Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

new is not better?



Someone recently commented that in his work experience, he encountered many changes, most of which were not for the better. The common expression around his place of employment was "new is not better". In our age of extreme change in the world and our lives, many would likely concur.


If we think it about it though, we would probably recognize that even beneficial change is not easy and pain free. Learning and acclimating to a new system takes effort and may be very frustrating even if, in the long run, we are better off. So if immediate pain is our measure of better, then no change is best; and so the status quo always looks pretty good because at least it in known.


In our traditional religious understanding change is viewed even more negatively than change in general. A faith dependent on proper belief and action cannot be subject to change because to admit change is to condemn all those in the past who embraced the old way. Doctrinally the consequences of being wrong are just too dire, so once you are right any newness is forbidden. Therefore, the institutional church has opposed change in its doctrine, practice, or even political position at ever juncture in human history.


Despite this total rejection of religious change, the church's message is essentially one of change or transformation. In their understanding Jesus came to earth as God's representative to change the world and make everything new. He was a Jewish Messiah who was born and died in a Jewish world, but in so doing he supposedly imparted a previously unknown spiritual blessing on the world at large. In effect, Jesus is thought to have moved God beyond the sectarian nature of His relationship with one group to a universal relationship with all mankind. The former relationship is called the Old Covenant in the Bible and the final relationship is the New Covenant. The new replaced the old in the words of Paul (Hebrews 8:13).


Intriguingly, the Bible also suggest that God never changes. Therefore believers are prone to vacillate between attachment to an unchanging God and one whose purpose is a change in His personal relationships. The unchanging God somehow changes His mind, changes His manner of dealing, and works to make all things new (II Corinthians 5:17). What is one to believe about change in this religious environment?


To add to the uncertainty, the New Testament speaks of Jesus' work as being a restitution of some sort, implying a return to a previous state. Thus we have additional evidence that we are called to reinstate a time in the past prior to Christ.


Left with this tension between past goodness on one hand and essential transformation on the other, confusion is bound to arise. In that regard, we see many within Christianity who still embrace lessons and doctrines from the Old Covenant and incorporate them into what they perceive as a New Covenant world. The justification for doing so is that God and His requirements could not change. Many of this mind probably know that the Old Covenant was Jewish only, but they still feel comfortable with those old ways and insist that they be a part of their vision of the what is new. The Christian attachment to the Ten Commandments over the Golden Rule is a prime example. Boxes to grade against are preferable to a general guiding principle with challenging implications all around.


The prevailing infatuation of evangelical Christianity with the nation state of Israel is another evidence of attachment to the past and rejection of the universal applicability of newness in Christ. The Jewish nation was an Old Covenant element, but many insist that it remains a vital part of the New. In the words of Jesus we have "new wine" bursting "old skins", the combination of new and old with the end result being the destruction of both?


Jesus said over and over again- "The law says but I say unto you". In so doing he pointed beyond Judaism, including the law and its Ten Commandments, toward a higher ethic and a spirituality of the transformed heart. There is no room for law (Old Covenant) and grace (New Covenant) to operate together according to Paul. What ever is new and whatever is restored cannot therefore be some part Old Testament law and some part the teachings of Jesus.


So what is restored in Christ; and what, if anything, is brand new?  That is the question.