It turns out it’s pretty hard to pinpoint the origin of the phrase, “ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda.” It evidently surfaced some time in the 16th century. The phrase means that the church, even after having gone through the Reformation, is still always in need of being reformed.

(For more on “Semper Reformanda”:

Before he finally kicked the habit, my dad used to smoke Pall Mall cigarettes. The Latin motto that accompanied the brand logo was in hoc signo vinces, “in this sign you will conquer.” Since the motto was originally a Christian slogan, its use to promote a deadly addictive product seemed almost blasphemous to me.

The legend of Constantine’s conversion says that he saw the sign of the cross in the sky and heard the words, in hoc signo vinces. Constantine put the accent on the wrong syllable. The cross was originally a sign of hate, defeat, and disgrace. Christian faith transformed it into a sign of the victory of love. Constantine missed the irony of Christian imagination. For three hundred years, Christians had been saying, “Our war is not against flesh and blood. Our weapons are faith, hope, and love.”

“In this sign you will conquer,” is what Constantine should have heard. “The victory God will give you will be by the power of suffering love, by the power of humility and peace.” Instead he heard, “in this sign you will conquer.” When Peter tried to defend his Lord with the sword, Christ took his sword away. After Constantine, the church took up the sword again. Since that time, the church has always been in need of reform.

In fact, the message of the Bible is that religious people are always in need of reform. The majority of prophets and teachers whose voices are heard in the Scriptures are speaking against the popular majority religion of their time.

Two secular web sites this week reported on the danger of Christian militancy. The first form is an “end-time,” pro-Armageddon type of belief:

End-time Christians follow a method of biblical interpretation known as dispensationalism. The vast majority of evangelical biblical scholars have repudiated dispensationalism, but it is still very popular among lay people and many pastors–especially those who buy TV time. Most people who follow dispensational interpretations are harmless–they are quietly going about their lives and waiting to see what happens. But when it influences public policy and military decisions, end-time Christianity is dangerous–and a serious aberration from the historic faith.

Christian reconstructionists are less dangerous since they advocate working through the ballot box to impose their views on others:

One of the hazards of democracy is that any kook can get up on a soapbox and advocate any agenda. The hope is that in the free market place of ideas, good ideas will overcome bad ideas by the force of reason and persuasion, without resort to the sword.

Still, those who advocate some sort of Christian Taliban are followers more of Constantine than Christ. It is true that in a democracy all of us have the right and responsibility to speak out on moral issues and to try to influence public policy, especially in defense of the powerless. But influencing public opinion and policy in the give and take of democracy is not the same as trying to impose a total theocratic agenda on a godless minority.

Militant Christianity makes it hard for those of use who believe that faith means following Jesus in the way of peace, love, and humility.

Semper Reformanda