THOUGHTS ABOUT BALANCE
T. PIERCE BROWN
When I attend a lecture program at one of ourChristianCollegesand listen to a wide variety of lectures and messages of various intensity and subject matter, I am more impressed than ever with the need for balance, perspective, and Christian maturity in our thinking, living, and teaching. We are aware that sometimes those who write or speak about the need for a “middle of the road” approach are understood, or misunderstood, to mean that we should have a broad ecumenical spirit that really stands for nothing and falls for everything. Then those critics who claim to be “set for the defense of the gospel” may leave the impression that “the gospel” is whatever concept they have gained about any truth they think the Bible reveals. We have heard, and probably conducted “gospel meetings” that were actually just sermons or lectures on Bible subjects.
The longer I live, the more convinced I am that a large number of problems in the church from the first century to this one are related to, if not cause by, a lack of BALANCE in attitude and teaching. The balance of which we speak does not demand in any way the compromising in any degree the truths of God, or even anything we THINK to be the truth, but it does demand that we have the attitude expressed by Paul in Romans 14:1-5 and Romans 15:1.
Let us illustrate this balance in terms of historical events and doctrines as well as in the light of more recent problems. First Peter3:21teaches that baptism saves us. Some theologians, unbalanced in their understanding or exegesis, assumed the act to be sacramental, and thus taught “baptismal regeneration.” There are those connected with the Lord’s church (more or less loosely, I admit) who seem to have the same view. Many of us who knock on doors to set up Bible studies have probably had experiences similar to this which seem to verify that idea. When a person comes to the door and a conversation is started, we hear, “I’m aChurchofChrist.” If we try to maintain our composure, we may at least reply, “I’m glad to know you. I have been here six years, but I do not believe I have met you before.” He replies, “Well, I do not go all the time, especially since Reverend Smith left, but I’m a strongChurchofChrist. I’ve been baptized!” That, apparently, clinched the matter!
Historically, we might that say that some of those who came after Martin Luther, in an effort to balance the false idea of salvation by works of merit (one of which baptism was erroneously assumed to be) the idea of salvation by faith only was pushed. Note carefully: Balanced preaching is NOT achieved by giving one false doctrine equal time with another false doctrine!
But anyone who preaches or listens to preaching knows that a sermon may SOUND unbalanced to someone if it emphasizes any one point. Paul was not exempt from the charge (Romans 3:8). And of course our teaching will BE unbalanced if we continue to emphasize ANY ONE POINT to the exclusion or denial of other important truths. My judgment is that EVERY gospel preacher faces this danger and can escape it only by conscious and deliberate effort.
Probably every sectarian concept and error in or out of the church is related to this danger. No doubt when John Calvin began to dwell on the sovereign grace of God, he “blanked out” many other aspects of truth, and as a result of his imbalance arrived at the terribly erroneous conclusion that all men and angels are elected to salvation or damnation according to God’s sovereign grace.
In our day we are cursed again with the swinging of the pendulum back and forth from one extreme to another. There are some whose preaching sounds as if they believe (and many whose actions confirm that they DO believe) that a ritualistic keeping of commandments such as “getting baptized” and going through the motions that are called “worship services” (which may very little worship and no service) are somehow valuable in “getting saved.”
In an apparent desire to overcome that terrible attitude and some of its consequences–such as arrogance, pride and complacency if one assumes he has done the required rituals, and abject fear if he feels he may have missed one–others have begun to preach on his marvelous grace. Thank God for that! But in the process, we have heard of a large number who sound as if law and grace are mutually exclusive ideas, and one does not need to be concerned very much about keeping God’s commandments. May I repeat with emphasis: One does not need to preach error on one end of the scale to balance error on the other end in order to have balanced preaching!
It would not be hard to fill a small book with examples of this. In recent years, we have fussed and divided over all sorts of issues, and one of the tragic things about this is that being on the right side of the issue is no guarantee that we will have the right attitude, or present or have a balanced view.
This personal experience may help to illustrate the problem, and even suggest its solution. Years ago while preaching in one congregation, I went to another to conduct a Thursday evening Bible study. The second congregation did not have Sunday morning Bible classes. A dear brother in a nearby town vociferously advocated that we should all disfellowship those anti-Sunday School factionists. Since he was a friend and brother, I felt free to talk to him like this: “If you are so set on disfellowshipping anti-Sunday School brethren, why don’t you start in your own congregation? About half of them do not believe in Bible study–either on Sunday OR on Thursday. If you will leave these brethren alone as long as they are not agitating or dividing churches, and show concern for them, we will be able to teach them.” They continued to allow me to come on Thursday evening, and in a short while they bought a school building with about a dozen classrooms and moved into it. Balanced preaching did not mean that for one moment I ceased to teach and preach the scriptural right to have Bible classes on Sunday morning. But it DID mean that I did NOT try to force upon them the necessity of having Sunday morning Bible classes.
In the congregation where I grew up, all the members drank the fruit of the vine from one container–usually a glass, but sometimes called a cup. One apparent value of that was that it caused some to move toward the front, for it was rather difficult to find an unused spot on the rim of the glass if one was too far back, and there were several snuff-dippers or tobacco-chewers in that congregation. It may be of value to know how a congregation solved the problem of a “one-cup” brother when the rest of the congregation decided to get trays with individual cups.
The man who wanted all to drink from one container was asked something like this: “As long as we do not impose our will on you and cause you to violate your conscience, can you worship with us, even though you think our conclusions on this matter to be wrong?” Since it was apparent that he had been worshiping all along with those who had different conclusions about a large number of things, he answered, “Yes.” So they put the container from which he had been drinking in the middle of the tray, and he continued to drink from it. He rightly recognized that it was not his responsibility to see who, if anyone else, drank from the same one, for he had never done that before. If it were a sin to use a different container, it was theirs, not his, and he neither authorized or condoned it. So there was peace and harmony.
You may think the solution silly, but if they did not come very near practicing the principles of Romans 14, I am badly mistaken. So what, if he was not as smart as you and I are? Does God send a man to hell who does not understand every truth? I recognize that many misuse Romans 14 to try to give liberty where God did not give liberty. But that does not negate the proper use of it.
Notice carefully: In order to be balanced and act in a mature Christian manner, no one had to teach or practice what his conscience condemned. Although balanced preaching does NOT mean compromise with error, the man who thought it was wrong for the congregation to have more than one container did not have to be disfellowshipped! He even had the right to state his convictions!
Some of us seem to have forgotten a VERY important point. Every truth is important, but not every truth is EQUALLY important, or equally related to salvation. For example, a person could believe that eating certain meat was wrong without being lost because of that false belief! And I may still be in fellowship with him, and treat him as a brother without agreeing with his false belief! Of course this does not allow one to introduce into the corporate worship anything which, by its very nature, corrupts the worship of the whole congregation.
It seems to me a tragic shame that there are many among us who seem to think we cannot oppose denominational tendencies (or what we think to be wrong in ANY area) without having to disfellowship everyone who has not yet attained our brilliant insights or deep spirituality! If a person had to have your brilliant insight in order to go to heaven, perhaps even fewer would make it than under the present situation.