Adapting God's Word: Order Is Important!

The definition of “adapt” is: “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly.” As this term relates to God’s word, two possibilities exist: 1.) adapt God’s word to man; or 2.) adapt man to God’s word. You may be thinking that no one in their right mind would dare to adapt or modify God’s word to make it suitable to man. However, evidence from man’s own writings prove otherwise.

God is unchanging (Malachi 3.6). With God, there is no variation (James 1.17). The only way this can be true is because God’s word is unchanging and without variation. In God’s word we also read of two things that are said to be “immutable:” God’s promises and God’s oaths (Hebrews 6.18). “Immutable” means “fixed; unalterable.” Because of this, we can be certain in saying that truth never changes. God gave us truth and grace through Jesus (John 1.17). We are taught by God’s grace (Titus 2.11-12). This truth is found in the gospel message. The gospel message is the means by which God calls us out of sin. When we respond to his call, we are said to “call upon” him (Romans 1.16-17; 10.13). The Psalmist wrote, “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145.18). The point of al this is that God has declared what truth is. Man must never adapt the conditions that truth defines.

There is that which is true and there is that which is false. There is the real and there is the imitation. In the matter of doctrine, there is soundness, and there is falsehood We read of sound speech, sound words, and sound doctrine (Titus 2.8; 2 Timothy 2.13; Titus 2.1). God’s doctrine is “sound” in that it has sense or meaning. It makes an appeal to our minds. It “calls” to our inward being, which is spirit and in God’s image rather than an emotional appeal to our flesh. Any change of mind is based upon God’s word rather than human emotion. While there will be an emotional effect when we understand God’s truth, our emotional feelings will follow — not precede — our understanding. We can know whether we have been saved, because of truth versus relying an emotional feeling about it.

But we are addressing the concept of adapting as it relates to God’s word. There is a vast difference between explaining what God said in his word (cf. Nehemiah 8.8) versus explaining what God meant by his word. Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned of those who would “speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23.16; Ezekiel 13.17). When this happens, God is worshiped as the teachings of men so state, but not as God’s word teaches. Jesus condemned this in Matthew 15.8-9. It is in these teachings of men that we see the adapting of God’s word to man rather than the adapting of man to God’s word. Order is important! God’s word must never, through means of legislation by men, adapt to suit the current thinking or cultural desires. As an example, consider the following two quotations:

  1. “No divorce, except for adultery, shall be regarded by the church as lawful; and no minister shall solemnize marriage in any case where there is a divorced wife or husband living; but this rule shall not be applied to the innocent party to a divorce for the cause of adultery.”
  2. “In view of there seriousness with which the scriptures and the church regard divorce, pastors may solemnize the marriage of a divorced person only when they are satisfied by careful counseling that 1.) the divorced person is sufficiently aware of the factors leading to the failure of the previous marriage; 2.) the divorced person is sincerely preparing to make the proposed marriage truly Christian; and 3.) sufficient time has elapsed between the divorce and the contemplated marriage for adequate preparation and counseling.”

Did you notice a little difference? Both are quotations from the Methodist Discipline. The first quotation is from the 1904 edition, and the last quotation is from the 1972 edition. Why the change? Because this creed (like all other creeds) is the product of uninspired me, and it is not confined to consistency. It can be altered, updated, rewritten, and modified through the years. But it did not lead to salvation in 1904, 1972, or today, because it is not the word of God, but a doctrine of men.

God never empowered disciples to legislate doctrine. Jesus alone, as head over the church, has that right. Those he set in the church were to uphold and defend the truth that he proclaimed (1 Corinthians 12.28; Ephesians 4.11-13). Let us remember these words: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).