Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Semper Deformanda?

The ease with which we often throw around the supposed trademark slogan of the Reformation, "Semper Reformanda" ("Always Reforming") invites a couple questions:

What is the origin of this phrase? Who uttered it first, and where?

I don't know the answer, so I'm honestly asking. What I do know, however, is that those who quote the mantra thus are quoting it wrongly. The full phrase is "Reformata, Semper Reformanda," which means "Reformed, Always Reforming." So whether or not this slogan deserves its near-canonical status, it at least deserves to be quoted in full to say that before a church can be always reforming, it needs to first be Reformed.

There are a couple different reasons, it seems, why people quote this slogan. Some are carefully and skillfully advancing the Reformed discussion with fresh exegetical and systematic insight (Michael Horton's four-volume project comes to mind, as does the work of men like Vos, Ridderbos, Kline, and Moo).

Others, however, conveniently omit the first part of the slogan in what appears to be an effort to undermine whatever confessional content and theological identity the Reformed churches once enjoyed.

So if you think you might be a theological trailblazer, but aren't sure which of these two categories you fall into, a good way to gauge your situation is to ask yourself if your views have gained a hearing among the godly and wise men of the church. If the brethren to whom you've vowed to submit recognize in your work the advancement of the biblical and confessional conversation, then, as the Kiwis in my family would say, good on ya.

If, on the other hand, you've failed to gain even a marginal following among the various luminaries of the Reformed world, then it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

I think it was Samuel Miller who remarked that those who decry creeds and confessions are usually those whose views are condemned by them. The question of the hour, therefore, is which will it be, Semper Reformanda or Semper Deformanda?