Food for Thought
I was flipping through an old book on my bookshelf the other day and stumbled upon this section dealing with maintaining a middle-ground position on divisive theological points. Personally I appreciate such a humble orthodoxy.
Some people object because they feel that I gloss over certain passages of Scripture, and they’re correct. But glossing over controversial issues is often deliberate because there are usually two sides. And I have found that it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues, because the moment they are polarized, there’s division.
A classic example is the problem in our understanding of the Scriptures that refer to the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Bible actually teaches both, but in our human understanding they’re mutually exclusive. People who become divisive on this issue claim that we can’t believe both, because if you carry the sovereignty of God to an extreme, it eliminates the responsibility of man. Likewise, if you carry the responsibilities of man to the extreme, it eliminates the sovereignty of God. This mistake is made when a person takes the doctrine and carries it out to its logical conclusion. Using human logic and carrying divine sovereignty out to its logical conclusion leaves man with no choices.
So, how are we to deal with rightly dividing the Word on the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man? We need to believe both of them through faith, because I can’t keep them in balance by my understanding. I don’t understand how they come together. But I do believe them both. I believe that God is sovereign, and I also believe that I’m responsible and that God holds me responsible for the choices that I make. I simply trust God that both assertions of Scripture are true.
Don’t get polarized. Don’t let the people get polarized. The minute you do, you’ve lost half your congregation because people are split pretty evenly on this issue. So if you take a polarized position you’ll lose half of your congregation. Do you really want to lose 50% of your congregation?
– Chuck Smith
Miles, if I tell the congregation that I am cheering for the Niners this Sunday afternoon, I will polarize my congregation! Those who love the Raiders hate the Niners! I am amazed that it is not only some doctrines, but sports, too, can be polarizing. If I shop at Costco the church is polarized because some product they sell was made in substandard conditions in a third world country. If I buy gas of a certain brand the church is polarized because of their gay-friendly business posture. I am hyperbolizing (mainly), but people, even the church, are becoming increasingly hyper-sensitive. Hyper-awareness has made us hyper-sensitive. Hyper-sensitivity has made us hyper-obnoxious. I think we all should take a chill-pill. And right there I have polarized those who think we’re not taking things seriously enough.
Tim, you didn’t just polarize me … but now those that are polarized by you have been re-polarized. It’s getting cold over here!
There is so much work that the church should be doing in this world. It saddens me to see all the energy that is expended in angry arguments about minor issues. I think 2 Timothy 2:14 applies here.
I know it’s not a direct translation, but I like the wording The Message uses for that section. “Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out.”
Great comment, Nancy … “It saddens me to see all the energy that is expended in angry arguments about minor issues.”
All the energy. That’s the bottom line. Where is there any energy left for the fulfillment of the Great Commandments and the Great Commission?
Well, put, Pastor Chuck. And thanks, Miles, for re-digging this “old well” (to borrow Bill Holdridge’s analogy).
It’s hard to imagine that anybody who has known Chuck for many years, listened to him teach, and read his books (like the one quoted) could ever openly disagree with the simplicity of Chuck’s humble orthodoxy here.
I recently read in a public letter from a fellow Calvary Chapel servant, “Those who do not stand against anything are not really standing for anything.” Followed by, “To fight the battle for truth (which all devout pastors must be willing to fight), without a willingness to stand against error, is to fight that battle with one hand tied behind our backs. It is a sure way to get pummeled by those who oppose the truth.”
While I agree with both principles in general, he was specifically applying these maxims to those on one side of this polarising issue, classifying them as being in “error” and “those who oppose the truth”. I was a bit shocked, wondering if he listened to the same “Chuck tracks” I did in Bible College, the same sermons on KWVE, and read the same books penned by Pastor Chuck that I have. Especially considering Chuck’s statement above that, “it’s important not to be divisive and not to allow people to become polarized on issues.”
Chuck called for good theology with grace so as NOT to polarise and divide over this issue, and this brother was specifically describing a battle-stance against opposers of the truth. I don’t know him personally but maybe he just doesn’t know Chuck that well.
By the way… In the text quoted, Chuck’s succinct summarisation of this particular point of theology is probably one of the simplest and clearest representations of both Biblical theology AND premeditated non-divisiveness that I’ve ever read. Again… well put, Pastor Chuck.
Jon, I love the line “Chuck’s humble orthodoxy.” I think you nailed it. It takes humility to understand that we don’t know everything.
Here’s the ironic question to me: such humility should not be hard to attain, should it?
Thanks, Miles. I love Pastor Chuck’s insight on this as well.
Makes me think of the need for balance, as well as of the need to avoid the unnecessary polarization of the people in our churches.
We love balance, and Calvary Chapel is usually viewed as having a middle ground position on many issues.
Yet, balance isn’t attained by direct pursuit. It should be the inevitable by-product of careful, objective, inductive study of the scriptures. When we let the Bible speak in total, and we embrace what we’ve learned, we should be somewhat balanced.
Thanks to Pastor Chuck as well, for allowing the Lord to use him in such a wonderful way as he’s handled the Word for so many years.
And perhaps it is not even the “glossing over” that pastors sometimes will do…but rather, they just acknowledge there is a mystery when speaking of an infinite God. If we claim to have all the answers, then I think we make our God way too small. Some things in the Holy Scriptures just need to be read and accepted by faith, rather than trying to fit them into an intellectual mechanism.
Yes! There is a mystery in speaking of the infinite God! Love that comment!
Wise words from pastor Chuck. Buuuuuuuuut non-essential doesn’t mean non-important. It wasn’t that long ago that men risked their freedom over the polarizing issue of believers baptism. Don’t we take a pretty firm stand on several non-essential doctrines (pre-mil, pre-trib, just to name a couple that seem to polarize people)?
Now I’ll get ready to duck 🙂
Eric — I don’t believe Chuck or Miles or any other CC servant I have fellowship with says “non-essential” = “non-important”. It’s just important in a different way. Like the examples you mentioned: they’re important as Distinctives of Calvary Chapel and ALWAYS have been.
I think that’s the point. It’s one thing to hold those doctrines faithfully and with Biblically educated conviction as a distinctive of our “flavour” (to borrow from Chuck again) of theology. It’s another thing to hold them divisively or arrogantly, either flaunting and taunting and bickering foolishly with those we know disagree, or being angry and bringing damning accusation against the same.
Calvary Chapel has always made it clear that “pre-trib” and “pre-mil” are “Distinctive” of us. Similarly, with the MUCH MORE polarising and divisive issue of sovereignty vs. free will, from the “Chuck Tapes” that were recorded in the 70s and 80s (which I listened to in Bible College 20 years ago), to the quote from the book above in the late 90s, Chuck has always lead with humility and a clear understanding of the divine tension at play. You could say that just as importantly to Calvary Chapel as “pre-trib” and “pre-mil”, it has always been an important Calvary Chapel Distinctive passed down by Chuck that sovereignty and free will are both Biblical, but its difficult to understand how… so let’s not argue about it.
John – Agreed, we want to hold our beliefs with conviction, but not arrogantly or divisively. I like how Paul puts it in Romans regarding non-essentials. He didn’t say “it’s cool, just don’t polarize folks,” rather he calls us to be “fully convinced.” So when we are fully convinced on non-essentials – then, to be fully accepting of those who are fully convinced of a different flavor, this takes some maturity.
BTW bro, I’m sure Chuck never used the word “flavour”. 🙂 Don’t they have spell-check in Ireland?
Eric — okay, smarty pants. I’m sure he said, “flavor”, but there is surely a man named Chuck Smith in a British country who said, “flavour”. My spell check is obedient to 1 Cor. 9:22 😉
That’s precisely it! Many of the non-essentials remain important.
For the Calvary Chapel family of believers, the imminent return of Jesus, the fact that He could appear and receive us to Himself at any moment — that’s huge. So much scripture supports such a position and attitude. Otherwise, we may live carelessly and be ashamed when He returns, or even lose the things we’ve worked for.
Yet I would not break fellowship with someone who holds a mid, post, or pre-wrath view of the rapture.
amen. wisdom, humility and keeping the main focus where it belongs. this is the kind of approach that was used greatly of God. hopefully this is the kind of wisdom we can continue to carry into the future as a movement.