Can we in COGs be balanced yet zealous?
The writer is a Church of God member (since 1987) with a master's degree in history. He attends the United Church of God congregation in Ann Arbor, Mich.
By Eric V. Snow
FERNDALE, Mich.--Relative to others in the church, are you extreme? Do others in your congregation criticize you (or gossip behind your back) as being either an overly controlling father or a slack, permissive mother?
Do you eat the standard American diet (white bread, white rice, few vegetables, lots of fatty red meat, lots of refined sugar)? Or are you too much into health foods (little meat, expensive, food grown organically without pesticide residues, little refined white flour and sugar)?
If you're a woman, are you criticized for being too much of a feminist (maybe you're just 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 (like a Pharisee) or too slackly?
These dichotomies and others make me think of a pair of dilemmas 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 zealously pursue it.
But, if we're significantly out of the mainstream relative to our local or larger church's practices in some area (child-rearing, diet, marital relationships, politics), we should give at least some thought to the possibility that we're unbalanced in some aspect of our lives before we dismiss the others, our spiritual brothers and sisters, as a bunch of Laodicean slackers.
We daily face the problem of managing gray areas in which God's will isn't immediately clear, such as (say) eating out in restaurants on the Sabbath or what decisions teenaged children should be allowed to make on their own.
We as Christians should be careful when making decisions in purported gray areas when they may concern sin, since Romans 14:23 warns us that "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 Matthew 7:1-5--of our spiritual brethren.
Victorians on sex and race
Let's consider the problems of being extreme. To take an 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.
Roughly 125 years later the Eastern liberal establishment is obsessed with purported racial insensitivity in the tiniest forms, but it's more or less indifferent to sexual misconduct, as shown by the corruption of our media in portraying homosexual characters routinely positively, explicit sexual references in music, Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, etc.
The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other on both issues, yet the larger culture isn't conscious of its errors on either.
Apocalyptics now and then
Can we in the church learn from history? When dealing with issues such as child-rearing, marital relationships, sexuality, including the roles of the sexes, diet and specific Sabbath-keeping practices, can we perceive when we've gone into one ditch after running across the middle of the road from the other ditch?
For example, let me push a traditional hot button in our church culture concerning diet.
Are we aware, as per Edith Efron in The Apocalyptics: How Environmental Politics Controls What We Know about Cancer, that natural substances are just as apt to be cancer-causing as 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 tests used to ban the artificial pesticides?
What natural substance causes 30 percent 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).
On board with Rachel Carson
I'm convinced that the church (the Radio-Worldwide Church of God) climbed aboard the environmentalist bandwagon a generation ago because its dire predictions (such as Rachel Carson's in Silent Spring) fit with our prophetic views. Most have since never questioned its paradigm. Consequently, some of us have become extreme on environmentalist and dietary issues when 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 (Revelation 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 purported to be extreme on this or that issue they often have good reasons for their position. Instead of being closed-minded, we should be willing to take their tape, book or video and see if their position has a case to be made for it.
Maybe they have overdone it, but then it becomes obvious to me there is a need to change what I'm doing to a position that is closer where they stand.
Before, had I known what they believed, I might have seen them as being in the ditch on some subject. Afterwards I may still think they have one leg hanging over the side, but I'm suddenly veering closer to their side of the road.
If we get to know another person better, by talking to him extensively, we can avoid misperceiving him and can know what motivates him.
For example, an older married woman who at the time frequently drove me to church told me that others 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 the roles of the sexes, I knew her 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 other than what she really was.
Before we judge others in the congregation as extreme, how well do we know them? Do we know well the arguments they would give for what they do?
Although we should be balanced yet zealous in serving God, let's be wary of judging of, for example, how others raise their children, deal with their spouses, choose their diet and keep the Sabbath.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God