What does it mean to be always reforming? The statement is rooted in a historical movement, indeed a historical revival known as the Protestant Reformation. The idea is that God’s people not only need to be capital “R” Reformed, but we need to be continually reforming. The world, the flesh, and the devil are consistently deforming the Christian, therefore, the phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) became a staple statement long before bumper stickers and Christian t-shirts existed. The church is to be always moving, but moving in the right direction—back to Scripture. The church is not called to be ever changing or seeking to become culturally relevant. Cultural relevance makes the church biblically irrelevant. The call of the Christian and the church of Jesus is to be consistently reforming from the deforming effects of the culture.
Historically the Reformation was not about liberating the church from formalism. It wasn’t about replacing lofty cathedrals with store front relevant churches. The Reformation was about liberating the people from paganism and mysticism. That protest (of the Protestant Reformation) continues to this very day. This is why we have a rich history of creeds and confessions which serve as a stake in the soil of biblical truth to say, “Here we stand.” In short, the Reformation was a move to the Bible.
When the Bible was unleashed in the pulpit, it set the world on fire with Gospel truth. The result was perhaps the greatest revival and awakening since Pentecost. When the Word of God is preached with power and calls into question the state sponsored religion of the day—the result is both praise of God by his people and persecution of the church by the culture. However, such persecution only fulfills Jesus’ words and serves as a means of church growth that destroys the efforts of God haters. This must be something that we remember as we live in a day where America seems poised to embrace a form of national religion through the social justice movement that will certainly unleash persecution on the church in America.
From Deformation to Reformation
The culture around us is consistently deforming our walk with Christ, our worship of God, and our witness of the gospel. This deformation comes through entertainment, politics, and secular education. Often the message is subtle, but it’s nevertheless present. It appears in code that goes undetected in the beginning, but such language is normalized through various media that delivers the same message repeatedly until it’s the accepted standard of the day. We see this in our current culture with words like “equality” and “systemic injustice.” What exactly do these words mean and how are they being employed?
It is essential for individual Christians and local churches as a whole to push against this cultural pressure to conform. The call is for the church is reformation which means we are to return to God’s Word. In the past, we heard much preaching within evangelicalism centered on revival. It was almost a catch phrase that had no substance. For one person, revival had a meaning of spiritual renewal, but for others revival was a craving for the “good old days” of the past which was focused on cultural worship preferences. Genuine revival is always closely connected to biblical reformation. We see such rich reformation in Nehemiah, and we see it in Germany in the 1500s when Luther defended justification by faith alone before the Roman Catholic Church.
At present, the evangelical church is confused and is being led astray by leaders who are interested in deforming the work and worship of God’s people. Rather than being led to the Scriptures, entire denominations are being encouraged to use analytical tools that flow out of the cesspool of a depraved culture rather than the sufficient Word of God. This stream of evangelical influence impacts how we worship God, how we witness for God, and how we walk with God on a daily basis. We stand in need of biblical reformation.
It was J. Gresham Machen who once made the following statement in his classic work titled, “Christianity and Culture.” He said, “The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.” Such thinking must be deeply anchored in the pages of Scripture. When Luther was looking at the explosion of the Reformation, his response was not to point to his greatness, his intellect, or his influence. His response was to point to the fact that the source of the Reformation is found in the power of the Scriptures.
May it be said of our families, our churches, and our great evangelical institutions that all genuine reformation is found in the power of God through his inerrant and infallible Word. Any measure of spiritual success is not the result of some pragmatic trick or gimmick. It’s not the power of some preacher or Christian event. It’s the power of God working through holy Scripture for his glory.
It’s one thing to wear a shirt that says, “Semper Reformanda—Always Reforming” and quite another thing to engage in the work of reformation. Such a commitment is costly for church leaders who refuse to swim downstream with the tide of the culture. Such a commitment is costly for faithful fathers and mothers who would dare to make unpopular decisions for their family in the eyes of rebellious children. This commitment is costly for Christian business owners and politicians who stand boldly for Christ and risk everything. May God raise up an army of people who are unflinching at the threats of our culture and who are firmly committed to be always reforming for the glory of God.
J. Gresham Machen, in his work, Christianity and Liberalism, writes the following:
If there ought to be a separation between the liberals and the conservatives in the Church, why should not the conservatives be the ones to withdraw? Certainly it may come to that. If the liberal party really obtains full control of the councils of the Church, then no evangelical Christian can continue to support the Church’s work. If a man believes that salvation from sin comes only through the atoning death of Jesus, then he cannot honestly support by his gifts and by his presence a propaganda which is intended to produce an exactly opposite impression. To do so would mean the most terrible blood-guiltiness which it is possible to conceive. If the liberal party, therefore, really obtains control of the Church, evangelical Christians must be prepared to withdraw no matter what it costs. 
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, (Kindle Version: Ravenio Books, 2012).