I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Genesis 3:1 NLT
Twenty-nine years later, there are still some things I remember from my Composition class at Southern Adventist University. One thing I was taught is to avoid using the word “never” because it is extreme and usually unrealistic. For example, I heard someone say once, “I never golf, because when I do I play terrible.” Wait a minute? If they never golf how can they say they play terrible? Obviously they golf some, or they would not say that they play badly. So they can’t realistically use the word “never.”
Satan baited Eve into a discussion by asking a question which was obviously wrong so that Eve would feel obligated to clear up the misconception and join in a dialogue with him. He went to extremes by suggesting God told them not to eat of any of the trees.
Today, Satan likes to suggest that Christians are not allowed to have any fun, but that is no more true than that Adam and Eve were not to eat of any of the trees. Some of the Puritans believed that the more things they called evil and abstained from, the more holy they would become, but that is not how holiness works. Now I am not suggesting that we must sin a little every now and then just to stay balanced and moderate. God’s grace is well able to keep us in harmony with God’s law at all times. The problem comes when we make extreme standards that God never intended. God never said “don’t eat of any of the trees.” On the contrary there was only one tree they were told not to eat from.
There is a term I have come up with which I call, “overcompensating for the past.” For example, a young person becomes a born-again Christian and decides to burn all their satanic music in a bonfire. However they get a little carried away, and throw their John Denver and Joshua Bell CD’s in the fire too, declaring them satanic since they are not sacred. They vow to listen only to Jamie Jorge and the Heritage Singers from now on. I am sorry, but throwing your John Denver CD’s into the fire is not going to make up for having listened to real satanic music in the past, and only listening to the Heritage Singers is not going to make you more holy. We do not become more holy by finding more things to call satanic.
It was Satan who suggested that all the trees were evil, so I conclude that calling everything evil is not only extreme but also satanic within itself! (Some older manuscripts suggest Satan actually implied all the trees were okay to eat, which would be an extreme statement in the other direction.)
Another danger of extremism shows up when we have one favorite pastor or author. We decide everything they preach is the truth, never considering they could be wrong once or twice. At the same time we decide this other pastor or author is always wrong, never considering he could be right occasionally. Fact is that none of us are perfect. If Matthew had been “all that,” then we never would have needed Mark, Luke and John. Now I know they all agree with each other, yet the Bible gives us an array of authors so we can have a balanced theology. We learn from all of them.
Several churches have sprung up lately and drawn large congregations. The pastors seldom take a vacation because everyone loves to hear them preach. And if a pastor seldom takes a break from the pulpit I have to guess he loves to hear himself preach too! However after the pastor gets promoted and leaves, the congregation shrinks. Why? It is because they were following a man and not God. It is not healthy to become attached to one individual.
When I have been having long-term Bible studies with individuals and they come to church, I am happy when I see them mixing with other people besides myself. I am glad when they choose to attend somebody else’s Sabbath School class besides mine! They have been listening to me teach the Bible to them for months, maybe years, and now they can get other people’s views and ideas, so they can form their own balanced theology. I only have so much to offer. I don’t know it all. I may have strengths, but I definitely have weaknesses, and other teachers can complement my weaknesses. A well-rounded Bible student has more than one teacher.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then it definitely takes a congregation to raise a newborn babe in Christ. Over the years I have had several pastors ask me to give their children Bible studies for baptism. Since they are pastors, why don’t they just do it themselves? Because the pastors realize their children hear them teach at church and then every day in family worship. They realizes that for their children to be balanced, they will need to have other teachers in their lives besides just them. This is the difference between a good pastor and a cult leader.
I once talked to a member of a church who had the same pastor for over 15 years. He said they kept that pastor because he preached the truth while the other pastors are preaching heresy. I asked him how he knew their pastor preached truth while all others preach heresy. Turns out it was the pastor himself who told them this! That is not a balanced pastor. That is a cult leader. When Elijah claimed he was the only good prophet left, God let him know he was being a little extreme, as God had 7,000 back in Israel who had not run away like him.
Not only is hitching your wagon to one preacher or author extreme, but labels can be extreme also – conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive. Some people like to call themselves conservative and look down on liberals. Some like to be progressive and look down on traditionalists. Problem is they all can become extreme. Jesus was not extreme, as He was all four. Jesus was conservative with His rebukes and on one occasion just wrote them in the sand to avoid embarrassing anybody. But He was liberal with the bread and fish when He fed the multitudes. Jesus was traditional with his custom of going to church every Sabbath, but He progressed beyond man-made traditions and the pompous ceremonial hand washing the Pharisees had concocted.
I visited with a member of a church where I was a guest speaker. The member told me, the goal of their church was not to be conservative or liberal. Their goal was to just go by the Bible. Where the Bible said be liberal, they wanted to be liberal, but in other phases of life where it said to be conservative they wanted to be conservative. I like that! They avoided the extreme labels of conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive and just purposed in their hearts to be like Jesus.
Daniel purposed in his heart to be conservative when it came to his diet in Babylon, but when it came to getting the wicked magicians off the hook for not telling the king his dream he was very liberal!
Again, please do not confuse what I am saying by thinking I am suggesting we make a compromise with sin in order to avoid extremes. I am actually saying just the opposite. If we become extreme in having one favorite pastor or author, we will follow him not only when he is right, but also when he is wrong. If we have been exposed to several pastors and authors, we will more likely follow each one only as far as they are right. We don’t have our wagon hitched to any one person except Jesus.
If we label ourselves conservative, we will fall into sin when a brother needs mercy and forgiveness. If we label ourselves liberal, we will fall into sin when a brother needs to be warned about sin. If we label ourselves traditional, we will fall into sin when tradition contradicts the Bible. If we label ourselves progressive, we will fall into sin when we forsake traditions that are biblical.
Let’s avoid Satan’s temptation to follow extremes and let’s purpose in our hearts, like Daniel to follow God in all His ways, by studying the Bible and following it, without adding or subtracting anything.
You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.