One of the things the elders of our church are doing this year is sharing their faith stories. Each month an elder takes a turn and answers questions about his or her faith.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
I enjoy listening to the faith stories of the leaders of the congregation I pastor. Their answers inspire me and renew my own faith. Perhaps the most poignant question, though, is the question “How has your faith changed over time?” It is that question that shows the real flesh on the skeleton of faith. As people describe how their faith has changed over time, we realize that the faith we had as children or young adults morphs and changes with the years. Our faith is not static, it’s ever changing, along with our experiences.
The idea that our faith changes over time is, perhaps, threatening to some. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” the scriptures boldly proclaim. I believe that is true, but I also believe that if we are open to the Spirit, we will find that our beliefs may change over time as we gain new experiences and knowledge.
I will never forget the time when my boss and mentor questioned my belief that women couldn’t be ordained to ministry. “I knew many women in seminary with incredible gifts for ministry,” he said. “You have them too. I think you should think about it.” I thought about the fact that there was a woman pastor of the church I grew up in, and I thought about how my parents had always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, no matter what. I prayed about it, and I searched deep into the scriptures. Slowly, over the course of many months, I changed my mind. I realized that the conservative belief I “tried on” in college wasn’t really me. I went back to my roots.
I’m not sure if I would be an ordained minister today if Doug hadn’t gently encouraged me to reconsider my views. He wasn’t pushy; he didn’t pry. He simply told me what he believed and what he saw, and he encouraged me to think about it for myself.
My views on women in ministry aren’t the only views that have changed over time. I’ve changed my views on a lot of things in the Bible, and I hope my views continue to change and evolve. I will be disappointed if the things I say about God when I’m eighty are the same things I’m saying about God today, because I’m certainly not saying the same things about God that I said when I was sixteen. Faith develops and matures. It changes and grows.
I don’t believe there is virtue in holding to a rigid, unchanging faith that is unwilling to consider life’s experiences or the wisdom of those around us. Refusing to engage others to whom the Spirit has clearly spoken is a mistake. Jesus himself was willing to listen to others and be challenged by them, even to change his mind.* Shouldn’t we also be willing to change our minds when God so leads? We are leading into the season of Easter, a time when resurrection is all around us. Let us move into that season with the willingness to hear something new from God. Happy pondering!
* See (Matthew 5:21-28) for an example of this
Traci Smith is Pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, and the author of Seamless Faith, Simple Practices for Daily Family Life (Chalice Press: 2014). She lives in San Antonio with her husband, Elias Cabarcas, and two sons, Clayton (age 3) and Samuel (age 4). You can find Traci on the web at www.traci-smith.com