One notion I've been pondering a great deal over the past eight months or so is the notion of liberal v. conservative. For some reason I held the belief for years (whether or not I would admit it) that conservative = good, period. I was proud of the fact that I was conservative. My family attended a conservative church; we homeschooled and were part of a conservative homeschool group. We lived in a conservative county in the Bible belt, which is predominantly conservative. So we had a lot of company in our conservativism.
But one only has to give the gospels a cursory glance to realize that the group that most enraged Jesus was the conservatives. Really. Stop and think about that. Jesus was more merciful, more friendly with tax collectors and prostitutes, than he was to the morally upright rulers of the law. He was enraged with the Pharisees. He called the conservatives of his day a "brood of vipers." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The conservatives of Jesus' day, like so many conservatives of our day, were too morally rich to truly understand their need of a Saviour. Usually the conservatives of today fail more in recognizing this for sanctification than justification, but we are guilty of both :(. The Pharisees distorted God's grace with their extreme legalism, and for that they were condemned. More conservative does certainly not equal more righteous!
A few weeks ago my pastor preached on the Rich Young Ruler from Mark. One thing that especially caught my attention in the sermon was the observation that the Rich Young Ruler's riches were a stumbling block in two ways. He did not only have a love of money, but a love of himself as well. He had moral wealth that blocked his recognition of a need for a Saviour. Someone who claims to have kept all the commandments from a boy is not going to see his need for a Saviour. His moral riches were a stumbling block to him.
The Rich Young Ruler and the Pharisees both completely missed the purpose of the law. The law is not soap to wash ourselves clean; it is a mirror to show us our sinfulness and to point us to Christ. Because the Pharisees were in a false sense of security over their standing before God, their hearts were hardened more than the worst of sinners. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
But back to Jesus' befriendment of the tax collectors and prostitutes. I am certainly not saying that by fraternizing with them Jesus was endorsing their sinfulness. Far from it. So many people remember Jesus' kindness to the condemned prostitute and His challenge to her accusers: let the one without sin cast the first stone. But too many forget His charge to the prostitute: go and sin no more. Jesus wasn't in the business of ignoring or redefining sin; that's the liberal response to sin. Sin is an affront to God and cannot go unpunished. To deny this is to deny the very essence of Christianity.
Jesus attacked both the liberals and conservatives of his day! Jesus was in the business of dealing with and forgiving sin. But only for those who were humble enough to realize that they needed a Saviour. So, though I would never describe myself (for fear of misunderstanding) as a moderate, perhaps that is more what I am seeking to be. I pray that God continues to deliver me from Pharaseeism, even as I pray that He will keep me from antinomianism. Truly, the middle way is best. Human nature is prone to extremes, but usually what God requires is balance. Let's look at an application:
A year ago I was stalwartly against any form of age segregation in church. I am still no fan of the vast bulk of age segregation in modern churches. But I now have no problem with Sunday Schools, if they are implemented to support parental training, rather than usurp it. I strongly believe that children belong in service with their parents. But I admit now that the place of infants (or very young children) in church is not so clear in my mind. I still want to have my (hypothetical future) children in worship with me from birth (or conception, rather), but even then I admit that I may change my mind, and ultimately it is up to my (hypothetical future) husband, not myself.
I realized gradually that, while I agreed with most of the motives behind the anti-age-segregated movement (family togetherness is important, e.g.), some of the principles were applied in an extra-Biblical way. Just because Sunday School is often abused in our culture, replacing the Father's responsibility to train his children, doesn't mean that all Sunday School programs should be automatically tossed away, especially at the risk of brotherly unity. Children do learn at different levels (though not as stringently as many would have us believe). And Christians are saved into a covenant community to aid them in training their children. Sunday Schools and similar programs don't have to preempt worship, though sadly they often do. One response is to say the issue of age-segregation does not matter at all, and another is to think that all age-segregation is wrong. Period. I've come to believe, as I've studied the scripture this past year and as God has been teaching me about Christian grace and charity, that the moderate view on this is best.
Now for the ironic part. I need to end this post so I can go make some calls to recruit volunteers for our church's nursery. I recently agreed to become the assistant nursery coordinator for my church. Given my rather strong views last year, that is extremely ironic. And who said God doesn't have a sense of humour?