The deepest approach to Christianity seems to lie in the middle ground rather than the extremes. We are often pushed by the tone of our local congregation, peer pressure, our training, personal Christian heritage and especially our own emotional temperament to adopt a black-or-white attitude on some moral position, doctrinal stance, worship trend, governance issue, or theological explanation (Ephesians 4:14).
No doubt some absolutes require us to avoid adultery, trust in faith and believe in a God who judges and saves, cares and loves.
Equally, there are some mid-lines for us all, such as singing both hymns and choruses, or finding a balance between church leadership and democracy.
Yet, in many cases, understanding what two viewpoints may be saying provides the only way to perceive what a proper standpoint might be. If we walk down the middle, we are able to look at both sides of the road.
Of course the risk is a bland belief, a pallid intellectual or theological appearance that is “neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm” (Revelation 3:15). At times we have to adopt strong positions. Yet the more commonly travelled road of forceful certainty may be easier but often not helpful to the church community.
Examples that tempt us to dogmatic views are abortion, killing, alcohol, sexuality, the role of women, obedience to the pastor, trinity, evolution, literality of the Bible, salvation, pentecostal gifts and church government.
Which ones are important to be dogmatic about, and which are not?
For example, the liberal view that God’s main interest is in reconstructing society in a fair and equitable fashion is clearly inadequate, as is the evangelical one that God is only interested in a soul’s conversion. We need both views, as each on its own is deficient.
A moment’s reflection shows that a world full of converted people on their way to Heaven, avoiding (they hope) all sin, but ignoring what they can or should do for their fellow person, is not God’s plan.
Equally, a world full of moral crusaders, doing (they think) good, but ignoring personal duties of worship, honesty, integrity and sacrifice is not his plan either.
We are not saved only for Heaven’s sake, not for Earth’s either, but for both. Our inclination may naturally be in one area and that may make it right for us, but not for all.
Many believe that a dramatic conversion moment is how most are saved, but others find God brings faith not via sudden conversion, but through time and developing experience.
We do a disservice if we insist on the one route and do not allow the other, if we insist on repentance of sin first, as opposed to first being overwhelmed by God’s love or embracing his greatness. We don’t all have to feel we are “but miserable worms.” The roads by which we can respond to God, via Christ, can be varied.
If we ask Christians who have travelled the way for years, they will each emphasise different starting points, different calls, and different roads.
I suspect that 1 Corinthians 12:31, “a more excellent way,” and 13:12, “know in part,” have something to say on this subject.
This middle road provides us scope for differing views on moral questions, how we should live, theology, and especially different approaches as to how we should encourage people to become Christians.
Some NZ Baptist letter writers claim an enviable certainty of position, but I am rather tempted to reserve that place for me and others like me.
• Ross Kerr is a member of Levin Baptist Church.