Monday, July 04, 2005

Semper Reformanda and the New Anti-Church Movement

We are fast approaching something of a crisis when it comes to the traditional notion of 'church'. More and more, people are opting to walk away from the established 'church' and choosing instead to 'be the church', meeting in their homes with just their family or, with the more compromising among this group, a small band of like-minded expatriots.

While there is variation in the orginizing prinicple of the particular groups or individuals that have chosen this route (e.g. Apocoplyptic self-identifications, a desire to be like the 'early church', a return to some prestine time of ecclesiological 'attainments', etc.), a radical principle is shared across the board. That radical principle is a bastard version of semper reformanda, which we have seen before, and whose trajectory is headed in the same destructive direction. Let me first define it, then vindicate my claim that we have seen it before, and finally 'prophesy' as to the future.

Semper reformanda is a Reformation era principle. While its origins are somewhat suspect, its principle has enjoyed currancy within the Reformed Church, along side its more stalwart relations, the Five Solis: Sola Scriptura, Sola gratia, Sola fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo gloria. Semper reformanda is actually part of a larger phrase which goes, Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda dia vox Deo (The Church Reformed, always reforming, according to the Word of God). The point is that, the church has been reformed and yet it is still in the process of being more and more conformed to the Word of God. Essentially, semper reformanda is phrase indicating the ongoing need for sanctification, not endless doctrinal revision. Today when one cries semper reformanda it is usually at the expense of semper reformata. Today, rather than indicating an acknowledgement of the need for continued sanctification-bringing practice into conformity with belief-it is an attempt to legitimize doctrinal renovation by an appeal to history. In this regard, those who weild it today show they are mere children of the enlightenment seeking to impose their new theological musings by means of power; the power of a tradition that they are repudiating.

We have seen this before. This is nothing more than a baked-over, Radical-Reformation in the Anabaptist tradition. Claiming, and apparently reading, the Bible only, these modern naives have learned nothing from history and so are repeating it. This they would see as their badge of honor. Who is truer to the principle sola scriptura than they? Let's go back to the Bible and reconstruct the faith according to a simple, non-predjudiced, objective method of everyday Christians reading their Bibles. By this method we will bypass the corruption of the academy and can be assured that we are in the light, for surely we are not like them. If I had a dollar for every group that has begun on such a supposidly high ground... We are them and they are us.

The stage of history is strune with 'groups' once Christian. When the Bible-only method of theologizing is adopted the biblical method is abandoned, and error is inevitable. The Bible tells us to honor our father and our mother. The Bible tells us that if we neglect our father and our mother under the guise of pursuing righteousness, we are wicked, not righteous. The Reformers-those identified as the Magesterial Reformation-with their Bibles as the ultimate authority, honored the real and delegated authority of the Church's tradition. They cautiously and patiently and within the bounds of the church, submitted to the Word of God. The Anabaptists-those identified as the Radical Reformation-rejected church authority and tradition, held historical theology in contempt, and ultimately rejected the Word of God. The legecy of Socinians, Quakers, Arminians, etc. speak clearly to this trend.

The modern anti-church movement is a kindred soul to the Radical Reformation. As more and more people reject the church today for their particular idiosyncratic 'thing', they begin the march into oblivian only stopping now and then to have their visas stamped at the station of various former errors. They will die. But the church will remain...still not as beautiful as she will be when He whose she is perfects her finally. But nontheless alive and well because of her Him who loved her and gave Himself for her.

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