May our barns be filled with produce of every kind; may our sheep increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields,
Last week someone said on the internet that religion cannot learn or grow because to be faithful to your religion, you must keep all your practices exactly as they were when the holy book was written. I don’t think that’s true at all, especially of Christianity.
The Bible was written over hundreds of years. In earlier sections, God seems very insistent upon burnt offerings, but in others, burnt offerings are an abomination if not done with a right heart (Isaiah 66:3), and in Psalm 40:6, God does not require sacrifices and burnt offerings at all!
In seminary I learned that Christianity’s adaptability was one of the things that allowed it to grow beyond its roots in Judaism. In Acts 15, with the guiding of the Holy Spirit, the leaders of the early church discerned that circumcision and eating kosher, essential to Judaism, were not necessary to be a follower of Christ.
When Christians encountered Greek philosophy, they borrowed from that. St. Augustine said all truth belongs to God, so Christians have long claimed anything that was true and good.
You can even see a few examples of how the Christian faith has adapted to some of the many cultures in modern-day America in our local churches: I preach in a collar and a stole, but in other local churches, pastors preach in suits or t-shirts. We meet in a sanctuary, but other churches meet on beaches and brewpubs. My sermons are usually under a half hour, while some preach for almost an hour or more, and Quaker ministers do not preach regularly at all!
Some have argued that Christianity should not adjust to modern culture at all, not noticing the ways they themselves have adapted, like using relatively modern musical instruments like organs and pianos, technology, and architecture. We drive cars to get to worship, consider slavery unspeakably evil (though it was practiced in biblical times and less than 200 years ago in our country), and have seen our faith undergo countless other Spirit-led updates.
Even cultural values have been part of changing the church’s practice. In times past, Christians believed women should be subjected to men and thought that was part of the faith, but more and more we have grown to seeing gender equality not only as acceptable, but as taught in scripture and modeled by Jesus Christ. As the stories of enslaved people began to reach the broader culture, slavery fell out of favor, and eventually most of the church came to view it as a heinous evil. And as the stories of other Christians previously excluded from full inclusion in the faith became better and better known closer to us, many Christian traditions have either begun to push for more inclusion, with some traditions going so far as to treat exclusion as a sin – exclusion of LGBTQ people, differently-abled people, people with mental health struggles, and all manner of other causes Christians have had for exclusion.
Some might say this is the culture leading the church, but I don’t think that’s right. This is God leading the church and the culture to love more and better. The culture is just following closer in some instances. This is not always the case; the church had women in leadership in the United States earlier than many other institutions. For example, some Christian traditions had women in leadership as pastors as early as the 1800s – well before women were allowed to lead in politics.
The author of the comment I began this letter with was wrong. Not only is Christianity adaptable, but its adaptability – led by the Holy Spirit – is one of its strengths.
May we continue to follow where the Holy Spirit leads.
Rev. David M. Schell, pastor