Posted by: Mad Lamb | 01/05/2016

Yesterday, today and forever

I’m reading the Bible in a year again and I’ve just finished reading Deuteronomy. There’s a lot of lists of things to avoid – some give reason to be sent out of the camp and others result in the occasional stoning. Many of these instructions seem odd, even abhorrent, to us now but then, it was important. It’s easy to forget this was a different time, when the people of God were on the move. There were no hospitals or prisons, and while it may seem barbaric, disease and mutiny were to be avoided at all costs.

My reading guide offers reading the New Testament parallel, so it’s been interesting to discover Jesus breaks all these rules. He does the things that are banned, touches the unclean without being banished and offers forgiveness for repentance where others want a stoning to occur.

Each time I read through the whole Bible, I am struck by how much God changes. God may not change in nature, but he certainly changes the way he interacts with people. God wants to communicate but we are very good at doing our own thing and ignoring God. To help us, he provides something to focus on. In Exodus, there is a pillar of cloud to follow, then a tent with ceremonies and rituals. Later in the Bible, people are allowed to build a city with a permanent temple. There is also the move from talking to individuals, such as Moses and Noah, who become the communicators for God. In time, a tribe of priests are set aside to serve God and minister to the people, and prophets bring words from God.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus changed that too.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.) Jesus also talks of tearing down the temple and, at his death, the curtain in the temple tears apart, giving access to God for everyone again. (Heb 1:1,2)

Those who question the ‘infallibility’ of the Scriptures revel in these discrepancies to discredit the Bible. Also, when we are introducing non-believers to the Bible, it’s hard to explain these changes in rules. In reality, we spend a lot of time in church concentrating the steadfast nature of God and can be guilty of pushing aside these questions. Perhaps too often we simply stick our fingers in our ears and sing our favourite song loudly, to drown out any criticism.

So how can we approach questions like, ‘How can God be for something in one place and time, and against it in another?’ Can God change and still be reliable? What can change and what is set in stone?

Stones3b

The instructions in Deuternonomy were about maintaining a supportive status quo, from one generation to another. When you analyse them objectively, you see they are about remembering the sovereignty of God and making sure we care for each fairly … and avoiding being stoned in the process. Jesus, too, focussed on the commandments to Love God with heart, soul and mind, and to love one another, so that hasn’t changed.

Unfortunately, in church, people love things staying the same…forever. It becomes hard to change what we have always done, especially what we feel defines our expression of Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have ceremonies and rituals that stay with us a long time. The important things, such as communion and celebrating Christmas and Easter, help us remember why we do things in church. However, activities, service times, frequencies, lengths, content and even the day, can all change without losing sight of God and may create a new way into church for some. As an example, we’ve been in churches when holding a mid-week service during the day has been a way into church for older people, who may be out of the habit of going to church on a Sunday.

However, I recognise that when society and culture changes, we need to be cautious not to bend too easily. After all, Romans 12 extols us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world’. So should we change at all? Isn’t it better just to be a harbour in a sea of change?

As we’ve seen, God is not afraid to change, and he does so for our benefit not his. After Jesus, others were encouraged to embrace the change of rules too. Peter was given a vision to help be open to change his eating habits and take the Gospel to non-Jews. Paul changed from persecuting these followers of Jesus to encouraging them. The Spirit brought fire at Pentecost and provided a God-translate service to speak to a large crowd, which seemed to reverse the restrictions placed on earth after the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11.

So often, the main problem is that we don’t always see the change around us, as we are too close, or see the need to change for the benefit those outside our congregations. So how do churches spot the cultural changes they should respond to, without losing their core identity or avoid changing too often, thus not creating a firm spiritual foundation?

It can be like a parent never seeing the changes in their child but a distant relative, who seldom visits, see the changes more easily. God is not the distant relative but his perspective is bigger than ours, and he knows how the future will pan out. It’s also worth noting that the rest of Romans 12 verse 2 actually challenges a static mindset, ‘…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will’.

It’s by being willing to seek to renew our visions, through spending more time in prayer, that will help us change with God’s blessings. It’s also worth doing before we are forced to only consider change in the face of a diminishing congregation or lack of collection funds.

A start can be to review activities, looking out for where we’ve got a bit too stuck in the past to accommodate the needs of the society around us.  Regularly walking around our communities, noting what we see and how it may be different from our previous perceptions, can alert us to opportunities to which we can respond.

Then we can start to make the appropriate changes in our churches, or even our individual lives, to encourage more people to engage with God in a new, but supportive way and without threat of stoning.

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Responses

  1. I love ‘God is not a distant relative’. I find it fascinating that we humans both long for and resist change. It is God who best engineers and guides us into it. Great post Elaine 🙂


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