CAN YOU BE BALANCED YET ZEALOUS?
By Eric V. Snow
Relative to others in the church (not the world merely), are you “extreme”? Do others in the local church criticize you (i.e., gossip behind your back) as being either an overly controlling father or a slack, permissive mother? Do you eat the standard American diet (i.e., eat white bread, white rice, few vegetables, lots of fatty red meat, lots of refined sugar, etc.)? Or are you too much into natural health foods (eat little meat, buy more expensive, organically grown food without pesticide residues, have little refined white flour or sugar, etc.)? If you’re a woman, are you criticized for being too much of a feminist (which might be just for being outspoken in defending your beliefs)? Or, are you attacked for being too traditional or “submissive” in your views of male/female sex roles or marital relationships? Do you keep the Sabbath too strictly (i.e., “like a Pharisee”) or too slackly?
All of these dichotomies (and others) make me think of an interesting pair of dilemmas that we face in our daily spiritual/religious lives: Can we be zealous without being extreme? Can we be balanced without being Laodicean? Naturally, after finding God’s truth on a subject, which may or may not be “extreme” relative to others in the church, we should be zealous in pursuing it. But if we’re significantly out of the mainstream relative to our local or larger church’s practices in some area (childrearing, diet, marital relationships, politics, etc.), we should give at least some thought to the possibility that we’re unbalanced in some aspect of our lives before dismissing the others (i.e., our spiritual brothers and sisters) as a bunch of Laodicean slackers.
In our daily lives, we face the problem of managing “gray areas” in which it isn’t necessarily immediately clear what God’s will would be, such as (say) eating out in restaurants on the Sabbath or in what decisions teenaged children should be allowed to make on their own. We as Christians should be very careful when making decisions in purported “gray areas” when they may concern sin, since Romans 14:23 warns us, “he who doubts is condemned,” and James 4:17 proclaims, “To the one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” But whether we are critical of certain others as wishy-washy Laodiceans or as Pharisaical extremists, we should be wary of being judgmental (as per Matt. 7:1-5) of our spiritual brethren.
First, let’s consider the problems of being “extreme.” To take a fairly obvious historical example from the world, the middle class Victorians (stereotypically) were obsessed with potential sexual sin, but utterly indifferent to racism. They wouldn’t discuss necessary sexual issues publicly when they needed to be addressed explicitly, but they didn’t even coin the world “racism” until c. 1865-70. Today, roughly 125 years later, the Eastern Liberal Establishment is obsessed with purported racial insensitivity in the tiniest forms, but it’s basically indifferent to sexual misconduct, as shown by the corruption of our media in portraying homosexual characters routinely positively, explicit sexual references in music, ex-President Clinton’s impeachment trial, etc. The pendulum has clearly swung from one extreme to the other on both issues, yet the larger culture isn’t conscious of its errors on either issue.
Can we in the church learn from history? When dealing with issues such as childrearing, marital relationships, sex/gender roles, diet, specific Sabbath-keeping practices, etc., can we perceive it when we’ve gone from one ditch after running across the middle of the road from the other ditch? For example, let me push one traditional “hot button” issue in our church culture concerning diet. Are we aware that, as per Edith Efron in “The Apolcalyptics: How Environmental Politics Controls What We Know about Cancer,” that natural substances are just as apt to be cancer-causing as artificial “man-made” chemicals according to the same (questionable) scientific tests and standards? Are we aware that fruits and vegetables often have far more natural than artificial pesticides by weight that are cancer-causing according to the same lab/animal tests used to ban the artificial pesticides? What natural substance causes roughly 30% of American deaths from cancer? Give up? Tobacco! Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s benign (ask anyone who hunts for and eats wild mushrooms). I’m thoroughly convinced that the church (i.e., RCG/WCG) climbed aboard the environmentalist bandwagon a generation ago since its dire predictions (i.e., Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”) fit in well with our prophetic views, and most never have questioned its paradigm anytime since. Consequently, some of us have become extreme on environmentalist/dietary issues when real scientific evidence is lacking for our beliefs.
On the other hand, we should be wary of automatically assuming “the middle of the road” is safe in spiritual issues. We’re warned prophetically that Laodicea, the last of the seven churches before Jesus arrives, was indeed “moderate” (Rev. 3:15-16): “I know your deeds, that your are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Furthermore, I’ve learned that when one talks to those claimed to be extreme on this or that issue that they often have good reasons for their position. Instead of being closed minded, we should be willing to take their tape, their book, their video, etc., and see if their position has a case to be made for it. They may have indeed overdone it, of course, but then it becomes clear to me there is a need to change what I’m doing to a position that (yes indeed) is closer where they stand. Before, had I known what they believed, I may have seen them as being totally in the “ditch” on some subject. Afterwards, I may still think they have one leg hanging over the side, but then afterwards (relative to others in the church) I’m suddenly veering closer to their side of the road.
Also, if we get to know another person better, by talking to them extensively, we can avoid misperceiving others or can know what motivates them. For example, one older married woman who at that time frequently drove me to church once told me other(s) in the church perceived her as a “feminist.” But since I had talked to her a lot during the times she drove me to church, including on the issues of gender/sex roles, I knew her actual views well. I immediately told her that Gloria Steinem would have called her a traitor to her sex! But since she was an intelligent, articulate, educated woman, and (substantially) a choleric by personality, others perceived her otherwise than she was. Before we judge others in the local church as “extreme,” how well do we know them? Do we know well what arguments they would give for what they do? So in conclusion, although we should be balanced yet zealous in how we serve God, let’s also be wary of being judgmental about what others do in (say) how they raise their children, deal with their spouse, eat in their diet, keep the Sabbath, etc.