Today is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. On this day, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did not intend to start a reformation, but God used Luther’s writing to start a fire that would spread over all of Europe.
After 500 years I believe it is helpful and wise to ask where we go from here. Is the Reformation only a past event that we look back on as reformed Christians with nostalgia? Or, should we be continuing the reformation today?
One key phrase that reformed people have used may help us. The phrase is “Reformed and always reforming.” At its best, the phrase reminds us that being reformed means always seeking to be faithful to the Word of God in our theology and practice. At its worse, it has been used by some to argue for radical changes in our theology and practice, apart from the foundation of Scripture.
We will not and should not always be reforming our theology. We share a common understanding of Scripture that dates backs centuries. It is unsafe and unwise to ignore that heritage to change our beliefs, especially to fit in better with our culture. Truly reformed churches are unchanging in their foundation, which is built on the Word of God. It is doubtful that the church has been wrong on a key doctrine of the faith for centuries. It is highly doubtful that a new interpretation that fits with our world’s thinking is the biblical one.
But we can be “always reforming” in our determination to take the unchanging truths of God’s Word and seek to be reformed by them. None of us has a perfect theology. And none of us has perfectly applied what Scripture has clearly taught. We all need to come before God daily to confess our sins and unbelief. When a reformed Christian seeks to be “always reforming,” she is seeking to be transformed on a daily basis by the Word of God in her personal life. As the Holy Spirit works in us and points out our sins, we are seeking, by God’s grace, to be reformed more and more in our life – to experience ongoing progressive sanctification.
“Always reforming” can apply to individuals, families, and churches. As individuals and congregations hear the Word of God and we learn of our shortcomings and sins, we can be reformed and always reforming as we take the Word of God seriously and practice true repentance. That’s what it means to be reformed.
We ought to look back to the 16th century with gratitude for men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, who God used to bring reformation. But let us never forget that that reformation needs to continue in us – personally and corporately.
In what areas of your life do you need to experience more reformation?