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Articles

The Temptation of Extremism

In a recent article on the National Review website (nationalreview.com), author David French sums up the religious climate in our country well. He explains there are two ­competing temptations tugging at any group claiming to be Christian:

The first is the one that the theologically ­orthodox discuss and battle the most: the temptation to ­forsake Christian doctrine to seek the approval of a hostile culture. This is the old argument that the world would embrace the Church if only the Church were more like the world. It is embraced by much of Mainline Protestantism, and it’s the path to ­religious extinction. In the effort to appeal to the world, the Church becomes the world, and the logic for its ­distinct existence disappears…

The second temptation is one that attracts the ­theologically orthodox: the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world. Mothers and ­fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise…

French’s summary is an accurate one. It seems that religious people today find themselves at one extreme or the other. Either compromise on morality in order to include everyone. Or, make such stringent religious requirements that almost no one can ever measure up. It is interesting to notice that even early churches faced the same temptations.

For the first temptation to become more like the world, look no further than the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 5 they had become so worldly and accepting that they accepted immorality that even Gentiles wouldn’t have accepted (1 Cor. 5:1). They even boasted about their tolerance of immorality. But this wasn’t acceptable. Paul says, “Your boasting is not good” (1 Cor. 5:6).

For the second temptation, consider Paul’s warning to ­Timothy. He says in 1 Timothy 4 that in later times some will depart from the faith by requiring legalistic things such as forbidding marriage and abstaining from certain foods (vv. 1–5). These requirements would certainly be “more ­conservative” or legalistic as French’s second temptation describes.

It is interesting to consider this second point—­especially since for the majority of those who attend what is ­commonly known as a “church of Christ” the first temptation is ­unusual. The more likely is the temptation to become “more ­conservative” in the approach to righteousness. Often ­described as “the safer way,” it is common for ­Christians to defend the most conservative position on an issue ­regardless of the scriptural evidence. After all, being “more ­conservative” can’t be wrong can it? Paul told Timothy it could be. Binding legalistic expectations in the name of ­being conservative that aren’t found in Scripture is a departure from the faith. Paul describe it as the “teaching of demons.”

It is important to understand that balance is what is expected. The answer to our questions and decisions is never found at the extremes.

One cannot simply find their answer because it appear to be “more liberal” or “more loving.” Neither can one find their answer simply looking for what could be labeled as “more conservative” or “less liberal.” Instead, every question should be answered by seeking God’s wisdom through His word.