The enduring realities are anchored in the God revealed in Christ
The poet Edmund Spenser speaks of “the ever-whirling wheele of Change, the which all mortal things doth sway.” And down the years, peaceful or war-tormented, change has indeed been the order of time. Watching history, we are tempted to say with Shelley: “Naught may endure but mutability.”
The mainspring of movement is in all things; nothing stands still. Seemingly immobile matter is but energy in prescribed patterns of motion. Sun and sand, oceans and blood-rills, star-swarms and morning glories—something is happening to all of them, always. “Get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and to make new ones like them,” said Marcus Aurelius.
Yet paradoxically change has ever been disturbing to mankind. Many a person might say with the character in Browning’s Paracelsus: “I detest all change, and most a change in aught I loved long since.” Men like ruts. They cry, as did the man in Jesus’ parable who tasted the new wine: “The old is better!”
Change often disconcerts Christians; yet from time to time transitions must be made. “The old order changeth” and the new invades our lives. Theology and philosophy are affected; doctrines may need reinterpretation; translations of truth may crowd in upon us. Sometimes we are shocked, sometimes amused. We sweat in agony of spirit when some scientist threatens to mar that awful opening sentence of the Bible—“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” But we wag our heads and grin when in place of the King James Version’s, “Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss,” we find the paraphrase, “Give a handshake all round.”
In dead seriousness evangelicals face such innovations as the rise of the “new morality”; or the stand of a chaplain in an allgirl school who in a campus chapel says, “Sex is fun.… There are no laws attached to sex. I repeat: absolutely no laws. There is nothing you ought to do or ought not to do. There are no rules to the game, so to speak.” This is practically a reversal of the Bible-minded man’s philosophy of sex.
Mores, manners, laws, behavior may change; but what changes shall the evangelical make ethically? Is the kind of sexual activity forbidden in the Scriptures allowable to a disciple of Jesus in 1965? The Word of God orders men always to speak the truth; can a Christian side with the businessman who argues that to do this is to go bankrupt?
The Bible reveals the necessity of change. We see Israel changing, politically and religiously, in the Old Testament. We observe the transition from the Old to the New Testament among Christians. “The priesthood being changed,” wrote a scribe of the primitive Church, “there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). To be sure, the writer was speaking of a change in a priestly system rather than in the moral order; nevertheless the change is genuine.
Turning from religious institutions to the individual, we discover that one must be changed to become a Christian. From this initial transformation the process continues—“We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Ford” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Beyond this time and place the transfiguration is to continue. “… we shall be changed,” said the Apostle (1 Cor. 15:52). “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body …” (Phil. 3:20b, 21).
What further transformations God has planned for men in an age and order beyond our own we are not told. “Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change!” cried Tennyson in Locksley Hall. But we come to impenetrable mystery at this point and must await further revelation.
In the meantime, we make changes that promise spiritual fulfillment while avoiding others that might involve the risk of eternal ruin. Paul speaks of those who change the glory of the immortal God into an image of mortal men and the truth of God into a lie (Rom. 1:23–25), and Jeremiah lamented: “My people have changed their Glory for a useless thing!” (Jer. 2:11, Moffat).
Knowing what changes to make and what ones not to make is a great asset for the Christian. However, the changes must always be in something or someone other than God. Christ needs no changing; nor does the Spirit with whom we communicate; nor do the Scriptures, which “cannot be broken”; nor does Christian ethics. Our manners, methods, and customs, our activities and attitudes, may need alteration; but the Gospel of grace and the Word of God are unchanging.
They err disastrously who imagine that because the world changes, God also must be subject to change. The “growingup” God of the “process” theologians is a stranger to the Scriptures, as well as a poor risk for man’s future. The God revealed in Christ is our last best hope. He is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Change is often needed. But God does not change. “The heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall pass away.… They shall be changed like any garment. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Heb. 1:10–12, NEB). God remains; with him is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”—
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