Semper Something or Other

Always reforming, applied to the church, doesn’t mean ever broadening, keeping every innovation, or eventually enshrining every little long-allowed deviation into law—it must also include un-changing and tightening up some things. Pope Precedent the Last is not a presbyterian. Nor is he infallible, but you might think he is based on the way presbyters wield ‘we’ve done / allowed this for years’ and how precedent is bandied about.

Calvin was no fan of change. On his deathbed he stated: ‘I pray you make no change, no innovation. People often ask for novelties. Not that I desire for my own sake out of ambition that what I have established should remain, and that people should retain it without wishing for something better, but because all changes are dangerous and sometimes hurtful.’ His concern was a pastoral concern.

A good bit has been written recently about abuse of this principle. For example. Chris Larson tweeted, ‘The phrase is not “semper reformanda,” rather it is, “ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei” — the church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.’

Our friend R. Scott Clark weighed in at Ligonier, which has several articles on the subject.

In effect, the phrase is most commonly taken to mean “the church is reformed but needs to be changed in various ways.” It is frequently invoked as a way of expressing dissatisfaction with Reformed theology as received and expressed by the Reformed churches in the Reformed confessions (for example, the Belgic Confession, 1561; the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563; the Westminster Standards, 1648). Thus, in 1967, the United Presbyterian Church in the USA rejected the historic Christian and Reformed understanding that Scripture is the inerrant (does not err), infallible (cannot err) Word of God written. Ironically, under the modern misunderstanding of the phrase the church reformed, always reforming, the denomination moved away from the Reformed view and adopted a view taught by the Anabaptist radical Thomas Müntzer (1489-1525) that the Reformers knew and rejected.

Kevin Deyoung has also treated the concept:

Stand your ground, hold fast, guard the good deposit. And be open to change whenever we drift from the truth or fail to grow up in it as we should.

Notice that the task is not merely static standing, but tenacious holding and active guarding—defense that may occasionally look like offense…in both senses of the word. Read more»

Brad Isbell | “Semper something or other” | March 22, 2023


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