Semper reformanda

Andrew C. Schroer 

Let me tell you a little parable: 

An elderly man sat as his kitchen table with his pastor. He had invited his pastor to celebrate with him. 

“Raise a glass with me,” the elderly man, who was obviously inebriated, said to his pastor. He had been an alcoholic for as long as the pastor had known him. 

“I’m celebrating,” the old man continued. “Fifty years ago today, I gave up alcohol completely. I was sober for over 25 years of my life. That’s something to celebrate!” he exclaimed, as he sloppily sipped his beer. He did not mention the other 25 years he was not so sober. 

Right now, Lutheran and Reformed churches around the world are raising their glasses to celebrate. They are singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” They are remembering Martin Luther. Some are traveling to Germany to see the Reformation sites.  

Five hundred years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in an attempt to reform the church. 

The Christian church had strayed from the truth of God’s Word. Corruption and error abounded. The good news of forgiveness and heaven that Jesus won for all people had been muddied by rules, rites, and regulations that were supposed to earn the gifts God freely gave. 

Martin Luther and other reformers sought to bring the church back to God’s Word, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.  

We are also celebrating the Reformation. We are raising our glasses and celebrating our heritage as Lutherans. But we need to be careful. Many of those who are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation are like the elderly alcoholic celebrating his past sobriety with slurred speech and unsteady legs. A number of Lutheran and Reformed churches today are mired in the false teaching and legalism that Luther and the other reformers so strongly opposed. Already in the generation directly following Luther’s death, some of the great reformers began to stray from God’s Word. 

Throughout the history of the Lutheran church—and really the Christian church as a whole—there has been a constant need of reform. False teaching and legalism continually rear their ugly heads. 

Reformed churches today love to use the Latin phrase “Ecclesia semper reformanda est” (“the church is always being reformed”). What they mean is that the Christian church is in constant need of reformation. 

Some misuse that phrase to say that the church constantly needs to change its teaching to be relevant to its times. As heirs of the Reformation, we reject that idea and stand firmly on God’s never-changing Word and its eternal truths. 

Yet, we can understand the phrase correctly. The church is in constant need of reformation lest it falls back into the addiction Luther opposed. As sinful human beings, we need to continually repent of our sins and reform our sinful ways. 

In the same way, as a church body, we need to be humble and vigilant. Just because our ancestors were sober 500 years ago, don’t think that false teaching and legalism can’t worm their way into our churches and pulpits. 

Go ahead and raise your glass to celebrate. Thank God for our great heritage. But then stay vigilant. Stay humble. Go back to God’s Word. Keep the focus on Jesus. Give God the glory. 

That’s what reformation is all about. 

Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.  


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

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