The clamant cry of the reformer is that we must ‘change with the times’. This carries with it the unspoken, and certainly unproven, assumption that the ‘times’ are changing in a good way, and that the path of wisdom is to get ‘with it’. Nor is that always incorrect: it is good that slavery has been officially abolished, and would be better if governments would work together to ensure that it has really been stamped out; it is entirely in accord with God’s words that mankind should recognise its unity in being children of God, not its disunity on the basis of some kind of racial hierarchy. Christian teaching has actually been very influential in leading society in these ways, and to complain that in the past it accepted these things is not quite correct; its teaching always ran counter to cultures which did, and in the end influenced those cultures. That is one reason it is dangerous for Christianity to identify itself with the spirit of any one age. What the critics are really objecting to is the way in which many leading Christians did accommodate themselves to these things, and even advocated them. The irony is that many such critics are guilty of precisely that which they condemn – namely advocating what the age wants, and not the Gospel message.
The Church teaches across the spectrum of human affairs, and it might be thought odd that what it says on feeding the poor, on abortion, on the spiritual impoverishment of our society and other matters gets ignored, whereas, the moment it mentions ‘sex’ the ears of the world prick up. But those are ‘itchy’ ears, attuned only to its own obsession with the subject.
It would be necessary for it to do something it is not equipped to do in order for it to understand what the Church is saying – namely pay attention to the wider teaching across the whole spectrum of human nature. Whatever changes, our fallen nature, and the way it manifests does not: there are no new crimes, new horrors or new sins. As we place ourselves where God should be, we subjugate everything to our own desires, and judge them by that standard. We fashion God in our own image so we can worship ourselves – or else we reject him, and still deify ourselves in arguably a more honest manner. Nothing short of a change of heart can change our nature, and that comes from the Holy Spirit after repentance and amendment of life. In that way, the new Adam in us changes the times, rather than the old Adam in us changing with the times.
But how shall we know these things is no one tells us? Modern man says it is fine, we can tell ourselves. There’s the Bible, we can pick it up and read it and know what it means. But that course of action means we shall read it through the eyes of this world and its present concerns. That is why Jesus founded a Church, and it is why we ought to give due notice to our ancestors in faith. We can, of course, construct a palimpsest of patristic quotations which support what we think the Bible is telling us – or we can look to a teaching authority established for that purpose.