Considering Zion with Jodocus van Lodenstein: A Vision of Reform

You may have heard the phrase Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, and you may know that it translates roughly to “The Reformed church must continually be reformed.”1 Perhaps you have heard it applied to Reformed churches today, implying that believers and congregations must be vigilant to examine their beliefs and practices repeatedly and continuously in light of God’s Word.

The origin of the phrase is less clear than its meaning. In The Outlook, Michael Bush traced the terms reformata and reformanda to the Dutch theologian Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617–1666), as quoted by his students Jodocus van Lodenstein and Jacobus Koelman.2 In Tabletalk, W. Robert Godfrey credited Van Lodenstein’s 1674 book Beschouwinge van Zion with the more specific meaning of semper reformanda that has influenced churches in the Dutch Reformed tradition.3 Wim A. Dreyer, rather than identifying a particular source, looked to John Calvin, Van Lodenstein, and the twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth as offering three distinct but interrelated positions that support the phrase semper reformanda.4 Many scholars invoke Van Lodenstein’s name in discussions of the principle, but it seems that no one has yet found a single historic origin point for the exact phrase Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.

I discovered this knowledge gap while doing research for another project, and that discovery in turn revealed how little I knew about Jodocus van Lodenstein (1620–1677) and his world. Although his work Beschouwinge van Zion is frequently cited as one of the major texts of the Dutch Further Reformation or Nadere Reformatie, it has never been translated into English, and even the biographical details of Lodenstein’s life are rarely discussed in depth.5 I learned that Lodenstein (or Lodensteyn) was born in Delft to a prominent family, that he grew up with severe allergies and a speech impediment, that as a young man he developed a love for the English Puritans, that he entered the ministry and served three congregations in the Netherlands, that he never married, and that he played a large role in a circle of figures who called for renewal in the Dutch Reformed church of the seventeenth century. I read about Lodenstein’s continual longing for spiritual revival that sometimes resulted in a negative attitude toward the institutional church, and I observed that his tendencies toward pietism and mysticism have garnered mixed reactions from later Reformed believers. Still, I wanted to learn more about his central text and what insight it might offer for Reformed churches today.

The result is a work in progress that I hope to share in the pages of The Outlook over the course of 2024. Although a full translation is out of the question for now, I have embarked on reading Beschouwinge van Zion in Dutch, offering provisional translations of key passages, and writing summaries of other sections to help myself and others gain a greater appreciation of this work. Comments and translation corrections are welcome as I work through this project. I hope it will be a useful contribution to The Outlook and a blessing to readers.

About the Text

Beschouwinge van Zion, in some editions rendered as Beschouwingen Sions, is a devotional work first published in 1674. The full title can be translated as Considering Zion: or, Thoughts and Remarks over the Present Condition of Reformed Christians, Set in Several Dialogues. It takes the form of a running conversation between a pastor–theologian and two elders of the Reformed church in the Netherlands, arranged into ten chapters or dialogues. The title takes its inspiration from Psalm 48:12–13: “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels” (English Standard Version). Lodenstein offered these fictional dialogues as a means of considering the state of the spiritual Zion, the church of Christ.

The first edition of Beschouwinge van Zion, published over the course of several years and completed after Lodenstein’s death, also contained some posthumous writings on “the blessedness of mankind” and a sermon he preached on Ezekiel 37:7–8. That edition is available on Google Books, but I have chosen to make use of a more modern edition edited by H. P. Scholte between 1836 and 1838 (also available on Google Books).6 The fact that Scholte thought this work deserved to be brought to the attention of the Dutch Reformed in the nineteenth century underscores its historical and devotional value.

I plan to begin by discussing the first six chapters or dialogues in six installments. At the end of the year, I will either continue with Dialogues 7–10 or offer a brief summary of their contents.

Dialogue 1: Disorders of the Reformation

Lodenstein offered the following summary of the first dialogue: “Of non-Christians in the congregation and of some disorders or mis-orders of the Reformation in particular.” The chapter begins with a meeting between Ahikam, who has recently concluded a term as church elder, and Stephanus, who has just been nominated to that office. Stephanus reflects that he is confronted both by the greatness of the demand of the office and by the sorry state of the congregation of the Lord. Ahikam replies that Stephanus’s awareness of the problems of the church already places him “among a rare group in the land” (2). At this point, they see their teacher, the minister Urbanus, and ask whether he is willing to join them in conversation. Urbanus complains that he is up to his head in work, surrounded by “spiritually stupid people who would drive the wise mad and make crooked what cannot be made straight again” (3),7 and since he was just trying to get away from such people for a little while, he is happy to join them.

The core of the chapter begins with the following question: “If one looks at the present-day Reformed church, does one see in it and on it the likeness of the Christian church?” (3). Lodenstein’s dialogue challenges readers to reconsider whether labeling habits or traditions as “Reformed” necessarily means that they honor Christ. The chapter discusses three primary misunderstandings which Lodenstein saw at work in the church of his day.

1. Misunderstanding the Visible and Invisible Nature of the Church

The discussion turns to biblical images of the splendor of the Old Testament temple, such as Psalm 87. Urbanus states that excellence in true holiness is required of the church, for believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), and the congregation is God’s house and temple (1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Thess. 2:4; 1 Pet. 2:5). Stephanus clarifies that the visible splendor of the Old Testament temple was a token of the invisible church, referring to its spiritual beauty that consists in faith and purity of heart. Urbanus agrees but hastens to add that this spiritual beauty must also manifest in external characteristics (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 1:6, 12; Isa. 61:3; John 15:8). He says this as a response to popular arguments that a church could be genuine in an invisible sense while outwardly showing none of the characteristics of godliness.

Ahikam challenges common usage of the terms visible and invisible when applied to the church. He points out that these terms refer only to our ability to judge the genuineness of others’ faith. The invisible church pertains to “the hidden body of the Lord Jesus Christ” (5) which will be revealed on the last day. But this has nothing to do with the erroneous notion that believers can exist on earth without visible fruits of godliness in words and life. The dialogue quotes numerous Bible passages that emphasize that believers’ faith must not only be genuine but must also appear in its fruits for the world to see. The fruits of faith are meant to be visible.

2. Misunderstanding the Purpose of Christ’s Work

A second misunderstanding concerns the purpose of Christ’s work. Stephanus notes that many Christians hold that “the forgiveness of sins, the quieted conscience, and therefore a heavenly joy, are . . . the highest aim of Christ’s coming, and so as to be thankful to God and go on the way of heaven one necessarily has to be virtuous also and to do good works” (7). This explanation sounds credible, especially in light of the three sections of the Heidelberg Catechism, but Urbanus offers a different view: Underneath God’s glory, the foremost end of Jesus’s coming was to purify a people for Himself (Titus 2:14; 2 Pet. 2). This means that righteousness in heart and action ought to be the constant striving of God’s people; good works are not tokens of thankfulness alone but also express the outworking of the central purpose for which Christ came.

Ahikam says that if the disciples of pagan philosophers clearly showed their beliefs and allegiance in their lifestyle, this should be all the more true of disciples of Christ. Urbanus provocatively suggests that the “monks of popedom” (de Monniken in het Pausdom) set a better example in their visible dedication to false religion than Reformed Christians practice with regard to true religion (8). Referencing Psalm 2:6 and Luke 1:32–33, he calls for a “free-willing submission” to God and the Lord Jesus and a “total distinctness” (geheele eigenhead) in the believer’s way of life.

3. Misunderstanding the Nature of Reformation

This leads the dialogue further in pursuit of an additional question: How is a Reformed Christian to be more outstanding than a Roman Catholic or a proponent of any other religion? Urbanus expresses a central theme of the book: that a Christian, and especially a Reformed (Gereformeerd) Christian, is a rare and wondrous sight to behold in times of spiritual decline. Urbanus explains that “the Lord has pleased to give His light to some, so that, seeing [the plight of the church], they have started to combat all these evil grounds, in order that they may restore [herstellen] its might unto holiness, and also reform [reformeren] the Christian according to the teaching of the Lord Christ” (10).

In this key passage, we clearly see a trope similar to the phrase Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda, although not in those exact words. Lodenstein challenges a once-for-all vision of what it means to be “Reformed” (Gereformeerd); instead, he points to the need for all Christians to strive for continual and ongoing reform, in the present progressive tense of “reforming” (reformeren). His call echoes the opening words of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses a century and a half earlier, stating that our Lord and Master willed the entire Christian life to be one of repentance.

We will come back to Lodenstein’s further comments on the nature of Reformed doctrine and life in the next installment. This challenging book may disrupt our comfort zones, but Lodenstein sought to break a complacent Reformed church with the goal of healing. May his message find attentive ears today.

Mr. Michael R. Kearney is a board member of Reformed Fellowship. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Rhetoric at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Jodocus van Lodenstein1. The phrase has a long history in The Outlook and was referenced in the first issue of Torch and Trumpet: Henry Van Til, “Calvinism Today,” Torch and Trumpet 1, no. 1 (April/May 1951). Other early examples include Louis Praamsma, “Calvin and His Contributions to the Reformation,” The Outlook 14, no. 6 (November/December 1964); Klaas Runia, “Is It Still Worthwhile to Be Reformed Today? (II),” The Outlook 20, no. 6 (November/December 1970).

2. Michael Bush, “The History and Meaning of Semper Reformanda,” The Outlook 48, no. 2 (March/April 1998).

3. W. Robert Godfrey, “Semper Reformanda in Its Historical Context,” Tabletalk, September 7, 2023, (accessed October 27, 2023).

4. Wim A. Dreyer, “Calvin, Van Lodenstein and Barth: Three Perspectives on the Necessity of Church Reformation,” in Nadenke oor 500 jaar se Reformatoriese teologie, HTS Theological Studies/Teologiese studies, supplement 11, 73 (5), 53–65.

5. Some good sources are Joel R. Beeke, “Jodocus van Lodenstein (1620–1677),” Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2010, republished at–1677 (accessed October 27, 2023); Carl J. Schroeder, In Quest of Pentecost: Jodocus van Lodenstein and the Dutch Second Reformation (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001).

6. Beschouwinge van Zion, of Aandachten en opmerkingen over den tegenwoordigen toestand van het gereformeerde christenvolk, gesteld in eenige zamenspraken, ed. H. P. Scholte, rev. ed., 3 vols. (Amsterdam: H. Höveker, 1836–1838). Hendrik P. Scholte (1805–1868) was a conservative Reformed minister, a leader of the Afscheiding of 1834, and the founder of the Dutch immigrant community of Pella, Iowa. Scholte’s three volumes cover Dialogues 1–6. So far I have been unable to find Dialogues 7–10 online in Scholte’s edition.

7. “Geestelijk verstandelooze menschen, die wel eenen wijze dol maken zouden, en van dat kromme, dat niet kan regt gemaakt worden.”