Why are some sins accepted?
Ask a Pastor
“Why does Lutheran (and other Christian) dogma change over time? That is, why was something a mortal sin 40 years ago but is now an accepted practice?” — Eric B., an ELCA Facebook follower
Brian: “Dogma” remains essentially unchanged over time — creedal formulas, for example. Practice, governance, even scriptural interpretation can evolve over time, however, as the community of faith continues to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. These are matters that are important but not essential.
Lutheran Christians don’t rank sins as mortal, venial, etc. Sin is sin. But while dogma does not change — Jesus Christ is the Son of God, crucified, died and risen — revelation continues to be discerned in light of new discoveries (scriptural, historical, scientific) and the ongoing prayerful dialog of the body of Christ. So clergy are not required to be celibate, women are ordained into ministry, confirmation isn’t a prerequisite for communion and “vocation” applies to all the baptized, though each of those things was untrue at some time in the past.
David: Eric, a great question! First, some terminology. Dogma has not changed at all — dogma refers to those assertions that we hold to be true about God. In particular, that there is one God in three persons (the Trinity), that Jesus is fully God and fully human, and that we are saved by God’s grace.
But our ethics have changed — our sense of how we ought to live out our life as followers of Jesus. And the truth is they always have. Throughout the history of the church, the question has been how to live out our faith in our particular context.
You can see the church wrestling with this question in both Acts and 1 Corinthians, as the church considered the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and other “unclean” food. All of us who love bacon are happy with how that process turned out.
Another example can be seen in the church’s attitude toward slavery. Slavery was — for most of the life of the church — an accepted practice, even considered to be endorsed by Scripture. By the guidance of the Spirit, the church’s attitude about slavery has changed — thanks be to God!
As long as we continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the church, there will continue to be change and new life within the church.
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