JOPLIN, Mo. —
While in seminary, I changed my mind about change.
Change is as normal as remodeling, and yet I resisted, especially in matters of faith. For too long, I sensed something foreboding about change. It was as though I had to protect my faith and my belief. Holding the course afforded me comfort and a sense of faithfulness.
Those who encouraged change troubled me. It seemed to me they wanted change for the sake of change. I viewed change as the easier, broad way, and holding the course represented the difficult, narrow way.
I was Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," raising a clenched fist in the face of change and declaring, "Tradition!"
I talked with friends and I listened to teachers who seemed to handle change better than I Ñ people who impressed me as being serious and dedicated Christians.
"Why do I have such a problem with change, and you don't?" It was then that I began learning about the connection between change and growth. There is no growth without change.
When I look at the Bible "from cover to cover," as my stepfather used to say, I am compelled to note the overwhelming evidence of "keeping or casting away." For many of those ancestral Israelites and early disciples, the change was surely difficult. For others, it was less difficult, but change did occur, much more than we might realize.
Early in Israel's history, God dwelt in the mountain, only later to dwell in the temple. All along, however, it was recognized that God's presence is more than these places could hold.
Job changed his belief that his suffering was a result of his sin. The prophets demanded change in worship as sacrifices were offered with no thought given to the matters of justice and righteousness. Early Christians changed their understanding of the coming messiah when Jesus declined their expectation to be a political or a social king, as had become the messianic theology of the first century.
The apostle Paul, Peter and the writer of Hebrews all used the metaphorical image of "babes" when addressing immature Christians who were not yet ready for adult nutrition and adult responsibility. Growing into maturity requires learning and developing new skills necessary for adult responsibilities. Or they could hold the course as babes in the faith and not be effective as activists in this new kingdom, the kingdom of God.
The truly noteworthy feature to my story is that I welcomed change in attitudes, prejudices, priorities and behaviors where I clearly missed the mark of Christian obeisance. While change in lifestyle did indeed involve struggle, I believed that such change was my Christian occupation, a part of my faith.
On the other hand, when confronted with change in ideas, beliefs and long-established ways, I was fearful, as if these matters were holy and unapproachable, therefore unchangeable. I did not have the understanding nor the courage of a Job who could confidently challenge a popular theological view, or the wherewithal of the early church to change, gladly welcoming the Gentiles without requiring them to first become Jews, as was once required.
The "Preacher" in Ecclesiastes states it well: There is "a time to keep and a time to cast away." Indeed, there is a time to hold the course and a time to chart a new one.
The tension is not with change itself but with knowing when to change and when not to change. Remaining as babes in the faith is never the course to hold. There is no growth when there is no change.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His email is email@example.com.