In 1947, Reformed theologian Karl Barth coined the phrase, “Ecclesia semper reformanda est,” Latin for “the Church must always be reformed.” He was of the idea that the church must continually re-examine itself in order to maintain its purity of doctrine and practice. Barth, however, is completely wrong, for the same reason that the Reformation was not of the Church, but of people in the Church. Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, which are a true exposition of Scripture, tell us what the Church is and rightly set forth before us pure doctrine and practice.
Sinful people are the ones who always need reformation, for, because of their sin, they often depart from the clear teaching of the Bible in favour of ideas that accommodate their fleshly desires.
Within the Church, the reforming of sinful people is always going on. We call it repentance and forgiveness. God the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin through the Law of God, brings us to contrition and repentance, and opens our hearts to receive the forgiveness of Christ, won for us on the cross with His innocent suffering and death. Every Sunday we sing of this reformation of the sinner’s heart and mind, when, in the Offertory, we pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”