Semper Reformanda
Posted by Hal in Family Life, Heroes, Holidays

The U.S. Marine Corps has a slogan – Semper Fidelis, “Always Faithful.” More often, people shorten it to “Semper Fi.” In the church, there is a slightly different slogan: Semper Reformanda, which is short for Ecclesia semper reformanda est, “The Church Is Always To Be Reformed.”

Why the lesson in military and ecclesiastical Latin? Because today is the day many of us celebrate the courage and faithfulness of Martin Luther.

He was Roman Catholic monk in the Augustinian Order, a German by birth, and entered the monastery as a young man seeking peace for a soul wracked by doubt and guilt. When wise superiors in the Order directed him to study the Scriptures, Luther found two things. When he understood St Paul’s teaching that “The just shall live by faith,” God gave him the peace of forgiveness. We do not have the strength to achieve forgiveness by our inadequate efforts (the prophet Isaiah warns that all our own righteousness is like “filthy rags” in the sight of a holy God, Isaiah 64:6); instead, we can be saved “by grace through faith,” (Ephesians 2:8-10) when we embrace Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sins. Our good works then flow outward to God as a result of forgiveness, rather than a vain attempt to earn something from Him.

But as he found his inward solution, Luther also discovered an outward problem. Over the centuries, the Church had drifted from the purity and simplicity of the apostles’ teaching, and by well-meaning steps had allowed innovations and compromises to mask or divert its message and focus from the true gospel. And the Church had become so entrenched in this pattern, it was unwilling to re-examine its teachings and practices, often persecuting or even executing the teachers and preachers who wanted to call Rome back to its roots.

Now from his position as a professor of theology at the University of Wittenburg in southern Germany, Luther began sharing what God was showing him in the Scriptures.  On October 31, 1517, Luther posted an invitation for other scholars to debate a list of practices and teachings which he believed were contrary to the Bible. To his surprise, his Latin document intended for academics and clerics was quickly translated into German and swept over the countryside by the new technology of the printing press—a channel unavailable to earlier reformers. It ignited a firestorm of debate in churches, homes, and palaces all over Europe, and in 1521 resulted in Luther’s subpoena to testify before the Emperor Charles V and the Pope’s representatives in Germany.

There he faced a stark choice: Either publically retract the many books and pamphlets he had written challenging the unbiblical practices within the Church, or very likely face the fate of Jan Hus—a Czech reformer who was marched to the stake and burned as a heretic for teaching many of the same Biblical doctrines. After a night considering his future, Luther returned to the Emperor’s court and replied, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Unless I am convinced by the Word of God … I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

To everyone else’s surprise, the judgment of Rome was unable to bring Luther down, and his friends in the German nobility shielded him from the Emperor’s death warrant. While he was formally expelled from the Church and the priesthood, his influence only grew, and the congregations who followed his teaching found themselves a new identity apart from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus began the Protestant Reformation.

The concept of “always reforming” is not a Protestant issue, though—it’s a Christian issue.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,  “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. (2 Cor 13:5).  Jeremiah said, Let us search and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord. (Lam 3:40)  In the Revelation, Jesus said, Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works … (Rev 2:5). And ultimately, the process of reformation which Luther began also led to several times of re-examination within the Catholic community as well; the term semper reformanda was even adopted by leaders within the Church following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

And we find the principle at work in our families, too. As our marriage faces changes and challenges, and our kids grow and mature from infants to children to young adults, our relationships will change, and must change. You shouldn’t treat your 18-year-old like he was eight … nor your eleven -year-old like he was 21! The decisions we made about lifestyles, budgets, friendships within and outside the family, all need to be reviewed and considered again as time and situations change. Keeping our family life focused on God and following His path will need regular course corrections, and the spirit of “always reforming” should be our guide.

So this evening, as our family enjoys bratwurst and Spaetzle and German potato salad over our favorite Luther biopic, we’ll talk again about the courage to believe in God’s Word, to trust in His protection, and look to Him for the outcomes—whether it’s aimed at a stronger faith, a stronger church, or a stronger family life. May we all embrace the call to be semper reformanda!

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