Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Semper Reformanda

During the Protestant Reformation, one of the key phrases volleyed around was the phrase "Semper Reformanda."  The thing that is great about this phrase is, first, that it is in Latin.  If you want to impress someone, say a short phrase in Latin and then explain in detail what it means.  You will either have them enamored or bored to tears within seconds.  During the Reformation, Latin was simply the languge used by scholars to discuss scholarly and usually theological matters.  Luther penned his famous "95 Theses" in Latin.  It was his students who translated it into German and used the newly-invented printing press (thank you Mr. Gutenberg) to disseminate the document to wider audiences.

But the real thing that is great about this phrase is what it actually means:  always reforming.  It is a recognition of the fragility of this movement called the "Reformation", due mainly to the greater issue of mankind's constant tendency to stray away from God and from the truth, like a dog returning to lick up his vomit.  Luther, himself, felt that the Reformation was not "done" -there was more to do, and there was a constant need to be watchful of the direction things were going in.

This is because the Reformers took seriously what the Bible says about man and his inborn corruption.  We will take anything good and screw it up.  We will take it, twist it, turn it into something it was never meant to be, add in our own flavor and spices, and morph it into a brew that suits our appetite for destruction.  We will take a good thing, and we may not only pervert it, but we will exalt it into an ultimate thing, something we look to and depend on in the place of God Himself for our ultimate happiness and security.  And the results are inevitably tragic.  It may be as obvious as bloodshed and anarchy.  Or it may be as subtle, as deceptive, and yet as dominant as the Roman Catholic Magisterium that the Reformers were up against, with its layer upon layer of man-made tradition, and centuries of acceptance, obscuring the Gospel and God's truth.

The trickiest thing of all is that it usually happens slowly, and we deceive ourselves about it in the process.  We don't think we are twisting things or turning them into a "god".  We don't think we are assuming God's place in our lives.  We justify every tiny inch of heart-movement until we find ourselves at the bottom of a hole.  And then, maybe then, maybe if God has been kind to strip it all away and lead us into the desert, like He did with Hosea's wife, we shall look up and wake up.

The call to be "always reforming" is a call to Christ's Church, corporately, to be vigilant and self-aware.  It is a call to "stay awake."  It is not a call to "get with the times" and "change what we are doing" so that people in our current age and culture will be more accepting of what we teach and believe.  Quite the contrary.  It is a call to constantly go back to the Gospel, to constantly evaluate where we are at, in every age and culture, and dump the extra cargo, shovel out the crap, and get back to our First Love, jettisoning anything and everything that gets in the way of that -no matter how benign or moral or religious or good it may appear.

This call to "stay awake" is, I believe, something we are called to as individuals as well.  How does it translate into person life?  I believe it is a call to listen to the pain-points in our lives, to look at the things being stripped from us, and to listen to what God is saying to us through our pain.  How is He calling us back to Him, to our First Love, through the stripping away of those things, whatever they may be?  How is He found, right there with us, weeping with us, being angry at injustice with us, walking with us, right there in our present circumstances?  What things or situations or beliefs are we tenuously holding on to which impede that closeness with Him?  What has to go?  Where am I demanding from Him instead of loving and wanting Him?  What am I depending on for my ultimate hope, happiness, and security in place of Him?  That is, I believe, what it means to be "always reforming."

The thing that is amazing about all of this is that, well, it will inevitably happen to those who are His.  Yes, we are responsible for our decisions.  Yes, we ought to listen closely and make wise decisions.  Yes, from our human perspective we have God's commands and warnings to call us back.  Yes, we should heed this call and listen and wake up!  But, in a great mystery of His sovereign power, He never lets His sheep wander off a cliff.  He may lead them to a place where they do not want to go, to strip them of what is dragging them down, but He will always lead them back.  No one shall snatch His sheep from His hand.

How is the pain and discomfort of life calling you to Him right now?  Semper Reformanda

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