Is "Reformation" a Confusing Term?

Is "Reformation" a Confusing Term?

By Mark Finley

Recently a colleague and I were discussing the church’s renewed emphasis on revival and reformation. He raised a significant question: “What do church leaders mean when they use the term ‘reformation’?” His question was certainly valid. The word ‘reformation’ can be confusing. It can mean different things to different people.

What precisely do we mean by reformation? Are we using it in the context of the sixteenth-century Reformation that eventually led to a split from Roman Catholicism?

There are those who believe that the church is in a state of apostasy and that God has called them to form a separate movement. They are convinced they are the “true” reformers. Is the call to reformation a call primarily to diet and dress reform? Is it an appeal to reform our institutions? Does it necessarily assume that the church is in apostasy?

Revival and reformation are nothing new. Revival is an ongoing experience in the life of every believer. Since our natures are fallen, the Holy Spirit leads us to spiritual renewal every day. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23). God daily pours out fresh supplies of His grace and power on those who kneel before His throne. Spending time in His presence we are changed. The psalmist cried out, “I am afflicted very much; revive me, O Lord, according to Your word” (Ps. 119:107, NKJV).*

Reformation is the outgrowth of revival. New Testament writers used different words to describe reformation. The apostle Paul called it “sanctification by the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13). In Romans he described it as being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). In Hebrews the apostle urged us to be “partakers of His holiness”(Heb. 12:10). Peter encouraged believers to “grow” in grace (2 Peter 3:18). John defined it as practicing “righteousness” (1 John 2:29).

Reformation is simply choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our lives with biblical values; to submit to God’s will in every area of our lives. It is the commitment to please God in everything we do; the willingness to make any change necessary to live in harmony with God’s commands. Ellen White defined revival and reformation this way: “Revival and reformation are two different things. Revival signifies a renewal of spiritual life, a quickening of the powers of mind and heart, a resurrection from spiritual death. Reformation signifies a reorganization, a change in ideas and theories, habits and practices. Reformation will not bring forth the good fruit of righteousness unless it is connected with the revival of the Spirit. Revival and reformation are to do their appointed work, and in doing this work they must blend” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 128).

What implications does reformation have for each of us personally, and for the life of the church? When our hearts are revived, the Holy Spirit leads us to ask some probing questions. Are there areas in my life that are not in harmony with God’s will? Do I harbor bitterness, anger, resentment, or any other negative thoughts toward others? Has amusement become a god? Do I cling to cherished idols in the areas of diet or dress that are not in accordance with God’s commands? Do I live a life of self-centered indulgence, or unselfish service?

The spirit of revival and reformation will lead every institutional leader and administrative committee to reevaluate the practices of the institution they lead in the light of biblical principles and the counsels of the Spirit of Prophecy. They will ask, Does the institution I administer genuinely reflect the God-given principles and values of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

Heaven’s call to reformation is a call to reevaluate every personal and corporate practice in the blazing light of God’s Word. It is an urgent appeal to renew our commitment to doing Christ’s will in every area of our lives.

And one more thing: Ellen White wrote, “Of all the people in the world, reformers should be the most unselfish, the most kind, the most courteous. In their lives should be seen the true goodness of unselfish deeds” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 157).


Mark A. Finley is editor-at-large of the Adventist Review. This article was published May 19, 2011 and is being reprinted with permission. To view the original article, click here!

* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


What do church leaders mean when they use the term ‘reformation’? What precisely do we mean? And how should "reformation" effect our lives today? To learn more, read this inspiring short article by Mark Finley!