God says, "For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob." (Malachi 3:6).
What does God mean when He says He does not change? Does He mean He never changes the details of what He requires of us? Does it mean He never changes His law?
No, as I will show in this post. For example, Hebrews says, "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12).
When God says He does not change, in Malachi 3:6, it is in the context of not destroying Jacob.
What does not change is God's eternal character - His love, His justice, and His basic way of life.
God also keeps His promises. He does not make a promise, then change His mind.
Yet even there, God allows and warns us that He can change even what He says He will do to us or for us.
"Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.
"Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?' says the Lord. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it" (Jeremiah 18:2-10).
The above is well illustrated with Nineveh in the days of Jonah. Jonah gave God's message to Nineveh, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4). Yet, God saw that the Ninevites humbled themselves and repented, so God RELENTED of the punishment He planned to inflict in them and did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
There are many examples in the Bible of God changing what He does and the details of what He requires of us.
God required Israel to sacrifice animals, but He does not require animal sacrifices today. That is a change in a physical detail of what God requires.
God required physical circumcision of ancient Israel, but does not require physical circumcision today. That is a change in detail of what God requires.
God required the eating of a lamb at Passover in the past, but today He requires unleavened bread and wine as symbols of Christ's sacrifice. That is a change in detail of what God requires.
Swearing was allowed in Old Testament time, but not today (Genesis 24:2-9, Genesis 50:4-6, 1 Kings 1:13, Psalm 15:4, Psalm 63:11, Deuteronomy 6:13, Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12).
God has changed His law. "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12).
Even in the Old Testament, God changed what He required of Israel. When Israel took Jericho, they were required to kill all the people and the animals, except for Rahab and her family (Joshua 6:16-21). But after the Achan incident (Joshua 7:1-26), God allowed Israel to take the livestock of the next city they conquered (Joshua 8:1-2).
Also, the prophet Ezekiel was told by God to cook his food using human waste as fuel for the fire (Ezekiel 4:9-13). Yet, Ezekiel had a conscience problem with eating food cooked with human waste, and he spoke to God about it, and God changed His requirements to accommodate Ezekiel's sensitive conscience (there is a lesson in that too - see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Romans 14:14-22 and read the surrounding context) and allowed him to use cow dung as fuel (Ezekiel 4:14-15).
Why is this an issue?
There are some who may cause division in the Church by latching on to some detail of Old Testament law, interpreting it to apply a certain way in our society, and demanding we must follow it today. And a reason why we must do this, they may say, is that God does not change what he requires of us, so any detail of any law, commandment, statute, or judgment that God required of ancient Israel God also requires of the Church of God today.
But as I have shown, this is false. God does change the details of what He requires according to the timing of His plan and according to changing circumstances.
Those who argue otherwise to support their pet prohibitions have misapplied the verse that says that God does not change.
How then are we to know what has changed and what the details are of what God requires of us today?
We can sometimes know by the Bible itself. For example, we know by the New Testament that the Old Testament requirement for physical circumcision is not now required.
But when it comes to details of God's law, not everything is always spelled out in the Bible. Sometimes judgment calls have to be made.
God has given the leadership and ministry of the Church of God the authority to bind and loose. "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).
What does this binding and loosening authority include? Does it include doctrine? Does it include authority over the beliefs of the members?
It does not include authority to command members to believe certain doctrines or the minister's interpretation of the Bible. Here is the proof text that authority over the beliefs and faith of the members is not included as something the ministry can bind or loosen. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). Paul here clearly states that he did NOT have authority or dominion over the faith of the members and what they believe.
But this binding and loosening authority does include authority over what is officially taught as doctrine in the Church. That is one of the reasons God has placed the ministry in various offices and why God has established organization, so there is not the confusion of every man teaching something different to the brethren.
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Notice that one of the reasons God has set ministers in the Church was for the purpose of avoiding confusion in doctrine, including the details of what God requires of us today, details which may be different from what God required of ancient Israel. For if there were no control or authority over what is taught and spoken, with every man teaching what he thinks is right, you would have confusion. But God has established an ordained ministry with binding authority to prevent that very confusion, "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine".
Now, if a man sees something in the Bible that he thinks is contrary to what the ministry teaches, he can take it to the ministry in private, respectfully, and discuss it with an open mind. It is not wrong for a member to correct a minister in private and in an attitude of respect, humbly and willing to be taught. Correction, in that sense, is not always from the top down, as some have said - see the example of Naaman the Syrian and how his servants corrected him respectfully, how Naaman heeded the corrected and God blessed this example with a miracle (2 Kings 5:1-14).
Then, if he is right, he may persuade the minster or the top leader, and the correction can be made for the whole Church. But if he is wrong, the minister may show him his error.
But is is possible for two sincere men, the minister and the member, to discuss it and still not agree? Yes. None of us is perfect. We all have different backgrounds. We are human and make mistakes. None of us knows the truth of God perfectly. As Paul said, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9).
We see in Acts 15 an example of a dispute within the Church involving circumcision. This was a question of what God requires. Both sides felt strongly about the issue, before it was resolved. This shows there can be disagreements between sincere members of the Church. And in this case it was not resolved by everyone agreeing on what the scriptures meant, but by the authoritative decision by Peter and James. Everyone then submitted to this decision, knowing the authority from God that backed up the decision.
Certainly as we grow in the Church we should understand the scriptures more and more accurately. "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
But this takes time, and every man, minister or not, grows at a different pace.
If the ministry is wrong about a particular point of doctrine and is not persuaded by a member who tries to correct them, then Christ will correct them in His time, either before or after the resurrection. And the member who disagrees should be patient and wait for Christ to correct the problem, and in the meantime he should continue to believe what he sees in the Bible.
But he should not teach his fellow brethren in contradiction to the ministry - that is rebellion because he was not given that authority. The ministry has authority over teaching, not every member. Contradicting the ministry undermines the authority of the ministry in the eyes of the brethren, and this is contrary to God's intent.
God's desire is that there be peace in the Church, but you can't have that with every member deciding for himself what to say and teach regarding doctrine. That is chaos.
"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
The Bible clearly shows that God does change the details of what He requires of us from time to time, and God has given authority to His ministry to make binding judgment calls on those details. Those who disagree may follow their conscience in their behavior, doing the best they can to obey the Bible, and believing what the Bible says, but if they take it upon themselves to spread their disagreements in the congregation, they are rebelling against the ministry and against the God who gave authority to that ministry.