Kinds of Changes

There have been many changes in the Churchand in doctrineover the centuries. This would not be a concern except that certain Christian groups latch on to one particular formulation and claim it represents the true church for all ages. Certainly infallible truthcan't change. Therefore, anything that has changed is not in the category of infallible truth.

There is, of course, no problem with customs changing, or with applying Christian truth to new situations from generation to generation.

Of note is that doctrine on key topics changed before finally solidifying. In the very turbulent centuries during which the Trinity was discussed and argued about, there were multiple councils with bishops on both sides of the Arianism issue. And there were many other variations which I won't discuss. Finally, with the emperor's strong-armed influence, the Council of Nicea decreed the Nicene Creed.But it didn't stick, and after another turbulent half-century the Council of Constantinople decreed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creedwhich is the final form (except that Catholics much later added the filioque clause).

If you were trying to prove that the Holy Spirit worked through the bishops in determining this doctrine, you would have to ignore what really occurred. There was strong influence by the emperor. The popes seemed uninterested. The behavior of Bishops was very ill-mannered and unbecoming — there were even assassinations of bishops by bishops.

So how do we explain the various strange goings-on in the Church over the centuries? Even the apostles had flaws and wavered in their support of truth (Peter's pulling away from the Gentiles when pressured by Jews.)Shouldn't we expect a much higher standard of behavior from these Church leaders than we observe?

My solution to all these kinds of questions is to focus on the apostolic Church and to use it as the model for judging Churches and Christians...

  1. Jesus selected the apostles and empowered them to teach and write infallibly.
  2. These apostles selected the next generation of Church leaders, I'll call them the bishops, to pass-on the apostolic teaching.
  3. Naturally, as times and circumstances changed, the bishops had to address the issues that arose, especially heresy.
  4. God knows that we are all weak vessels. He does what he can to work his will through each person, but this is thwarted in various degrees and various ways by each person.
  5. In the big picture, God adapts to the changing circumstances in the world and in societies, and he attempts to maximize the effect of the gospel message. At times and in places, this has not worked out so well.
  6. The power each individual has over the environment is magnified by large groups into nations and states. The sins are magnified too and, thus, we have inquisitions, genocide, holocausts, mass starvation.
  7. Churches got tangled-up in all this. Now Christians fight and even kill each other.
  8. Through all this human drama, the gospel is the key. The best source of truth is the Bible when considered in light of the early Church as witnessed by the early church fathers and the seven ecumenical councils.
  9. Christians should strive to rise above all the turmoil, change, and chaos and focus instead on the gospel.