Reformed, Always Must Be Reformed Related to Scripture
One of the cornerstones upon which my faith in Christ rests is a maxim of my tradition: “Reformed, Always Must Be Reformed.” I have spoken before on what it means to me. Recently, in a comment on a blog post, the question of this phrase’s meaning was posed and it prompted me to delve deeper into its meaning.
Frank wrote on May 24:
“Janet, I think I understand what it means to be Reformed. But somehow I don’t think our definitions match up. I have heard a hundred times how “Reformed and always reforming” means that as time goes on we will gain new insights as to our understanding of scripture and to what God is doing now. This is not my understanding. “Reformed and always reforming” was never a license for on-going, continual doctrinal innovation or upgrading. Rather it is a persistent call to come back to the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and to be continually reformed by them because the temptation to move away from them and towards the dominant culture would always be present. If we are counseled to keep coming back to God’s Word and to be reformed by it, surely it must be because there is something solid there. Something to which we may anchor our lives however tentatively and fearfully.”
So what does “Reformed, Always Must Be Reformed” mean, especially in connection with Scripture?
Upon reflection, I do not think that Frank and I are that far apart. I certainly do not see reformation as “license” for “continual doctrinal innovation or upgrading.” I, like Frank, see reformation happening through return to the Word of God, both written in the Bible and on the heart through the Holy Spirit, and, as Frank says, “to be continually reformed by them.” Frank and I agree that there is “something solid there” in Scripture “to which we may anchor our lives.”
Perhaps where Frank and I diverge in our understanding is in this concept of “reform” and “return.” Holy Scripture is very like the proverb I cherish which says, “You can not step into the same river twice.”
While I agree that the Bible is a solid rock upon which we can lay our faith, it is also true that our perception of Scripture is re-formed by God as we return to it over and over.
One example of this can be seen by examining passages which have been used, historically, to do such things as justify slavery or the silencing of women. When we look at the Bible’s clear messages of love and inclusion, it seems incredible that the Bible was used to justify these acts considered reprehensible to us today.
The main reason it seems incredible to us is that today we have knowledge which previous generations did not. Our forbearers made the effort to get to know their neighbors (as instructed to do so by Jesus in Scripture) and over time realized that our neighbors are not our enemies. Our neighbors are not inferiors to be enslaved or silenced. Our neighbors are actually representative of the great and good diversity that God has created in the world. And we are instructed to love them! In this way, our forbearers returned to the Bible and were reformed in their understanding of Scripture and then, following that, they reformed their actions in the world.
Through the ages, as we return to the Bible, the Holy Spirit inspires us to see freshly the meaning and then to apply that meaning to our own time and place. In our time, through our return to the Bible, we have come to see the wonderful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians whose lives exemplify love. Right now — in our place — we have been reformed.
And the process will continue, for we must always be reformed.
As a Reformed Christian, this gives me such delight!
Reverend Janet Edwards