are distributed- all be in inperfectly according to our beliefs. Souls are saved. Saints are being sanctified through the means of grace. Justification by faith alone and the Five solas of the Reformation are being proclaimed! This is a good thing! It is more important than the issues of padeo v. credo communion. More important than the nature of the covenant of Grace! Yes we have our differences and these differences are serious but not seriosu enough that they cannot be called ”heirs of the Reformation” because the reason why they disagree is because of their commitment to Reformation principles. We are reformed not because we believe we follow a tradition of creeds but because of the we are being continously reformed according to the word of God and submitting to its authority, and acknowledge the truth concerning How God has saved us and Who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

        -Have a read the book? yes I paid ALOT for it because I live in canada and shipping from the states is a pain. However I must confess to you publically that I did make an entire photocopy of it just for note taking and just left the book on my shelf and used the photocopy.

        • Joseph,

          Eschatology may precede soteriology, but since when does soteriology supersede ecclesiology and sacramentology? Are you channeling Whitefield?

          And you may want to re-think how you’ve characterized the CRC. Distinctions don’t appear to be your long suit, but there’s a difference between a wayward denomination and a false church. To my knowledge she hasn’t anathematized the gospel yet. And she may be dangerously tinkering with castrating the FOS, but she still meets your own test of “confess[ing] the canons of the synod of dort as the truth of the Bible plus the ecumenical creeds.” In fact, she still confesses all three forms. No need to hamfist to make a point.

        • Joseph,

          I’ve addressed your main contention many times in the posts to which I’ve linked. The Reformed Churches (not Clark as a private entity) confess a faith. That faith is well known. Why should they submit to amputation?

          Consider your example of Wayne Grudem. I don’t know Wayne well, but I’ve appreciated his work in a number of areas. We have some things in common. I’m glad for that. I’m thankful for his approach to male/ female relations (complementarianism). I’m thankful for his clear and generally helpful account of the faith in his ST but there are areas where Wayne isn’t Reformed.

          Wayne teaches an essentially Anabaptist view of continuing revelation. It’s contrary to the Reformed faith. His view necessarily undermines the sufficiency and finality of Scripture. I’m well aware that he doesn’t want it to do and that he’s tried to avoid that outcome but his view necessarily fails. Then, of course, there is a the matter that Wayne isn’t a member of a Reformed Church and isn’t qualified for membership in a confessional Reformed congregation. The same is true of Mahaney.

          You’re entitled to your views but they are not the views of the Reformed Churches. We take the matter of being baptized quite seriously. It’s not a “secondary” matter with us.

          Zrim is right. You can’t leverage the doctrine of the church with soteriology. The latter is essential to the Reformed faith, but so is the doctrine of the church. The Belgic devotes 2 articles to the doctrine of the church! BC Art 29 says “the pure administration of the sacraments.” All Baptist hold an Anabaptist view of baptism. The Belgic was written before the Baptist movement but de Bres and the churches were intimately familiar with the Anabaptist view of baptism and they rejected it intentionally as a corruption of the sacrament. Yes, they administer baptism and we recognize the validity of it&emdasheven if they will not admit the validity of our baptism, a fact which makes them modern-day Donatists—but they corrupt it by denying it to infants. As I’ve demonstrated we confess infant baptism. We’re not talking about the date of Easter (which nearly split the early church). We’re talking about whether the name of Christ has been placed on us.

          “Reformed” does not mean “heir of the Reformation.” “Reformed” = that which the Reformed CHURCHES confess.

          I feel your pain. I have Baptist friends on campus and elsewhere. As I’ve said many times, I don’t doubt the sincerity and validity of their faith but I do doubt the validity of their congregations. They have an over-realized eschatology that causes them to misunderstand the nature of the new covenant and the nature of the new covenant church.

          Joseph, it bothers me that those who deny essential articles of the Reformed faith seek to re-define it for the same reason that they would rightly be appalled to see me calling myself a Baptist simply because we practice the baptism of converts who’ve never been baptized before. I’ve addressed this question several times.

          Please read the book or at least the posts I’ve written (and comments under those posts).

          This is the last I’ll post on this thread about this. I cannot and will not re-type everything I’ve said before here because you refused to click on a link or read a book.

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