Years ago, I left vocational ministry due to several bad experiences that left my family hurt and confused. The time away was a real blessing from the Lord, but for a while, I rejected the “institutional” church entirely. I bought into the thinking that the only faithful Christians were those who met in house churches with no leader. Yes, it was extreme. But some people outdid me. Some went so far as to say that the Church should only be some sort of nebulous idea involving a handful of Christians getting together in a coffee shop. But while being the Church outside of sanctuary walls is important, Paul didn’t write letters to saints scattered throughout Starbucks. He wrote to intentional worshipping communities.
It took me a few years to start coming out of my reactionary thinking and see it for what it was. Since then, I feel like the Lord has heightened my senses to all manner of extremes embraced by well-intentioned people, especially within the Church.
It’s so easy for us to passionately reject one extreme only to embrace another extreme at the opposite end of the spectrum. We usually don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing. Middle ground gets lost as everything becomes polarized: Republican vs. Democrat, homeschooling vs. public school, young earth creationism vs. God-guided evolution. In the Church, we even fight among ourselves over who is the most faithful to Jesus in their doctrine and church practice. We want to argue that our group is more “authentic” than your group.
We get caught up arguing about all the less important side issues instead of joining together in the essentials that we can agree on. And it gets old.
But Jesus gives us a way out. While I’m not always sure what that way looks like, if I’m honest, I usually know what it doesn’t look like. And if I’ll listen to the Spirit within me, I can find the road of Christ.
Jesus was a radical rabbi, but he wasn’t jumping to extremes. He challenged the polarities. We should do the same.
Of course, God’s truth and the third way of Christ is radically subversive and provocative within a culture of scoffers and skeptics. But any ideology that purposely spends its time ridiculing, shaming or doing violence to others is most definitely an extreme to be rejected, dare I say repented of in Jesus’ name. We need to stop it now.
So I want to ask myself, where do I have a tendency to accept the extremes and spread the infection that is having negative effects on our families, churches, society and culture?
The following are some questions that I’ve often asked myself when listening to the news, examining an idea, surveying social media or reading a book. I think these questions can help disciples of Jesus stand for truth, but avoid the polarities and extremes:
Do I Love the Truth or Just My Version of It?
Contrary to what postmodern relativism teaches, there is such a thing as objective truth. Asking this question can help us step outside of ourselves and our cultural conditioning in order to consider the truth that is usually hidden beyond and beneath our personal biases, presuppositions and emotions.
Can I See a Spectrum of Views (or a Third Way)?
There are usually more than just two sides to a matter. If it’s always black and white to you, you’ve probably not paid enough attention to Jesus and His “third way” living. This myopic attitude leaves no room for grace or the possibility that there is more than one way to be faithful.
Have I Honestly Considered Other Respectable Positions?
In other words, have you listened to the best voices on the subject—qualified folks you may not agree with but can still respect? If you haven’t, you’ll end up demonizing one extreme only to embrace another. You’ll become another version of what you hate. Ironic, isn’t it?
What Does My Community Think?
We are more fully human in healthy relationships. What does your church, organization or circle of trusted friends think? Are you listening? Shutting out an opposing opinion might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t make you right.
Where Is Jesus in This?
This is much different than asking what “side” Jesus is on. It should allow us to see Jesus in more places than one. This may seem totally subjective, but it really isn’t. Our discernment comes from a full contextual reading of the Gospels (historical Jesus) and our sensitivity to the Spirit.
If you’re busy trying to serve Jesus and do ministry but not regularly practicing spiritual disciplines in order to abide in Christ, I wouldn’t be so confident about your positions and heart on any matter. We must be connected to the Vine if we want to know His heart and bear His fruit.
Where Am I in This?
Following Jesus isn’t simply doing whatever you imagine Him doing. It means obeying and acting out of the time spent listening to His desires for you and the world. Once you’ve felt His heart on a matter and have seen where He’s at work, are you willing to join Him there?
I think these questions can help us to see that we’re not just dealing with hot-button issues—we’re always dealing with people created in God’s image. Asking these questions helps me love people while simultaneously loving the truth and boldly navigating culture, even if it means hardship and suffering for being faithful to Jesus.
Can we rise above the extremes in our pursuit of truth? I believe so. But we need to know that the truth usually lies quietly in the fertile soil of grace and humility. Out of this soil will come conviction, but never condemnation.
This article was originally published in 2016 at daviddflowers.com. Used with permission.