In discussions on the bloggernacle, the subject of how change happens in the church often comes up.  We often talk past either other when it comes to defining “changes” within the church.  There seem to be different views about policy vs. doctrine and why change happens in the church:

  • View 1:  Policy changes are just men changing man-made policies that were made absent revelation.  Doctrinal changes simply don’t happen in the church (meaning revelation is never reversed).
  • View 2:  When something previously accepted as doctrine (or based in revelation) is changed, it is downgraded to the status of policy to lessen the impact of the change, and to clarify that it never was a  doctrine.

Of course, all of this is contingent on the meaning of the word “doctrine.”  Doctrine is defined by the dictionary as a set of teachings, but within the church, we generally mean that it must originate in a canonized revelation, not just be a policy.  Doctrines are usually viewed as pronouncements directly from the Lord, accurately received and communicated to the church, and therefore unchangeable.  Policies are considered time-bound and man-made, but doctrines are viewed as being from God and therefore binding.  The recent clarification of the Proclamation on the Family being a “guide” may be an example of something being deemed a “policy” but not a “doctrine.”

So when change happens in the church, there seem to be a few prevailing theories about why this is:

  • Theory 1:  God is in charge, and adjusts (milk before meat style) for society’s ability to keep up.
  • Theory 2:  Men are in charge, and are led by societal norms.
  • Theory 3:  A hybrid of the 2 above.  While God is in charge, men are interpreting his will.  Societal norms shift and adjust how men perceive God’s will.  This is as designed because society at large couldn’t handle change at a faster pace anyway.

What’s your view?  Which theory best describes how you see change happening in the church?  Do you have a different theory altogether?  If so, what examples can you give to bolster your argument?  Discuss.