Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ecclesia Refermata

Okay - I admit it. I can't keep out of PCUSA GA business. So sue me. You'll have to do it in civil court, because I'm not under the jurisdiction of the PCUSA anymore. For real coverage from a real PCUSA pastor, go to Classical Presbyterian. Anyway....
Before the vote to change the Heidelberg Catechism, the usual predictable YAD stands to the mic and says that the church is a reforming church (instead of a REFORMED church). They take this to mean that the church is always changing her basic beliefs. As evidence, she cited the presence of multi-ethnic moderator / vice-moderators this year. (Big whoop. There were more black people and Near-East Asians at the Council of Nicea than there are at the PCUSA's GA!)
This tired statement (I refuse to call it an argument, which would require both logical construction and some sort of proof!) I've come to call the Ecclesia Refermata. You'll recall that a fermata is a musical sign indicating that a note should be sustained. This tired canard of an incomplete statement - the church is always changing (to accommodate our point of view) - just has to go away. And yet it comes up at EVERY SINGLE GA, and is trilled and sung into the minds of gullible YADs who don't have much catechesis in the Reformed tradition (and even less Latin training).

This thesis, which gets bandied around even by people who should know better, is based on a rather widespread and longstanding misunderstanding of the Latin motto, Ecclesia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. This has even been addressed by the GA in 2006. The Latin reformanda is not a passive participle; it is a “gerundive,” which can be defined as a “verbal adjective used to indicate that a specified noun needs to, deserves to, ought to, or must be the object of the action indicated in the gerundive.”

The classic example is the Roman Senator Cato’s repeated cry, Cartago delenda est! He was not saying, “Carthage is being destroyed.” He was saying, “Carthage needs to be destroyed!” or “Carthage must be destroyed!” Similarly, Legibus parendum est, does not mean, “The laws are being obeyed.” It means, “The laws must be obeyed!”
By the same token, “Ecclesia Reformata at Semper Reformanda” does not mean, “The Church Reformed and Always Reforming.” It means “The Church Reformed and Always Needing to be Reformed.”

Second, the YADs (and the commissioners and advisors who coach them) leave off the most important aspect of that reforming work: it's done secundum verbum dei. The exegetical maneuver that the Reformers came up with was grammatico-historical interpretation. When the text says something, once you understand the context and the content, you understand God's will and are bound to obey it. The church is thus further conformed to the image of the Son (the living Word) by the Scriptures (the written Word).

The Heidelberg issue that was brought before the GA - which, despite protests to the contrary, was just a tired repeat of previous attempts to legitimize homosex (search on Heidelberg) - is not about restoring the church's confessional integrity or increasing her faithfulness to the standards of Scripture. (That's actually what the translators of the current PCUSA version were doing.) It's about making the Scriptures and creeds a quieter place when it comes to speaking about homosex. And of course the irony of the situation is lost on people who have forgotten that the slogan was born out of Dutch pietism (the so-called Nadere Reformatie) - an earnest desire to apply the glorious doctrinal and ecclesial insights of the Reformation to the everyday task of living a holy life.

As long as they keep bringing it up without definitive silencing based on confidence that God's word does not err in condemning homosex (as well as ANY non-marital sex), then you're going to see them hold this out again and again. REFERMATA.


Aric Clark said...

The problem with your assertion that the Heidelberg ammendment is "just a tired repeat of previous attempts to legitimize homosex" is that the translation provided in the ammendment is superior and no one opposed to it is arguing otherwise, they are slandering the motives of the writers of the ammendment, but failing to bring one decent textual argument to say that the translation is incorrect. Besides are you suggesting that the english word "unchaste" fails to account adequately for homosexual intercourse?

Chris said...


Tell me you really believe that this isn't driven by the homosex debate. Tell me that you believe this inspite of this being a decade-long workup of an identical overture, but with some accretions to mask what they've wanted since 1996.

I agree that it's a better rendering of the German (which I've read, as well as Ursinus' commentary on the text). But the official PCUSA version is a better rendering of the Scripture behind the text. Let's face it...the Reformers would blush at what is happening at GA right now.

As the Heidelberg euphemistically shows, some things just are mentionable in polite company.

Besides, the catechism was meant for LITTLE CHILDREN. Can you imagine some wunderkind asking a German Reformed pastor what "Ehebrecher, Lustknaben, und Knabenschänder" means during Sunday School!?!?!?

Adel Thalos said...

Excellent comments on "always being reformed." I have always understood the meaning in context to indicate that human sinful tendencies are to stray from God's Word, and therefore we are always needing to be reformed back to the inerrant Bible.

We stray down the paths of our own desiring, and we must always be brought back by God's Holy Word.

It is completely fascinating that what is going on among liberal/progressives/neoorthodox/neoliberal-emergents is to totally reverse the meaning of this concept. They reinterpret this to mean that we are to be reformed according to the gospel of "what's happening among cultural progressives now."