Opinions on faith and life

Balancing Act

2010-05-04

At another blog the question is asked, “What are the signs that we have a perfect blend and balance of both grace and truth?” While neither term is defined there, it would be helpful to do so, especially for anyone unfamiliar with their usage in “the churches”. We can’t answer the question without knowing exactly what it’s asking.

Truth, to the Christian, is whatever God has said or done, whatever He has told us in His Word. Grace is simply favor bestowed from the greater to the lesser, and in particular, from God to people. But in recent decades, truth has been equated with cold, dead “doctrine”, while grace has been turned into a mystical (some say irresistible) force or, as a good friend of mine calls it, “totalitarian niceness”. Since the question on the table makes no sense if we use the Biblical definitions, I must presume that the modern ones are what it meant. After all, what need is there to find a balance between the favor of God and His truth?

Proceeding on that presumption, this balance is something I’ve written about many times: the need to keep both doctrine and love. Many want to discard one or the other, and when they do, that’s what makes doctrine cold and dead, and love/peace shallow and accepting of almost every sin. Doctrine, the teachings of the NT, is what makes peace possible, because our unity must be around central truths: Jesus, the One True God in human form, died for our sins and rose again, and anyone who puts their trust in Him alone for the purpose of being reconciled with God is saved. There are no other gods, no other Names, no other ways or paths, regardless of sincerity or good works. This is the most foundational, non-negotiable bedrock of our faith, such that to deny any part of it is to deny the whole (see my documents here under README for scriptural backing; this is not something I made up). It is not those who hold to this Doctrine that cause division, but those who deny or try to compromise it.

But many cannot reconcile this with “niceness”. They presume that to call someone else’s beliefs wrong is to be “not nice”, to be unloving, to be against peace, to be conceited and narrow. They will not tolerate the judging of sin among us, though it is plainly directed in such passages as 1 Cor. 5 (sinners though we are, we MUST judge those on “the inside”, our fellow believers). They see every instance of telling sinners they are lost as acts of hatred instead of loving the lost enough to warn them.

But above all, they cannot tolerate anyone expressing anything in a manner they deem “not nice”. This is the “totalitarian” part, because only they can decree where the wavy, blurry line is drawn. If you use enough syrup you can hurl the most vile insults and still be affirmed by others for your love and tolerance, while others, hurling insults or not, are condemned and treated as spiritual infants. Part of the problem is that the syrup proponents don’t always realize what they’re saying; they are blind to their own use of insults. When others respond to such subtlety and call it what it is, the “syrups” get indignant because they don’t see what they did, even after it’s pointed out to them. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, and it goes a little something like this:

This double standard, this committing of the same alleged faults as others, is the sign of imbalance in any Christian community. It is expressed in what we see in most Christian blogs: bickering, backstabbing, lecturing, accusing, judging (by BOTH sides) in all the wrong places. (And for a REAL example of all this, see The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, or my summary of it).

But silencing half the Body will not bring balance, it will only cause disease. Decreeing the other half hateful isn’t working either, quite obviously. Declaring your own side’s standards to be The Standard will never work. As long as doctrine and niceness are seen as hopelessly incompatible, the Body will never be in balance. Love without doctrine is easily corrupted and diluted, while doctrine without love is cold and legalistic. But remember, love as defined in scripture is not something that sees no evil / hears no evil, but cares enough to warn when danger approaches. And doctrine is not our personal set of convictions but the foundations of the faith, the facts about Jesus and salvation.

Instead, try what I’m still working toward: completely ignoring the style of other’s words, looking instead to the message. So you think somebody insulted you and the evidence is obvious; “why not rather be wronged” (1 Cor. 6:7)? So you can’t stand fundies; why not treat them as you’d treat Mormons or Muslims? Why respect the enemies of your faith more than your own brothers and sisters? So what if you think all the disrespect is coming from them, let’s see you practice what you preach. And by the same token, the fundies need to do learn to look past the double standards and concentrate on the arguments. Don’t ape the name-calling and put-downs, even if the other side still does it. God is the One keeping score.

Let people talk; stop the control freak mentality and just present your case. Then there will be balance.

ADDED LATER: This balance will NOT be characterized by a lack of disagreement. There is room for that in the Body, just as “the eye cannot say to the hand, ’I don’t need you!’” Disagreement is not the problem, but only the attempt to force others to agree, even to walk and talk like us. Let the disagreements fly, but not the rancor, surgar-coated or plain.

6 Comments

Lydia

"After all, what need is there to find a balance between the favor of God and His truth?"

I had to stop here. Very thought provoking question! And it gets rid of the need for "new" definitions of grace and truth.

"...because our unity must be around central truths:..."

This is key. It is what Jesus Christ prayed about before the Cross. And our "unity" comes not in horizontal relationships as the seekers try to sell us but in truth. The Holy Spirit is what unifies us in that truth.

"Let people talk; stop the control freak mentality and just present your case. Then there will be balance."

Part of the problem is the inability to discuss content. It seems folks are afraid to go there. Few can have a friendly debate on content without resorting to totalitarian niceness or nasty ad hominem.

Paula Fether

Yes, that last sentence is where the friction is. That’s why I am working on and advocating this most difficult but necessary discipline. But first people have to know there’s a difference and be able to see it. This is where knowing some logic can help immensely. For my part, I hope to reach the point where I can truly ignore whatever insults there may be and just respond to the point, however it is expressed.

Trouble is, I’m bound to be sorely tested! ;-)

Greg Anderson

Reasoned dialogue is the first step to bringing balance to the force. (grins)

Paula Fether

And did you know that yesterday was...

May the 4th --- Be With You? (or, Metaphors Be With You, depending on which galaxy you’re from)

(saw them both on Facebook yesterday)

Lin

Is that a Klingon holiday or something? Just kidding. I am sci-fi illiterate.

Excellent post, btw.

I believe that ’unity’ is one of the most misunderstood doctrinal issues out there and twisted by many to build large followings.

Paula Fether

Actually, it’s Star Wars ("may the Force be with you"). And tanx! :-)

Absolutely. Just as the word "grace" is redefined, so also is unity, and peace, and many more. Our overly-redefined "Christian-ese" is part of the reason people keep talking past each other. Some even do this deliberately, but either way it’s the fallacy of "equivocation". I think I’ve also mentioned the practice of some to give 2/3 of a syllogism: two premises but no conclusion, which is left to the reader to fill in. Then the one making the argument can never be pinned down as to what they said, though their premises certainly did. It’s very sneaky, and the cause of much imbalance. ;-)