We should be idealistic as Christians. That is not a bad thing. Jesus, of course, sets the ideal standard we ought to strive to attain by His grace that works in us. Yet, we all are a work in progress.
There are two errors we may make:
1. LEGALISM—the effort in our own strength to be what we cannot possibly achieve on our own. This results in a myriad of issues: frustration, hypocrisy, ulcers, judgmentalism, and so forth. What it will not produce is Christlikeness, but a parody of it. We sacrifice love in our exaltation of truth.
2. LIBERALISM—and so we adopt the attitude Paul condemned, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom.6:1-2). We say, it is an impossible standard, so I won’t even try. I am not saved by works, therefore, I will not worry about it. We want to make everything murky—no black and white issues, just gray. We sacrifice truth in our exaltation of love.
Neither are the Biblical approach. We are to desire the harmony of truth and love. God’s way through His work in us is to sanctify us by His Spirit, as He works through the means of grace. We are responsible to apply those means of grace within the context of the church family as we hold one another accountable in love.
Then, there are the disputable matters—things that are not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but standards that we embrace or dismiss because of our own personal convictions. Paul deals with that in Romans 14. He speaks of those who are weak and believe they need some big guardrails to keep them on the right road. When, those who are strong in faith flaunt their liberty, they are endangering their weaker brothers and sisters. Conversely, when weaker saints seek to impose their preferences and opinions on those who are strong in grace, they can bring them into bondage. In each group asserting their rights, they are wrong!
We must have Biblical convictions—no doubt about it. But, in the church, we will never maintain unity in the fellowship if we demand that everyone dot every “i” and cross every “t” exactly like we do. That is when the ideal becomes an ordeal—and it ends up hindering what God desires to do in His church and through us.
We have come to such a polarizing time in our nation, in our churches, and in the wider Baptist family. Cooperative efforts to reach our world with the Gospel may be sidelined by family squabbles. This is when the ideal becomes an ordeal—and by that I mean our ideal for how things ought to be, rather than the clearly marked path God has set.
For Baptists affiliated with the Haywood Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and the Southern Baptist Convention, the statement of faith we have chosen to guide our cooperative efforts in Great Commission work is the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. These are core convictions, but the danger is that we will get out beyond these principles to preferences, exceeding the core, on to the periphery and press further to demand our personal opinions. Then, we start sniping at each other, rather than fighting the devil, alongside one another.
There are hills to die on. There are also mountains made out of molehills. If these small things are sizable things to us, then we ought to personally stand on them. We ought not demand our brothers and sisters do likewise.
I have been married now for nearly 47 years, and I still remember our first big fight. My wife decided to cut up cucumbers and onions and marinate them in vinegar. Yum! But, when I saw them, she had diced the cucumbers rather than slicing them! Horrors! I said, “That is not how my mother made this!” I was a stupid man! I learned and have never uttered those words again. Let me give you another food analogy. She likes beets and I despise them. She doesn’t try to make me eat them and I don’t care if she eats them three times a day. It is not something to fight about. Neither one of us are wrong, we are just different—and we love each other with those differences as part of the unique person that we love. If we did as some Baptists do, we would split and form the Pickled Beet Baptist Church and the Beetless Baptist Church.
Let us hold steadfastly to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. At the same time, I pray we Baptists do not divorce over marginal matters that are not central to the Gospel. May God give us enough sense to know the difference!
In Love and Truth,
Dennis Thurman, AMS