Does “semper reformanda” mean that the church should always be changing?

Sinclair Ferguson & R.C. Sproul
1 Min Read

SPROUL: Unfortunately, every heretic appeals to that mantra, semper reformanda, “always reforming.” We mistake novelty with reformation.

The point of that motto initially was that, in the sixteenth century, not all of the errors in the church were reformed. Not all of the dirty linen was cleansed. There was still a lot of work left to do. And there’s always a lot of work left to do. But “always reforming” does not mean “always changing.”

There are those today who say that the Reformation was a tempest in a teapot, or that it was all a misunderstanding, or that it was a terrible division in the body of Christ. They say it was an unnecessary split where people were fighting over unnecessary details.

The Apostle Paul tells us that we’re supposed to try to live at peace with all people, not be by nature quarrelsome and engaging in nitpicking theological arguments (2 Tim. 2:23–24). But Paul himself, when he wrote to the Galatians, rose up in fury at the Galatian heresy. Why? Because it was a different gospel (Gal. 1:6–9). We’re not talking about a tempest in a teapot; we’re talking about Hurricane Irma. We’re talking about one that is devastating to life and limb whenever you negotiate or compromise the necessary saving truth of Jesus Christ.

Now, we always have to be involved in reformation. And like I said, every heretic in modern church claims semper reformanda as an excuse for departing from the truth of Scripture. But that was not its original intent.

FERGUSON: I was brought up in the wilds of Scotland where they were still speaking Latin. I was always taught from my early days as a Christian that the Latin motto was ecclesia reformata. That is, the church that has been reformed, ecclesia reformata, always needs to be reformed, semper reformanda est.

I think when people say, “S__emper reformanda,” you really need to stop them and say, “What about the reformata?” Once the church has been reformed according to Scripture, it needs to keep on being reformed according to Scripture, but let’s get it reformed first. Not changed first, but reformed according to Scripture.

So, sometimes we need to be a bit uppity and ask people how good their Latin is. I’m only kidding—I learned that from R.C.

This is a transcript of R.C. Sproul’s and Sinclair Ferguson’s answers from our Reformation 500 Celebration and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.