Buy up all the Apple products you can.
Dress in a way that makes a statement.
Support today’s hippest area of social concern.
Dream up some new movement in the church.
Rethink some long-held doctrine.
Stand full-force with conservative Republicans.
Stand full-force with liberal Democrats.
I know, I’ve been there before and still find myself, at times, wanting to be there.
And there’s nothing wrong with significant movements nor zealous desires. Matter of fact, at times, it has taken such opportunities to see the church move forward when it’s stuck in a rut.
But, sometimes, I think simple and down-to-earth measures last longer. Revival and noteworthy moves will come – at various times and in various places. But they usually do not last. And it’s not necessarily because we’ve become lazy and apathetic. It’s simply that heightened excitement and zealous revivals are not the norm.
The norm is to teach people how to walk faithfully, slowly, consistently, perseveringly in the things of the rule of God – both in abundance and in the valley of the shadow of death.
I find myself longing a bit more for normality these days.
And when it comes to our theological and social beliefs, I find it extremely (pun intended) unhelpful when people cast things in all-or-nothing fashion.
If you hold to such and such belief, you’re ultimately going to deny the gospel and Christ himself.
Hold to creationary evolution (theistic evolution), arguing that Genesis 1-3 might not be historically literal, and you’ll end up denying Christ and the resurrection.
Allow for women pastors/leaders and you’ll one day be arguing for homosexual marriage. Open your doors to homosexuals and one day you’ll be ordaining them.
Consider how to graciously and respectfully engage with those in our pluralistic society and you’re getting dangerously close to inclusivism.
Vote for a Democrat and that means you are aligning yourself with Satan’s tool.
And on and on it goes, where it stops no one knows.
This is where I find solace in balance.
One can be a young-earth creationist, old-earth creationist or embrace evolution as the means by which God brought about his good creation. There is enough space to consider these varying views.
One can be egalitarian or complementarian and it not be labelled as a ‘gospel issue’ (usually meaning the gospel is at stake if you allow for women leadership).
One can open their doors and arms to homosexuals, Muslims and a host of others not accepted within a particular socio-cultural Christian framework and still remain faithful to Christ.
One can vote Democrat or Republican and still be a faithful follower of Christ.
These are quite possible.
But if you are convinced that a Christian cannot hold a position quite different from you, the one you were brought up on and now believe yourself, then I’d challenge such a notion. To argue such, at least as I can tell, is to have fallen into very unbalanced territory.
We live in a world quite different from a few decades ago. When I was a small boy, people still lived within close proximity of those who thought like us, believed like us, dressed like us, ate like us, shopped like us, discriminated like us, and the whole lot. But, more and more, we live in a global world, meaning we reside next to people very different from us. Still, if we happen to live next to people who think just like us, most will have come across this invention called the internet in which information, including divergent beliefs, is available at the click of a finger.
Listen. I’m not suggesting one cannot hold to beliefs, even hold strongly to beliefs, that are important within our own tradition and cultural framework. I do this myself. Matter of fact, to ask that we allow for a bit more space and balance in our varying positions is also a particular tradition and cultural framework that I have come to embrace. Not only that, but I do hold to varying positions on the topics I’ve mentioned thus far: I believe that young-earth creationism is an untenable position. I think complementarianism falls short in many ways. I do not think that Jesus has stamped his approval upon what some identify as conservative, evangelical Republicanism. I do think that ostracising Muslims and homosexuals is not the straightforward way of Jesus.
But I still recognise I don’t have all the answers.
One motto I embrace is this: Still learning.
We’re always in a state of transformation – and that not just in our behaviour but also our beliefs. This has been true throughout church history. And I think it will remain true until all things are completed in Christ (and I’d add that our beliefs might continue to be transformed throughout eternity as we get to know the infinite one).
But I don’t believe we can learn from each other if we don’t allow for a little balance and space within people’s lives. Or maybe we don’t need to learn from them, those folks that are different from us. We can’t learn from them liberals! We can’t learn from them progressives! We can’t learn from them conservatives!
So we throw up all types of barriers. And you know, part of the ministry of a shepherd is to protect. I believe that very much. But a shepherd does not exercise his or her protection through excessive control. Matter of fact, I think a necessary part of the shepherd’s role is to make sure the sheep are protected from the over-controlling.
If we function like control freaks – fighting to control our congregation, our culture, our children, etc. – it becomes quite the insight into who we believe God is. I am a recovering control-freak. It’s been passed down through my family line and I can already see little inclinations in my 4-year old. And somehow this control-freakishness begins to fade, melt away, even die, when I get a glimpse of who God truly is.
Yes, he is sovereign. But his sovereignty is not that of a control freak. Rather it’s as an overseeing shepherd. I truly believe God allows space for us. Sometimes he steps in very clearly – no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. But that’s not always the case. The father allows the prodigal people to run off and waste the inheritance. The father allows sin and brokenness to run rampant. I still don’t have all the answers to that one. And I’m not sure I ever will.
It breaks my heart knowing God isn’t a control freak at times. But then I come back and find great delight in knowing he isn’t a control freak, even if it hurts. For I do believe that it is an over-controlling father that is more damaging than a father who allows his children to make mistakes. There is space for them to fall down so that they might learn.
As one wise man said: There is a time for everything.
There will be a need for extreme movements, revival, renewal, sacrifice in the face of atrocity. And there will be times to proclaim an extreme belief or practice, pulling the pendulum all the way to one side or the other.
But most of the time, the call is for balance and space. I believe that the God we know in Jesus Christ is one of balance and space. And the extremity we are called to is that of being like our Father in heaven, as seen in Jesus.
Let’s not couch everything in extremities. Let’s give some space within theological dialogue. Let’s consider whether there is a better balance than the one we are proclaiming.