Shuck and Jive

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reformed and Always Reforming

“Reformed and always reforming according to the word of God” is the full phrase that is often used to describe what it means to be a Presbyterian. We change. Our views change, our polity changes, and our theology changes over time. “According to the word of God” is a check on change. We don’t just change for the sake of change but we change in light of the presence of ongoing divine revelation. That is my phrase. Calvin would say that we must be reformed by scripture. More on that later.

So what is the “word of God?” Some would say that the word of God is restricted to the 66 books of the Protestant Bible. Others would further add that the King James Version of those 66 books is the word of God. Others would say that the word of God is the original autographs of these 66 books in the original languages. Unfortunately, we do not have any of the original autographs. We have copies of copies of copies. For a readable and engaging look at how scholars (from the author’s perspective) determine which copies are older than others, I recommend Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. We have a copy in the church library.

Some would say that the word of God is not restricted to the words on the page, but that the Bible contains the word of God. John Calvin (notice the handsome portrait) suggested that the word of God requires the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit who brings these words to the heart of the believer. We also say that Jesus Christ is the word of God. This is a more nuanced view even as it seeks to circle him with the canon by adding “as the scriptures bear witness to him.”

How else might we conceive of word of God? John Calvin was a product of the 16th century. We (whether we like it or not) are children of the Enlightenment. A lot has happened since Calvin's day, including the way we look at scripture.

Today, some would say that the word of God is not limited to the Bible or even to Jesus. We see (hear?) the word of God as we examine the atom, study the cosmos, and appreciate nature, art and literature. We seek truth when we discover what it means to be human and use our reason to a good end. The idea is that all truth is God’s truth. The word of God, then, is truth wherever we find it. We might expand that further. Not only is the word of God truth, it is also beauty, love, justice, joy, and the recognition of our own fallibility.

Perhaps there is such a thing as the unified theory of everything. I don’t know it. I cannot say that we will never know it. I cannot say for sure that no one knows it. I know I don’t know it. I, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “see in glass darkly.” So we are always reforming, seeking truth, seeking the word of God.

Reforming is messy. Change is struggle. We don’t agree on what is true. Change involves conflict, yet conflict is not so bad. Conflict can energize our creativity. Sometimes our conflicts turn into battles. I find that distressing, but so far, inevitable.

Yet, sometimes we can reform more peacefully. The Apostle Paul admonished us to “speak the truth in love.” That is a good axiom. Especially, when we realize that the truth we speak may not be true tomorrow and that the truth we speak may not be the whole truth, but our own interpretation of the larger truth, the word of God.



  1. Thank you for your kind words concerning my last entry. You are certainly welcome to refer to what I have written in any of your posts.

  2. Wrong translation. It is not reformed and always reforming it is "Reformed and Always reformed (or always to be reformed) according to the Word of God."

    There is a big difference. We not always evolving into something else, but always trying to perserve and maintain the Truth.

  3. Quakers have a term for our evolving understanding of God--"Continuing revelation". The United Church of Christ says that "God is still speaking". Catholicism is willing to admit that new ideas can be established as dogma by the magisterium, but they claim that all new ideas must be completely consistent with the old ones (in practice, this hasn't always been the case, but that's the party line that they stick to.)

    In my view, the idea of rigidly holding onto old theologies at all costs and treating them as immutable "truths" is often what stands in the way of becoming more in touch with God, in my view. God speaking to us today, but humans aren't always perfect listeners, and we weren't perfect listeners back when many of those supposed "truths" were established as dogmas. When we close our minds to continuing revelation, we close our minds to God.

  4. Not sure if the translation makes that much difference. It depends a lot on how we discover "truth" and determine what it is. Recently, I was reminded of this quote by NT Scholar, Roy Hoover:

    "In matters of religion and theology, we must be apostles of veracity rather than defenders of the faith."


  5. I think the translation does matter. "Reformanda" is a passive, showing that the Reformation of the Church is to be done by God through the Scriptures. We ought not think we are reforming the church by pointing out how much more theologically, intellectually, scientifically, philosophically, morally, and socially advanced we are compared to the brutes that (mistakenly thought they) were writing nothing less than God's word to us under the power of the Holy Spirit.

  6. I don't think "the brutes" as you call them thought they were writing God's word. I think the authors of these texts would be quite surprised at what happened to what they wrote.

  7. Paul believed that the Old Testament was written for the benefit of the Christian community:

    The Old Testament was recorded for our benefit.

    "... For our sakes, no doubt, this is written ..."

    1 Corinthians 9:10

    "All these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the earth are come."

    1 Corinthians 10:11

    "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning..."

    Romans 15:4

    "Now it was not written for his sake alone ... But for us also ..."

    Romans 4:23, 24

    "Now these things were our examples ..."

    1 Corinthians 10:6, etc.

    James also thought they were written to have permanent authority.

    "Take, my brethren, the prophets ... for an example ..."

    James 5:10

    "Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things ..."

    1 Peter 1:12

    So the apostles had an understanding that when the Spirit speaks through writers, that writing becomes a vehicle of continuing communication to the faithful - even when removed by thousands of years.

    "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable ..."

    2 Timothy 3:16

    Paul believed - at least a few times - that the Lord was using him to communicate to the church in an extraordinary way.

    "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command."

    I Corinthians 14:37.

    Peter considers the letters of Paul inspired. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

    Paul treats a quotation from the gospel of Luke as inspired citing Luke 10:7 as scripture. (1 Timothy 5:18)

    Revelation is adamant about its own inspiration. (Revelation 22:18-19 cf. 1:10-11)

    Paul (at least) was aware that he was writing with divine authority (Cor. 2:12; 14:37; Gal. 1:11-12; Thess. 2:13). He was so sure that it was divine, and that it was authoritative for the church, that he commanded his letters to be circulated as a rule of faith and life for young congregations, even as early as his VERY FIRST LETTER!

    "I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers."

    1 Thessalonians 5:27

    "After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea."

    Colossians 4:16

    So - at least as far as the testimony of Scripture - I'm not as certain as you seem to be that they were agnostic to the way God was using them.

    In Christ,


  8. Thanks Chris.

    You quoted a number of passages that seemed to you to suggest that the authors of texts that appear in the canon thought they were writing "nothing less than God's word to us under the power of the Holy Spirit."

    What do you mean by this?

    I would have a hard time imagining that Paul thought his letters were on par with what he called scripture.

    Regardless of that. Let's say the canon refers to itself as word of God. The canon is the word of God because it says it is the word of God. It is a circular argument.

    The same is said for the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, and Neal Donald Walsch ("Conversations with God"). Others might say the cosmos is word of God.

    What does it mean to you (and I am serious about this question) to say the Bible is word of God? How is it different from other texts that appear to make the same claim and how is it different from the inspired sermons you will be offering on a Sunday morning?


  9. Stop reforming, as it is continual movement akin to language of Marx.

    Stick with the True Church. We are not evolving constantly!!!