Posts tagged ‘Immutability’

How the Church Can Change

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“The God I know is not concrete or specific,” wrote Bishop John Shelby Spong in the opening to his famous and controversial 1999 book, Why Christianity Must Change or DieHe continued by outlining a litany of grievances against Christian orthodoxy.  For instance, calling God “Father” bothered the bishop, who labeled this title as “so male, so dated,” and accused Christianity of using this title to “consistently justify its rampant discrimination against women as the will of this patriarchal deity.”  He also took issue with the idea that God would be omniscient, writing:

The Bible, the Church’s sacred textbook, portrays the God of antiquity as acting in ways that violate both our knowledge and our sensibilities today.  If an all-knowing God had really made many of the assumptions that the Bible makes, then this God would be revealed as hopelessly ignorant.  For many biblical assumptions are today dismissed as quite simply wrong.  Sickness, for example, does not result from sin being punished.  Nor does a cure result from our prayers for God’s intervention or from the sense that we have been sufficiently chastised so that the punishment of our sickness might cease.

The only solution, in Bishop Spong’s opinion, was to give up on Theism in search of “another God language.”  In other words, everything in the Christian faith, right down to God Himself, had to change.

Bishop Spong’s two-decade-old sentiments continue to influence our contemporary conversations.  Take, for instance, the comment from California Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi who, when debating the different ways in which people address same-sex attraction, said, “The faith community, like anyone else, needs to evolve with the times.”

The argument that the Christian faith must change is regularly bolstered by the assertion that the Christian message already has changed.  “Christians used to support slavery,” one person might say, “and they changed their view on that.  So why shouldn’t they change their view on ____________?”  One can fill in the blank with whatever fashionable cause célèbre they want.  The divinity of Christ.  The ethics of human life.  The call to love the marginalized.  The contours of human sexuality.

It is true that some Christians have changed their views – not only on slavery, but on other things as well.  But this does not mean that the teachings of Christ have changed.  Christ, for instance, did not celebrate oppressive systems like slavery.  He came, instead, to bring us out of slavery into a new exodus, accomplished by the cross (cf. Luke 9:31).  Christ, then, never changed His view on the evils of slavery.  Christians, however, have been changed by the teachings of Christ.

There are two ways to understand how change in the Church should work.  Either the Christian faith itself should be revised to keep up with the times or Christians themselves can be refined as they study timeless truth in Scripture.  The first understanding makes the faith subservient to the times and its narcissistic celebration of self.  The second understanding makes Christians subservient to the Scriptures and their forming work throughout the centuries.  The Scriptures make it clear which understanding of change they support:

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

Christians should continually be “transformed into Christ’s image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  It would be a tragedy if we were the same people today that we were a decade ago.  By God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control should all be growing.  Christians should change.  The Christian faith, however, should not.

The motto of the Reformation was 1 Peter 1:25: Verbum Domini manet in aeternum.  “The Word of the Lord endures forever.”  The Reformers did not want to change the faith, but they did want people to be changed by the faith.  Their goal was to proclaim and explain the faith as it stood – and as it still stands – in the Word of the Lord to the blessing and benefit of all who would receive it.

So, as the Church continues to change, let’s make sure the right thing in the Church is changing – us.

May 27, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – God’s Immutable Provision

An old spiritual says:

I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what lies ahead.[1]

These words are simple, but powerfully true.  And, I would add, they are also sorely needed in our world.

We live in a world full of uncertainty.  The stock market can swing several hundred points in a day.  A single poll can crown a new frontrunner in our current presidential race.  Tragedy can strike in an instant.  It’s impossible to know what tomorrow will bring.  That’s why I love the words of this spiritual:  “Today I’ll walk beside Him, for He knows what lies ahead.”  Jesus, the song says, knows with certainty what lies ahead in an uncertain world.  The chorus continues:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

We cannot even manage to predict the weather of tomorrow, much less control the events of tomorrow.  But Christ can do both.  Tomorrow is held by Christ.

In ABC this past weekend, we kicked off a two-week mini-series titled “More Blessed” where we are taking a look at faithful stewardship.  The Bible calls us to steward our resources faithfully by stewarding them generously.  The Psalmist puts it succinctly when he says, “The righteous give generously” (Psalm 37:21).  However, I know that in such a shaky world, sometimes the call to give generously can be a daunting one.  After all, the specter of being generous with our resources only to watch them evaporate in the calamity of a terrible tomorrow is unsettling.  This is why so many people prefer to keep what they have while they still have it!

Contrary to the world’s call to keep what you have while you still have it, Christians are called to be givers and sharers.  And we can be givers and sharers – and feel at peace about it – thanks to the doctrine of God’s immutability.  For with the rock-solid assurance God’s changeless character, we can trust Him to provide for our needs, even as He has done in the past (cf. Luke 11:3).  This frees us up to fearlessly share with others that which God already has provided us.  For more good gifts are sure to come from His hand.

The church father Augustine connected the doctrine of God’s immutability to the doctrine of God’s omniscience:

God does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future, indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence.[2]

Augustine’s argument concerning God’s immutability and omniscience is an important one.  Because God, Augustine argues, knows all – past, present, and future – nothing catches God off-guard.  Thus, God responds to the tragedies, trials, and terrors of this world not spastically or sporadically, but intentionally and wisely because He is already thoroughly familiar with them, even before they happen.  We can therefore trust God with our futures and be assured that He will carry us through by “His stable and eternal presence.”

Augustine’s words are a great comfort to me.  For if God knows all, then he knows all that I need.  And He will surely provide for what I need in His changeless, steady, stable, and immutable way.  For nothing – none of my needs, tragedies, or trials – catches my God off guard.

The final verse of that old spiritual goes:

I don’t know about tomorrow,
It may bring me poverty.
But the One who feeds the sparrow
Is the One who stands by me.

This is the precious promise of God’s immutable provision.  I hope you steward your resources like you believe it.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” http://www.hymnlyrics.org/newlyrics_i/i_know_who_holds_tomorrow.php

[2] Augustine, City of God, 11.21, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120111.htm

October 17, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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