The popularity of the phrase semper reformanda seems to be on the up-and-up. Yet two serious questions haunt it.
The first, though far the less important, is, Who was the first to use it. Many have enquired and searched diligently but the answer still seems to elude us. It doesn’t occur in any of the great Reformed confessions or in the works of the magisterial Reformers, including Calvin. It’s not even clear what exactly we’re looking for. The phrase, semper reformanda, can’t stand by itself, yet we don’t seem to know what other bits were originally attached to it. Presumably, the subject of semper reformanda should be ecclesia reformata, so that whatever semper reformanda means it is something that should be done either by or to the Reformed church. But the precise statement, Ecclesia reformata reformanda est, is proving very difficult to find; and if found at all will probably turn up in the writings of one of the more obscure theologians (or their opponents), not in the works of one of the Masters.
Among all the makers of the Scottish Reformed Church one stands pre-eminent: John Knox. To some, he was the greatest-ever Scotsman. To others, such as Andrew Lang and Edwin Muir, he was a paranoid bigot responsible for all the ills we have suffered since the Reformation.
Yet, for all the attention he has received, key facts in Knox’s life remain a mystery. Even his place and date of birth are uncertain. The general consensus is that he was born at Haddington in East Lothian. But when? The traditional date was 1505, but recent scholars prefer 1513-14. Over against this we have to set the fact that in 1564 a contemporary described Knox as "a decrepit old priest". If he was born only in 1513-14, he must have been decrepit in his late forties: a claim that the rest of the young elderly will find hard to thole.