Not too long ago I was afforded the opportunity to read Kelly Kapic’s small volume A Little Book for New Theologians. Reading this little book was the catalyst which got me thinking about balance as it applies to the ministry of a local church; because it would seem that Kapic’s main thrust in the book is to encourage, exhort, and even warn those who endeavor to the ‘title’ theologian to strive for balance in their consideration of all things but most especially theological issues. By balance I mean one should maintain every tension found in Scripture while resting securely on every issue where no tension exists.
At this point maybe an illustration would prove to be most helpful in making this point. Perhaps you, like me, have noticed heated discussions – even church splits – over issues such as, “law & grace” or “sovereign election & free-will,” among the various contentions over musical style, manner of dress, and so on. Any one of these issues should prove adequate to fill the pages of a research paper or theological journal article; however I will limit myself in this medium to presenting the so called dichotomy of “law & grace.” I shall do so in a as brief a manner as possible in the paragraphs which follow. Let us begin with a short description of the two positions followed by a concise explanation of problems related to being unbalanced toward either side of the issue.
In the half of the issue I have termed “law” is the opinion that each individual believer is responsible to participate not in his salvation but in his “progressive sanctification.” The conviction is that the believer is commanded to a certain level of holy living and activity in response to his/her salvation. This side of the dichotomy will point adherents and opponents to such passages as Matthew 28:20, John 14:15, and Philippians 2:12. The common thread of connecting these passages is the fact that they call or command believers to perform various “tasks” as part of their Christian walk. Therefore, proponents of this side of the argument posit that it is part and parcel of the Christian life to observe or obey at a minimum the commands of Christ as found in the New Testament.
The opposite side of this so-called dichotomy is what I have termed “grace.” This side of the issue holds that the Christian is free from condemnation as he/she is “in Christ” (cf. Romans 8:1). Some proponents of this view may also appeal to 1 Corinthians 10:23 affirming with the Apostle Paul that all things are lawful even if they are not all profitable. The conclusion being that the exercise of Christian liberty is without constraint. Simply put, this position holds very broadly to the idea that in Christ each individual believer is free to live according to the free gift of grace without constraint.
As you might already see these two positions are indeed dichotomies, in other words they are in opposition to one another to such a degree that they are seemingly irreconcilable. But what consequences are there, if any, in holding to one of these sides or positions over the other? I propose that if the position of “law” is chosen to the exclusion of “grace” the people of the local church will eventually, if not rapidly, move into practicing a very rigid legalistic form of religion. A type of religious observance more closely associated to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day than to biblical Christianity.
On the other hand, if the position of “grace” is chosen exclusively the outcome is equally disastrous in my opinion. Instead of creating a rigid legalism this position if taken to its unencumbered extreme is most likely to result in antinomianism – or lawlessness. The result being that the local church will not only look like the world, it will be indistinguishable from the world. In each case, the lack of balance results in an unhealthy local church, something which is by no means a desirable outcome.
Thus comes to light the need Kapic points out for us as aspiring theologians – balance! The manner in which this balance should be pursued and achieved is through the careful, prayerful examination of Scripture. In other words, we seek to learn what God has to say about the matter and allow our thoughts, opinions, and actions to be ruled by God and His Word. So how does this apply to the scenario presented in this short forum?
In the example each side has become unbalanced by focusing on only one side of the issue, creating a dichotomy which I do not believe exists. I hold this opinion because when I examine Scripture I find in the New Testament (as well as the Old) a requirement for God’s people to live according to His standard. Therefore, I must conclude that there are actually commandments I should be happy to keep as a born-again believer – not because I want God to save me, but because He has already done so. Likewise, I look to see that Christ has indeed paid the FULL cost of my Salvation and that I am completely, totally, eternally forgiven for each and every sin committed – past, present, and future. So instead of creating a dichotomy between these parallel truths I instead live in the balance of striving after God and being thankful for His forgiveness when I fail in that striving.
I will close by saying unequivocally that I have presented the two sides of this issue (in illustration) in the most simplified form I can manage. Therefore, I recognize the limitations of my explanation of each and ask for your patience with me if this is a subject near and dear to your own heart. I have undertaken not to present arguments for either side but instead to use them as a means of explaining the beauty of Scripture in working out these apparent dichotomies which each of do and will face.