The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday, our observance of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, which (unofficially) began on October 31, 1517.
Ecclesia semper reformanda est. This Latin phrase, popularized in the last century, means that the Church is always in need of reformation, and should always be reforming. But what does this mean?
The more common understanding of this phrase is that the Church must be constantly adapting itself to fit the times and the culture in which it is located. As the culture changes, so also the Church must change with it, in order to remain relevant to the people it hopes to reach. Hence, the work of Martin Luther is seen as moving the Church away from medieval superstition and ignorance to a more enlightened and empowering understanding of Christian faith and life.
Practically, this done by filling churches with popular music, crafting messages that potential audiences desire to hear, embracing scientific and technological progress in all its forms, adopting the prevailing morality of the surrounding culture, and generally going with the flow in all things. Essentially, the Church must evolve in order to survive. Those who resist these changes are merely stubborn, clinging to the old ways out of fear of the unknown.
The less common, but preferred, understanding of semper reformanda is that the Church must always be penitent. God has established His Church on the foundation of the unchanging Word of Christ. Wherever and whenever the Church strays from that foundation, it must heed the call of the Word of God to repent, to return to God in faithfulness and obedience.
Rather than go along with a world corrupted by sin, the Church is to stand as ununchanging paragon of truth, a beacon of the one true light in a world of darkness. Rather than change along with the culture, the Church is to hold fast to the Word of God, and call those who have strayed back to the fold. The Church must continually point out the corruption and decay of humanity that the culture promotes, not join it on the road to destruction.
Remeber that Luther himself did not seek to establish a new religion, or a new churech, but sought only to correct errs that had been introduced which were contray to the Holy Scriptures. Luther's Reformation was very much a backward-looking reformation, a rejection of medieval doctrinal innovations and a return to the Scriptures. Luther denounced the radical reformers who wanted to completely abandon the Church's history and tradition. Instead, he encouraged faithful adherence to God's created order and inspired Word, keeping what was good in the Church and setting aside what was corrupt, consistently confessing Christ's work of redemption through faith in Him as the central doctrine of Christian faith.
To put it simply, reformation in the Church is nothing more than what is expected of every Christian: evaluating one's life and conduct against the standard of God's Law, repenting of sins, and having been forgiven, endeavoring to live a new and holy life according to God's Word. The Word of God is the unchanging standard by which every individual Christian, every congregation, and every denomination is to be judged. If we must be reformed, it is not in the image of the sinful and fallen world, but into the image of God, who has created and redeemed us through Jesus Christ.