Do you see Christian faith as something fixed to hold onto, or as a journey of change?
It is possible to see it in either way. For some, Christian faith was “was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3) and we cannot depart from this without slipping into error.
But it is also possible to see life with Jesus as a journey of growth, perhaps like John Bunyan set out in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
I’m firmly in the second group. Here’s how I see it.
Revealed once and for all?
There are some good reasons to think our Christian belief is fixed and cannot vary. After all, the Bible is fixed, with no additions possible. The gospels give us the story of Jesus from the first eyewitnesses, so that is fixed also. And God doesn’t change, right? So he doesn’t get things wrong the first time and have to give updates like buggy Microsoft software.
But these reasons don’t stand up to scrutiny.
We learn things
As we gain knowledge, we occasionally have to re-assess what we believe God or the Bible are teaching us. There are many examples:
- Scholars discover more accurate versions of the Biblical text, or more accurate translations based on better understanding of Greek and Hebrew, or changing word meanings in our culture.
- Scientific discoveries can change the way we understand the text.
- The Biblical worldview, especially early on, was of a flat earth with a “firmament” (basically a hard surface) above the sky keeping the waters above the earth from flooding us. While that view is understandable (it is how things may seem), we now know that the world isn’t like this.
- For many Christians (including me) the theory of evolution shows that Genesis 1-3 cannot be simply interpreted literally, however we may see it.
- Archaeology can both confirm or throw doubt on Biblical accounts. For example, the archaeology of Canaan in the period 1400 BCE to 1100 BCE confirms that the account in Joshua 13-24 is more historical than the account in Joshua 1-12.
- Understanding the culture of first century Israel enhances, and sometimes changes, our understanding of Jesus’ ministry.
The Holy Spirit teaches us new things
Jesus promised that God’s Spirit would lead his followers into truth (John 16:13) and it is an ongoing process (“whatever he hears he will speak”). So there are new things we may need to know.
We have seen this in the two thousand year history of the church. Time and time again, the church, or part of it, has gone off track or needed new inspiration, and new ideas have come to the fore, for example:
- the early church councils
- monasticism, especially St Francis
- the Reformation and the Anabaptists
- the modern missionary movement
- Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal
- the Salvation Army and the recognition of community welfare and justice.
If the church had refused to change at these important times, we wouldn’t be where we are today. To determine to remain static stifles the Spirit.
Does God never change?
Any good teacher or parent knows there are appropriate times and ways to teach certain information, and other times and methods that are inappropriate. An understanding of a person’s situation is crucial in communicating effectively with them.
So how could God be any different?
We should expect that God will have truths, or aspects of truth, that are inappropriate, unhelpful or less relevant at some times, but important at others. We can see this in the scriptures, where the moral law revealed in the Old Testament was external, based on actions. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed a “higher law”, based on love and internal attitudes that went beyond external actions.
My life as a journey of faith
My life illustrates this. My understanding of Christian doctrine, the church and the Bible have all developed over half a century, and (I hope) are still developing. Thankfully, I am not the opinionated but somewhat ignorant person I was when I was twenty. (It isn’t for me to judge how much I have “improved”, doubtless others who know me will have varying opinions! 🙂 )
I have written up my thought and life journeys:
- Eighty years in the making – how I came to believe in Jesus, why I continue to try to follow him 6 decades later, and how my beliefs have changed along the way.
- Church and me – my experience of church, how I’ve tried to serve God and people through the church, and some of the lessons I’ve learned.
- How I learned to love the Bible in a new way. This is a new page, where I tell the story of how a “good Presbyterian laddie” (as my first Minister described me) gradually came to see the Bible in a whole new way.
I hope this encourages you to be on a journey of discovery too. I’d be interested to hear your story.
Photo by Sharefaith.