Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei which means, “the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God,” serves as the slogan for the Reformation. Though the Reformers never used this exact slogan, nothing can sum up their purpose and their work better. They believed that the church did not need to progress in belief and practice, but rather reform to the Scriptures. Seeing that in times past, God had spoken through the prophets, but now has finally spoken through Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2), there was no longer any need to seek out a new word from God, but continually reform back to that Word, Jesus Christ.
There was no need for a Vicar of God and of Christ. This meant the Pope was no longer needed, nor was ever needed, since the Scriptures sufficed. Although the Roman Catholic Church believed that they were “always the same,” the stark contrast between their teachings and the teachings of the Apostles proved otherwise. Steeped in human tradition and influenced by pagan culture, the church was not a church reformed to the Word of God. The church had drifted away from the very foundation they had been built upon. They were no longer the church Christ had built on the Apostles.
The church’s descent into error in practice and belief displays to us the need to have a Reformed church. It is not enough to have certain people reforming themselves in a church that is not Reformed. The Church must also be Reformed. What is a Reformed church? It is a church which believes in the authority of Scripture both in confession and in practice. The Reformed church’s confessions and definitions of faith and practice seek to be most faithful in representing the system of doctrine taught by Scripture.
In our modern time, semper reformanda (always reforming) has been wrongly used by some. These churches have taken this idea to mean that the doctrines and the teachings of the church must be rethought and reformed to the context of our post-modern society. This view would hold that the absolute truths of Scripture must become fluid and not as demanding so as to become more inclusive. We can see the danger in such an approach in that these churches will soon forget Christ and His redemptive work, misconstruing it to mean something other than what the Scriptures teach.
This leads to the main idea of reformation. What are you reforming to? Whenever there is a reforming of something, it is a reshaping and rethinking of the thing so that it looks like something else. Reformation is always towards a certain goal. So, then, what are you reforming to? For Christians, the answer must always be the Scriptures. What other form would suffice? There is no other ultimate authority but God, and He has given us His Word. So churches and the Christians that make up the churches must both be reforming to the Scriptures.
This is vital for not only the present health and well-being of the church, but also for future health and well-being. A church with a Reformed confession and practice will seek to set up their church in such a way that future generations will desire to follow in their footsteps. As history shows us, such is not always the case. Reformed churches are susceptible to liberal thinking in regards to the Word of God, and this is the direction of churches today. Liberal theology is not only that which seeks to be as fluid and inclusive as possible; it can be a strict moral conservativism which promotes Pharisees and uptight religion, both which are contrary to God’s Word. Many churches are advocates of a liberal theology that disregards the authority of Scripture, but a church not based on Scripture alone is not a church. Because God forms a people through His Word, sustains them by His Word, matures them by His Word, and keeps them by His Word, the church must depend completely on the authority of Scripture. Otherwise, she will fall into error, for the natural bent of the human heart is to continually stray from God.
The Reformers saw sin to be the enemy of their progress. Sin was, is, and always will be the very need for reform. Since sin separates us from God, sin will separate us from God’s Word. We naturally drift away from a proper understanding of the Scriptures towards a self-centered, man-pleasing view and interpretation. But if we are reforming to the Word of God, we are battling the sinful drift. When we stop this battle, we will inevitably be carried off into error, so we must always be reforming to the Word of God.
Martin Luther did not intend to change the world when he started the Reformation, he was only seeking to understand God’s word properly, and he was only trying to reform himself to the Word of God. Now we might not have the same impact as Luther had if we are Reformed and reforming, but wherever there is something blocking or going against the current, others will notice. This reform to the Word of God is not some idea produced by Martin Luther or others in the church; it is commanded of us by God. We are to no longer serve sin, but serve God, being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). So, in answer to the question of the necessity of a reformation, the answer is yes, we must always be reforming to the Word of God so that sin will not overtake us in church practice and the individual pursuit of holiness.