Reformed…and always Reforming
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Recently we celebrated the five-hundredth anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. Through this powerful work of God, the church was placed back on the foundations of the scriptures and anchored in the cornerstone, Jesus Christ.
This highlights another responsibility that we have as active members of the church militant. Our responsibility is, when necessary, to engage in the reformation of the church. One of the principles that we hold dear as Reformed believers is semper reformanda: the church that is Reformed must always be reforming. And for that to happen, there must be men and women who are willing to engage in that difficult work.
The need for reformation arises out of deformation. Because she is the object of the devil’s darts and the world’s pressures, because she is made up of sinners who carry sinful natures into her, the church is always in danger of apostatizing from the standard of God’s Word. The faithful mother can, in time, become an adulterous whore. She can be guilty of this in doctrine, practice, and worship.
This was the case with the Old Testament church. Time and time again Israel slipped into idolatry and ungodly living, and time and time again the prophet-reformers called them to repentance. This was the case with the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation. This is the case at many times in the history of the church.
This can even be the case in our own churches. We must not be too proud to think that this can never happen amongst us.
Our calling as members of the church is to be on our guard, to be watchful lest we begin to deviate even in small ways from the scriptures in our doctrine or walk of life. This means that we take a lively interest in the goings-on in the church. We stay abreast of what’s happening all around us, as well as among us.
When we believe that there is some deviation from the Word of God, we have a responsibility as members to reform the church. This means that we call the church back to the standard of the Bible. We give voice to our concerns. We work to set the church back on her foundations.
It goes without saying that this must be done in the right way. It is possible for someone to have right intentions but to go about it in the wrong way. In Reformed church government the proper way is by making use of the right to bring protests and appeals and overtures to the assemblies. We use these lawful, orderly avenues to show from the scriptures and the Reformed confessions that the church is in error. All the while our earnest prayer is that God might use our efforts to bring about reform and change in the church.
This means that we do not immediately leave the church when we see problems in her. We love the church and by a solemn promise before God at confession of faith we have committed ourselves to the church. That tie may not be quickly broken. Rather than simply walking away, we do what we can to reform the church from within.
This is the example in every true reformation. Luther and the other reformers did not immediately walk out of the Roman Catholic Church when they became aware of her errors. Their desire was to reform the church from within. The same was true of the ministers in the Netherlands who brought about the Secession of 1834. The same was true of Hoeksema and Ophoff and Danhof while they were still in the Christian Reformed Church in 1924.
Only when the church refuses to listen and refuses to be reformed do we finally leave her, and that with tremendous grief of heart. Then the calling comes either to join another church that shows herself to hold the marks more clearly, or to begin a new institute. In that situation the calling to reform the church means that we “re-form” or “form again” the church by forming a new instituted church.
As ought to be obvious, this work is not easy. It requires careful thought and wisdom. It demands massive amounts of time and energy. It often results in hurt feelings and strained relationships and smeared reputations. Let every member count the cost (Luke 14:26-33)! And then take up the cross, forsake all, and come after Christ!
Certainly our prayer is that this never become necessary in the churches to which we belong. But if it does, may God raise up courageous men and women to call us to repentance! And may he give humility to the church so that she is always ready to be reformed!
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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.