The older I get, the more I realize how common it is for Christian organizations and churches to change their theological views. It seems practically universal.
For example, when I went to seminary many years ago, you could not be a charismatic or believe that a believer could lose their salvation if you wanted to attend that school. The school took a strong dispensational view of Scriptures. Free Grace theology, though rejected by most of the professors, was still a viable option. Today, students can be charismatic and believe that salvation can be lost. Progressive dispensationalism seems to be the dominant view. Free Grace theology is basically considered anathema.
When I was in the Army, it sent me to study at another seminary for a year. It was a Southern Baptist seminary. I got the strong impression that not one of my professors believed in the Rapture. None believed in the Millennial Kingdom or the Judgment Seat of Christ as a judgment at which only believers would be judged. They were all Reformed theologians. I wondered at the time whether the Baptist churches of the past that had supported that seminary for all those years would even recognize the institution today.
I recently spent some time with missionaries from a mission organization that, for years, was known for promoting Free Grace. Two of the missionaries told me they were leaving the organization because that is no longer the case. Whereas the old doctrinal statement is not Calvinistic, the exact opposite is now true in practice. A few of the organization’s leaders told me that they are more open to other options than in the past. They do not want to exclude people over divisive issues.
Many—perhaps the majority—of Christians today would say these changes are good. We need to be progressive in our theological outlooks. We don’t want to be inflexible with others, arguing with good people when we can work together. The people who minister in my first seminary, the Southern Baptist seminary I later attended, and that mission organization are that kind of folks. They all want to please the Lord.
In addition, it is argued that at one time dispensational theology was, itself, something new. Many of its leaders broke from the teachings of the Church of England and other churches in order to promote its teachings. While Free Grace people maintain that dispensationalism was the belief of the apostles, and that it has been present throughout church history, the modern-day teaching of it is said to be recent, perhaps traced to the teachings of the early Plymouth Brethren in the early 1800s.
If the Lord tarries, we will no doubt continue to see these kinds of changes. How should we view them? Should we applaud them because they are indications that believers are united and showing the world what Christian love looks like? Do such changes show that we are not closed-minded and that we are willing to accept others as Christ accepts us?
The first thing I would say is that such “progressive” thinking is not as loving and accepting as it might first appear. All the examples I gave of changes that I have seen are organizations that are unaccepting of Free Grace teaching. They do not want their students or missionaries exposed to it. When it comes to Free Grace, those who proclaim tolerance are, in fact, intolerant.
But that is a minor point. The major point is: Does the Bible contain truth that does not change with the times?
There is always the temptation to go along to get along. I have fond memories of my time at seminary. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. The missionaries who are being asked to leave the organization have spent many years of their lives working with those within it. In all these instances there is a desire to work with others. Such experiences are a big part of our lives.
But the major point remains. Free Grace theology causes one to see the Scriptures in a certain way. We would say it is because that is what the Bible teaches. Calvinism changes everything about the way the Scriptures are interpreted. Arminianism does the same. How can we say both that we are teaching the truths of Scriptures, and that those who change everything are teaching those truths as well? What we are actually saying is that the truth changes.
In Heb 13:8, the author says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The context is talking about what the leaders in that church taught in the past. The author does not want them to change what they have been taught and have believed. The truth of the Scriptures does not change.
Maybe, when believers cry out for and adopt changes, it is–at least sometimes–not really a desire for love and unity that motivates them. It is–at least sometimes–an unwillingness to stand up for the truth.
All of us, even Free Grace people, are prone to this. The author of Hebrews warns us. My experience warns us. We need to watch out. When it comes to theological landscapes, oftentimes change is not good.