Semper Reformanda

October 2008 Pastor's Newsletter Article At the end of this month, as the children of our land don strange costumes and parade from house to house, extorting sweets from us, we Christians (many of whom will also be found in similar costumes) will also turn our attention to two ancient festivals of the Christian Church. The older of the two is November 1st: All Saints Day. This festival has been celebrated, in some form or another, since the middle of the third century. It began as a day to remember the martyrs of the faith - those who died because of their public witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. By the ninth century, much of the church had settled on November 1st as a day to remember all those saints (famous, infamous or unknown) whose faith in Christ continues to inspire us today.

The day before All Saints Day is known in liturgical circles as All Hallowed's Eve - the  evening before the day when we remember those whose lives were hallowed by the gift of faith. We Lutherans celebrate that day as Reformation Day - a day to remember the 16th Century reformers whose insights into the faith sent the church in a new direction. With Martin Luther at the center of the storm in those days, we Lutherans are especially fond of this festival, and the themes it evokes: saved by faith through grace, simul justis et peccator (simultaneously sinner and saint), sola scriptura (word alone), the priesthood of all believers... These are rally cries that lead us back to a true faith in Christ. And gathering these themes under one umbrella is the concept of Semper Reformanda (forever reforming). As human beings, we don't pretend that we will ever get it completely right. And so we turn to God's word, daily, and measure even our most cherished traditions and customs against what God's word has to say. If our life together begins, in any way, to cloud the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are committed to reform our customs and traditions, and align them with our best understanding of God's word.

Martin Luther was summoned to Worms, Germany by the emperor, Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony. There he was commanded to recant certain books and treatises he had written. On April 18, 1521 he refused, and uttered these now famous words:

Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convinced by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.


 Martin Luther, Luther at the Diet of Worms; In the Name of Jesus, 1521; The Account and Actions of Doctor Martin Luther the Augustinian at the Diet of Worms, Luther's Works, Volume 32: "Career of the Reformer" (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, , 1958) page 112.

With these words, Luther called the church of his day, and all who would follow, to continue the work of the reformation: the work of continually reforming all that we say and do and believe, so that it is consistent with God's word. On October 31, we'll celebrate our hopes of taking his advice. May the word of God continue to shape us as a faithful people. God help us.

God's peace to you all,

David J. Risendal, Pastor