Does Reformed theology continue to reform?

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As we discuss Reformed theology, the phrase “the church is always reforming” is often used to indicate a desire for certain kinds of change or certain ways of responding to present-day change. That is to say that the church should adapt and adopt the new situation—giving answers to what’s taking place.

Now, that’s a very admirable goal, and I think many of us can agree that what we understand about our theology and teachings of Scripture should address the challenges and the needs of our time. However, the phrase is often misused to indicate that the church must be flexible in terms of what it believes and where it stands. I don’t think that was the original intention for the phrase.

When we talk about the doctrines of grace, for example, we recognize that they are a part of the larger sovereignty of God at work, and furthermore, that Scripture is at the base of them. So, the authority of the Word becomes the basis for them, as well as all that we do. I bring that up because the phrase, “the church is always reforming,” is actually a passive notion. The idea is that the church is being reformed, which indicates that there is an external agency involved. It is not the church wanting to change for the sake of change. Instead, it is being changed by that which is outside, that is, God in His Word is the one that continues to inform, uphold, and grow the church.

As an understanding of the growing maturity of the church upon the foundation of the Word, it is an agreeable phrase that communicates our desire to be true articulators of our faith to every generation, not just the previous generations. But is it an articulation of the church’s flexibility, which some argue? I do not think that is the case. Instead, it is about a sovereign God who established the church through His Word to strengthen and grow it.

This is a transcript of Joel Kim’s answer given during our 2021 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.