As with every other institution out there, Christian churches have to adapt quickly to a new culture or decline just as quickly as audience share has for old newspapers and the big networks.
That sounds great in a market-based economy, but in reality it describes the greatest weakness of modern religion.
For years now we have witnessed tremendous turmoil in churches that were previously regarded as stalwarts. Just last year we watched in fascination as the Episcopal church threatened to implode over the elevation of an openly gay bishop. Had the church paid attention to its own doctrines over the centuries, it never would have reached this point. The question of gays - or even women - in the priesthood should never even have been subject to debate.
Every so often the Pope issues statements on topics ranging from abortion to celibacy in the priesthood. Agree or disagree with him, he's been consistent on those topics from the first days of his administration. With approximately one billion members worldwide, he can ill afford to have basic tenets of the church become subjects of open debate. He lays down the law and expects Catholics everywhere to obey those laws.
Those churches who have allowed such debate have seen tremendous struggles as they have evolved through societal changes and pressures. This lack of consistency is mirrored in the struggles their members have in dealing with those same pressures. Abortion, for example, ought to be a "no brainer" for orthodox Christianity. The sanctity of human life, even developing human life, is basic to our beliefs. Abortion, therefore, becomes an option only in extreme cases. Same sex marriage would be unacceptable upon careful examination of scripture because of statements made regarding homosexuality.
One of my own earliest posts pointed out the problems with what I call "designer scriptures" that have appeared recently. Statements by the "translators" made it clear that if enough people asked for it, changes would be made to accomodate their "needs."
Call me old fashioned (or, better yet, right-wing zealot), but I suspect that if the Lord had wanted such changes made to the scriptures, He would have dictated them that way in the first place. Rather than seemingly make eternal rewards easier to obtain, we should be helped to understand that those rewards are based on a lifetime of adherence to principles that never change.
I veer sharply from Hugh's path here. Adaptability is not what we truly need in our churches today. Consistency and conformity with eternal law are what we need. A return to the teachings of the Savior in their purest form is what we need.
We need it now more than ever.
UPDATE: Cameron at Way Off Bass correctly points out that some change is desirable, even necessary. We both agree, however, that such changes can only be administrative, not doctrinal. That's why the LDS Church will never have drum kits in their services. That's also why I spend so many hours at the church building on any given Sunday, instead of spreading my time out through the entire week as in years past. Life evolves and how we use our time will certainly evolve. The central tenets of religion, on the other hand, simply cannot.
UPDATE II: Mark Hansen over at Mo' Boy Blog picks up the thread. Good reading. Does a good job of defining the different kinds of change one could (and should) expect in a religious setting.