By Parnell McCarter


I recently noticed on the book table of Reformation Heritage Bookstore the book with the title Always Reforming.  Here is how the book described itself on its back cover as well as at http://www.ivpbooks.com/pages/data.asp?layout=product.htm&IdISBN.exact=9781844741304 :


“Although the Reformation took place in the sixteenth century, this was the beginning of something and not the end. The Reformed churches affirmed the need to be semper reformanda ('always reforming').  Unfortunately, this commitment to continuing reformation has not been faithfully and consistently maintained over the centuries. At one end of the theological spectrum, some have invoked semper reformanda in order to justify abandoning the core of Reformation theology and departing from received orthodoxy. At the other end, some have forgotten about semper reformanda in their progress towards a rigid confessionalism, giving the impression that the final codification of truth has already taken place, and that there is no further need for reformation.  Between these two extremes, there is a vital task to be performed by the church in every generation:   - to subject its beliefs and practices to renewed scrutiny in the light of Scripture. In doing so, the church must re-state biblical truth in ways that faithfully communicate the gospel, advance the mission of the church, and address the issues which men, women and children face as they seek to follow Christ and witness to him.
This volume is an exercise in semper reformanda. Each contributor was asked to take a different theme, doctrine or subject area within the discipline of systematic theology, and to assess the current state of scholarship in that area, before indicating areas where further work, development, re-statement or clarification are required. Overall, this stimulating collection is intended to make a positive contribution to evangelical scholarship, by helping to identify problems, dangers and exciting new possibilities, and to set an agenda for future theological reflection.  The contributors are Henri Blocher, Gerald Bray, Richard Gaffin, Richard Gamble, A. T. B. McGowan, Robert Reymond, Derek Thomas, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelis Venema and Stephen Williams”


The contributing authors of this book, including the author of its preface, are some of the leading scholars in the NAPARC churches.  The writer of the preface to this book, John Frame, well captures the spirit of the book in these words:  Reformed theology has often professed to be "always reforming" (semper reformanda), but it has often been to focused too much on its past achievements (reformata) at the expense of seeking new insight (reformanda).”  To rightly understand such “new insight”,  Rev. Brian Schwertley offers a good critique at http://reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/frame.htm .


Rejection of what is labeled as “rigid confessionalism” yet an attempt to preserve “the core of Reformation theology” aptly characterize the general direction of NAPARC and the multi-denominational seminaries, like Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary East and West, etc (see http://www.puritans.net/news/multidenominational012108.htm).  In my opinion, the effort is mis-guided, for it rejects important Biblical truths and tolerates a fair amount of corrupting leaven. 

One’s approach to church union follows one’s approach to religion, and hence two diametrically opposed approaches present themselves.  On the one hand there is the approach I have advocated in such articles as http://www.puritans.net/news/biblicalrealism021207.htm , which is described this way: “So long as there is full subscription to the Biblical standards outlined in the original Westminster Standards and a reasonably good faith effort on the part of the church assembly to implement those standards, we should seek to be united to such a denominational church.  On the other hand, we ought not to join ourselves with churches that do not fully subscribe to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the original Westminster Standards.  And we ought not to join with denominations schismatically formed, when there was already a denomination which fully subscribed to the Biblical standards outlined in the original Westminster Standards and there was a reasonably good faith effort on the part of the church assembly to implement those standards.”  This approach has historically been reflected in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS), and my prayer is that it will continue on this path. 

On the other hand, there is the basic approach advocated by John Frame in his book Evangelical Reunion, which rejects what has derisively described by some as “rigid confessionalism”.  Here is a quote from Frame’s book at http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_books/Evangelical_Reunion/Chapter7.html which captures the spirit of the approach he advocates: “The sort of unity my wife experienced in her neighborhood Bible study I have also experienced, especially in pro-life activity. In a recent rally I attended, the most eloquent speaker by far was a Roman Catholic priest, and he was at his best when he spoke of salvation through Christ alone. Oh yes: he also mentioned that he addressed Mary in prayer. He carefully explained that he did not worship Mary, but that she was part of the communion of saints and he desired her fellowship as he desired that of living saints, in bringing his requests to God. I still do not share his assurance that Mary hears our prayers and somehow relays them to God; but in that context the distance between my views and those of the priest-- on that matter, anyway, did not seem terribly far apart. He was fighting-- far more heroically than I, for he had been to jail often for his convictions-- a battle for Jesus and for the little ones made in God's image. I have no doubt that he and I are fighting the same battle. Before we talk about dissolving denominations into church unions, we need an influx of new vision.”  This “new vision” is the one incipiently guiding denominations such as in NAPARC and in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). 

These two approaches inevitably lead in two very different directions, the resultant distance and differences becoming more obvious in time.  And it is safe to say that for the immediate future the numbers will favor the latter approach.