Very often the Catholic Church, as well as various other Christian communities, are roundly criticized for being “behind the times” and that they need to “change their doctrine” to get more “in touch” with the current common culture. Such critics, I think, have quite a misunderstanding of what religion is.
Religion is not simply a convenient set of beliefs that fits whatever happens to be in vogue or trendy at a specific time and culture … unless one worships the culture and popularity itself. Rather, in speaking of Christianity at least, most Christians—and certainly Catholics—believe in one eternal God to whom we receive all good things and to whom we owe absolute allegiance and worship—the tangible reasons for faith being myriad. And over the millennia, it has been discerned that the writings collected within what is known as the “Bible” have been inspired by God and are thus God’s directions and directives to the world. That being so, whatever conflicts explicitly with those writings cannot be considered changeable, for they are from the divine source and thus directly reflect what God not only desires, but commands … for the good of all. Speaking of God, the strong Christian will adhere literally to the tenet: “Your wish is my command.”
So … why so many different Christian groups and doctrines? Because there are many different interpretations of what is given in the Bible, especially about things that are not specifically addressed or explicated … different communities attempting to glean general principles to apply to the various situations in life. This should not seem particularly unusual; as an analogy, different courts and judges may interpret laws in different ways, trying to find correct meaning despite apparent ambiguity of language, different precedents, perceived intent, etc.
But most Christian denominations will certainly agree that explicit prohibitions or commandments of God are clear; for instance, I don’t think many – if any – would claim adultery as NOT against God’s law, citing the very specific commandment against it. But after that it gets a bit murkier … a LOT murkier: establishing degree of responsibility and subsequent reward/punishment, of which there are far-ranging interpretations and beliefs.
But, regardless … it would seem completely disingenuous for any religion to “change its teaching” to meet whims of the common culture. One would wonder what they are actually worshipping. When those in authority in a church see congregations waning, it may be tempting to chase the ever-moving cultural target in the quest for congregants rather than remain steadfast in what the church has discerned as truth. But then … what would be the point of the religion at all? Chasing popularity may work for a moment, but the end is the dustbin of history, for observers would recognize that such a group did not believe in an enduring truth. The natural question then becomes: How could a Christian community or person knowingly water down what they perceive as God’s truth and still call itself/himself faithful? As Mother Teresa said: “God doesn’t call us to be successful; He calls us to be faithful.”
So every Christian is called to follow God through the teaching of Jesus Christ and the scriptures as best he can and understands, come what may. Ever near to his thoughts is that admonition of Jesus: “…truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:18-19) and “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
I, as a Catholic, have watched many persons even in my brief lifetime forecast the doom of the Catholic Church (or of Christianity) unless she “change” her teaching to be more “in touch” with society. For instance, the Catholic Church in particular gets “beaten up” pretty regularly for its (very historical and Biblically demonstrable, yet counter-cultural) stance on sexual morals, holding that sex is reserved only for a man and woman in a valid bond of marriage—a stand very untrendy in our day. “You’d better change!”, she’s told. And yet … are critics not aware of history? The Church—and Christianity in general—has been persecuted in various degrees and forms since its beginning, suffering wars, internecine strife, power struggles, schisms and even horrid scandals, and yet has witnessed the passing of virtually every kingdom, empire and nation … and is not only still standing, but is perhaps stronger than ever. To me, that continued thriving despite all the challenges speaks strongly to the divine underpinnings of the faith.
Thus, there can be no cavalier “adjusting” of beliefs simply to bow to trends and whims of society in whatever time and culture. Religion/faith is not a club seeking maximum congregants, but a firm belief of what is true. Particularly for us Christians, to thoughtlessly “change” teaching simply to assuage society is anathema, and would betray the steadfast faith of innumerable martyrs, theologians, the persecuted … and, most of all, Christ Himself. He died for our eternal salvation; there is nothing that the world can give or promise that can possibly even begin to approach the magnitude of His gift to His faithful.
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)