There is a tremendous amount of criticism directed toward national leaders in public health and other arenas when they have to change their messages to account for new information. Because my husband is a doctor, sometimes that kind of backlash makes me feel stung on their behalf. Rarely are they responding to a problem (or virus!) that will just stay put. Because it’s a moving target, they have to think again and amend their recommendations.
The theologian Karl Barth popularized a saying of St Augustine about the way the church ought to think of itself. The church ought to always be in the process of being reformed: Ecclesia semper reformanda est (Latin for "The church must always be reformed”). What is the standard that guides this reformation? The church should always reform according to the word of God (semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei). These words refer to the belief in reformed circles (in which we Presbyterians are included) that the church must continually re-examine itself by holding itself in tension with the Word of God. So in light of Scripture and the example of Jesus, we make changes to maintain our purity of doctrine and practice. Reformed Christians know we are sinners and acknowledge that our actions, thoughts, and words need to be held up to the Word in order to make sure we are still driving straight.
In a time when we see people criticizing others for changing their minds or “flip-flopping,” we should remember this value of Always Reforming. When we know better, we can do better. This is not flip-flopping. It’s being transformed in the way Paul described in our verse above: God renews our minds so that we can correct our course and come more fully into His will. In this way, we refuse to be conformed to or deterred by the world and the way it thinks. Instead we let God transform the way we think so that we are re-formed and re-oriented to the kingdom way of life.