Always Reforming or Always Renewing?

Christopher Bellito writes:

Reform in church history has tended to lean more in the direction of going back to or restoring an original form, while renewal has connoted making that original form ‘new and improved.’ [Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II, pg. 10]

This is an intriguing quote for its contrast of “reform” and “renew.” To summarize Edwin Tait’s Reformanda Vs. Renovanda, the difference is this: “always reforming” is the position that asserts that we must always be seeking to upend what we have and make it conform to an ideal which we feel has been lost. By contrast, “always renewing” is the position that we must learn to grow deeper into what we already have, to make the original better than it was (or is).

Most Reformed people today never seem to ask such questions as “Can the original ever be recovered in its pristine form?” and “Can we actually undo all the things that have made us what we are today?” Affirmative answers are merely assumed, not defended. In fact, rarely is the logic of “always reforming” unpacked, so that its natural conclusion, the notion that we are to live our whole Christian lives in a constant state of emergency, conducting radical surgery every day of our lives, becomes clear. It is in this light that Edwin concludes:

“semper reformanda” is a trap when it becomes the central program of the Church. Sweep the dust away and it will start settling again immediately. Dusting is one of the duties of life (though I do it far too seldom). But if we spend all our time dusting the house we will never enjoy it. And our problems will only get worse if we decide the furniture is bad every time it gets covered with dust. We’ll bankrupt ourselves and fill our lives with chaos trying to get new furniture all the time. The sensible approach is to dust as needed and accept the fact that cleanliness will never be perfect. We need to _live_ in the house rather than always trying to make it perfectly clean.

“We need to live in the house rather than always trying to make it clean.” Something to think about as we think about what it means to “reform” the Church.

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