I often see memes floating around social media purporting this same idea, worded in various ways. The gist is — the Bible doesn’t change with society and culture. And I get that. I come from that very black and white background. But the problem is — these memes demonstrate a lack of good logic, a lack of nuance, and -honestly- a lack of truth. And even the people who post these bumper-sticker-theology memes don’t seriously believe them if played out to their logical end.
Let’s look at this particular one — “If it was a sin 100 years ago, it’s still a sin today. Don’t water down the Gospel for this offended generation.”
Ok, let’s begin with the part about 100 years ago. 1921. What was a sin in 1921?
In 1921, the relatively new thought-camp of Fundamentalism was rising in the US. In reaction to some science teachings and jazz music and women’s suffrage and the movement toward modernism, Fundamentalism grew.
For these people, the new 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was launching the US into dangerous territory — as was the idea of women working outside the home. Women would be driven from the home (their rightful place) and, as the balance of power in the household tipped, gender roles would destabalize and society would crumble. These were clear signs that the End Times were near.
Prohibition was in full force. Drinking alcohol was a sin. Obviously.
Jazz music with all its lusty rhythms provoked people to dance, which would lead to all sorts of sin. There was an actual article in The Ladies Home Journal in August 1921 entitled “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?”
Divorce. Birth control. Both undermined family and would destroy society.
Short hair on women and modern dress – à la Flappers. Very sinful.
The wave of immigration to the United States had brought non-Protestants, thus many of these new Fundamentalists opposed immigration. They also opposed The League of Nations because they believed it would usher in the One World Government and the leader of the League of Nations would obviously be the Anti-Christ. In their minds, we were on the cusp of the End Times.
These things were considered sins in 1921. Does that mean we are really supposed to consider them sins today?
And what wasn’t considered a sin in 1921? To follow the logic, if it wasn’t a sin in 1921, then it isn’t really a sin. For many Christians in 1921 – especially those new Fundamentalists – segregation, discrimination, the KKK, lynchings, child labor were all considered just fine. Acceptable. Not sins. Good even, as God would have it.
And why 100 years ago? Why stop there? Go further back in history and the Bible was used to justify enslaving people. The Bible was used to justify accusing women of witchcraft and burning them at the stake or drowning them. The Bible was used to justify the Crusades.
Today, some sects of Christians believe it’s wrong for women to wear pants or for anyone to wear any jewelry. Some churches teach that it’s wrong for women to cut their hair. Some churches teach that it’s wrong to eat bacon. Some sects of Christians believe it’s wrong to send your children to public schools or for single women to live outside their father’s headship and authority.
And before you say you’re not talking about preferences, you’re talking about what the Bible clearly says, I’m saying these groups all can cite chapter and verse where the Bible clearly says their belief is the correct one. Just as Christians in 1921 and 1861 and 1692 and 1100 all had Bible verses to clearly show that their beliefs were the right beliefs.
You might believe the Bible is very clear about certain things, but you just believe what you’ve been taught. And it’s obvious and clear to you because that’s what you’ve been told.
But – trust me – whatever issue you’re probably referring to (and let’s be honest here, it’s probably gay stuff), there are Chrstians who have searched the Bible and studied all sorts of translations and interpretations and the cultural context and they’ve come to a different conclusion about what the Bible says. Just like you’ve probably come to a different conclusion than some other Christians about women wearing pants or divorce or whether women should vote or whether we should go on murderous rampages and force people to become Christians or die.
Finally, the use of “this offended generation” is the worst. When we veer from a discussion of the issue to attacking people, then we know we don’t have a good argument.
Remember the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? I’m imagining the Pharisees standing up and saying, “Well, if circumcision was good enough for Moses, then it should be good enough for Paul and this offended generation he caters to!”
Arguing about the interpretation of scripture is nothing new. Peter thought it was wrong to eat unclean foods and that Gentiles had to fully convert to Judaism’s rules — beliefs that were very much based on scripture! — until the Holy Spirit obviously changed his course. And so Peter stood up and said as much at the Jerusalem Council. And then Paul and Barnabas detailed to the Council all the ways God was at work in the Gentiles. And the Council changed their minds and sent a letter detailing which rules the Gentiles would still have to follow and which ones they could forget about.
The way God interacted with people did change based on the culture and the time and the needs of the people. And the rules changed. It’s right there in the Bible.
So no, God never changes. God is always at work ever widening the net, ever expanding the table, always welcoming, always loving.
And people, as a whole, tend to be the same too – focusing on rules and wanting clear-cut black and white answers about who is out and who is in. As we can see throughout history, we tend to read the Bible and pick and choose which verses are “clear” and which ones aren’t — and it all depends on when and where you live and what you’ve been taught and what church you attend.
**Information about 1921 gleaned from various sources, such as –