Over the last while, I’ve read a lot of articles about the need for reformation in the Church, usually with titles like, “Is the Reformation over”—that is, did the chain of events started when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, ever really end? Does the Church still require reformation now?
And usually the answer is (and I think correctly), no, the Reformation can never really ever end, because there is always a need for the Church to be sharpened and corrected according to the word of God. The Church as a whole is always prone to wander from her Lord. There are always fanciful ideas that are trying to distract her.
The same is true for the individuals to make up the Church. We, individually, are as desperately in need of reforming as the Church as a whole is. For the Church collectively could not wander away unless we first were wandering. Fanciful ideas could not take hold unless they’d first captivated the minds of individual believers.
It’s no wonder, then, that Luther began his theses placing repentance at the center of reformation. “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’,” he wrote, “He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Repentance as a concept refers to a deliberate, Holy Spirit-empowered-and-enabled change of mind and action, a conscience turning away from one way of thinking and behaving to another. When we repent of our sins, for example, we’re not merely asking forgiveness, we’re turning our backs on a false god and setting our affections upon our true Lord and Master. Repenting of our former way of living means to start living in a different way, to believe a different way—to see Jesus as our only hope, and and that we are welcomed into the family of God as his adopted brothers and sisters, and that the Church collectively is Christ’s Bride. And every distraction, everything and anything that tempts us to forget who and what we are—perhaps the lust for political power, the lure of cultural influence, or promise of prodigious earthly riches—is what we need to repent of.
The Church is always needs of reformation because our wandering hearts are always in need of reformation. May God continue to call us back when we’re tempted to leave.