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Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda...

October 11, 2012

As we prepare to celebrate Reformation Sunday on October 28, I am pleased to share the following article by Anna Case-Winters with our readers: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/today/reformed/.

Dr. Case-Winters suggests that the phrase Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda has been misused or misinterpreted by Reformed Christians on both ends of the theological spectrum. The Reformers understanding of the phrase was neither conservative nor liberal, but “radical, in the sense of returning to ‘root.’” They believed that the church had become corrupt and wanted to return to a more authentic faith and life. “The cultural assumption of the Reformers’ day,” she notes, “was that what is older is better.”

The notion that older is better is a strange refrain for those Reformed Christians living in a post modern world. Indeed, in a society that encourages innovation and change, that which is traditional might be considered static or regressive. But the Reformed motto, as Dr. Case-Winters points out, challenges both the conservative and liberal impulses that characterize our diverse church today. “It does not,” she writes, “bless either preservation for preservation’s sake or change for change’s sake.” Instead, “it was a change in the interest of preservation and restoration of a more authentic faith and life--a church reformed and always to be reformed according to the Word of God.”

It is the faithfulness of Presbyterians who have been part of the great cloud of witnesses that we celebrate on Reformation Sunday. The ethos of what it means to be a Reformed Christian is embodied in the history of the American Presbyterian experience. Frequently that history reminds us that American Presbyterians have found themselves in disagreement on a variety of complex issues, not the least of which is how we interpret Scripture and the relationship of the church to the broader culture.  But that same history is also a testimony to how Presbyterians have struggled to be faithful and maintain the unity of the church despite these differences. The documentary heritage of the American Presbyterian Church that is collected, preserved, and shared at the Presbyterian Historical Society helps Presbyterians understand how Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda has shaped the story of the American Presbyterian experience, informing past, present, and future generations.