Here in the West we’re praying for rain. Waking each day to watch and hope for clouds, we check the forecast, begging Heaven to drop moisture on California’s thirsty landscape. Lawns and flowering bushes turn brown as wells run dry.
While in this week’s news we see pictures of a blizzard hitting the East coast—expected to be the worst in a century with hurricane-type winds dumping tons of snow, we were told yesterday morning. Electric outages, traffic accidents and food shortages could hurt the North Atlantic states.
And by springtime we’ll hear of flooding in the Midwest. (Here we sit, wishing some of those clouds would move our way.)
Always this tension exists: a tug-of-war between one way or the other, too little or too much.
In Scripture, in Christianity and churches through the ages, God’s people waffle between leaning too far to the right and too far to the left.
It’s a shifting pendulum of human viewpoints, philosophies and practices, swinging wide in either direction depending on the culture or current ideologies. Shaping Christian thought of generations, only to be re-shaped in later decades.
To solve the dispute over eating or not eating meat offered to idols, Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. – I Corinthians 8:4-8
Later, Paul argued with Barnabas over the issue of John Mark’s involvement in their ministry. Each man held very different opinions. The solution was to part ways.
During the first centuries of the early church, clergy members met together in councils (or synods) for discussion and fellowship. Modern pastors still meet for the same reasons. Some meetings are organized as part of a denominational organization; some pastors maintain independence from the hierarchy of an official denomination. What they have in common is finding strength in numbers, in shared beliefs, in similar practices.
When Medieval Christmas celebrations became riots of excess, Puritans abstained from all celebrations at Christmastime. Eventually celebrations became the norm, while trying to avoid commercialism. We decorate our homes and churches, and sing Christmas carols, we hold activities to honor the Savior’s birth and make birthday cakes for Jesus.
As Reformation fires burned across Europe, Christians argued about communion practices: taking wine from a silver or golden chalice? (Today we use tiny disposable cups. Imagine the horror.)
John Calvin believed only Psalms taken directly from Scripture should be sung by congregations, without the use of instruments.
Yet, Martin Luther and Charles Wesley composed new hymns based on Biblical truth and Christian experience. During the Great Awakening, Fanny Crosby, Phillip Bliss and others wrote gospel songs relevant to experiences of their day. Today’s contemporary worship music ranges from upbeat hymns to simple praise choruses.
Charles Spurgeon refused ordination, and pastored the largest non-conformist church of his day. Metropolitan Tabernacle was a Reformed Baptist church, but the name gave no clue to the denomination.
In America’s early 1800s Baptists in the South believed slaveholders should be sent West as missionaries and allowed to hold office in the denomination’s society. But Northerners disagreed.
In politics and religion we have liberals and conservatives.
In traditional churches we find whispered creeds, cherished rituals, monotone sermons. Upbeat music or evangelical preaching appeals to another crowd.
Services are held in huge auditoriums, rented banquet rooms and private homes. Baptisms take place in the river, the ocean, a swimming pool, and a large tub built in front of the sanctuary called a baptistry.
Missionaries wear flip-flops to church in the tropics, and suits to church in the states.
Leaders, followers. Givers, takers. Fighters, peace-keepers. Activists, pacifists. Extroverts, introverts. Everywhere we see contrasts.
In Christ, though, our differences aren’t meant to cause division. (God made us different—just look around.) Again, Paul wrote about this to the early churches, and we find his instructions in the New Testament letters.
The words of Agur in the book of Proverbs illustrates the potential hazards of extremes:
Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8-9
Yet, in Ecclesiastes we see that necessary extremes are valuable in their place and at the right time:
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
When praying for rain, we ask for enough, because in the balance we grow.
So it is with God’s people.
Whatever label I wear as a believer in Jesus Christ, however I practice my set of Biblical distinctives, I must remember to balance all with wisdom, apply with grace, practice with full devotion and faith, and bathe everything in love.
(Jesus said) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35