In high school, I absolutely adored my senior AP English teacher. His emphasis was on teaching his students how to think–not to simply memorize test answers and regurgitate them, but to actually think. But don’t assume for an instant that he didn’t have his own opinions about things. While tolerant of others’ viewpoints, his own mind was well made up. And he didn’t hesitate to give us a piece of it, either, when he found our arguments (or essays) lacking.
One of his pet peeves was what he called “riding the fence”–sticking to a middle-of-the-road, everyone-is-right argument simply out of fear and laziness. Have a ‘live and let live’ attitude if you must, but pick a side. Form an opinion. Maintain a position. Make up your own mind.
Needless to say, this teacher had a huge influence on the way I think (and write) today. And his philosophy is a good one. You can’t make wise decisions until you’ve made up your mind about the world. Life in general contains about 50 shades of gray, and the older I get, the more gray areas pop up. What do I do when I’m trying to follow the call of God at the same time my spouse doesn’t believe there is a God? How do I grow in the grace of giving as my resources shrink? How do I wait for God’s timing as time runs out? How do I discipline my child with gentleness–even when he’s screaming his head off in the mall? How do I disagree without judging? How do I know for sure that my interpretation of scripture is the correct one?
These aren’t easy questions, but they’re the questions I face every day. And as much as I try to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance, it often feels like I’m grappling in the dark. But then I remember that God is my anchor and grappling is an act of faith.
I get on this blog and I write with assurance about freedom in Christ and the goodness of God. And that assurance is genuine. I’ve picked my side of the fence. But it’s easy to read blogs like this and get the impression that faith is simple and scripture is crystal clear about everything. It’s not, in either case. Sometimes, it’s hard to hear God’s voice over the roar in our heads. Sometimes, believers have to wrestle with the complexities of viewing life and scripture through the correct contextual lens. Sometimes, you have to shrug your shoulders and just say, “As for me and my house…” (Joshua 24:15). Because not everyone is going to agree with your stance, and they’ll happily give you a dozen reasons why–with scholars to back them up.
And perhaps that’s where riding the fence, in a sense, becomes important. These days, society is very divided. There are many people holed up in their doctrinal trenches shouting, “My way is correct; everyone else will burn!” I think we could use a few people on the fence–people with minds made up, but who will extend their hands and say, “I may not agree with you, but it’s not like I have all the answers, anyway. We’re in this body of Christ together. Let’s stop screaming and love one another.”
The Apostle Paul himself addressed this in scripture:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. […]
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. (Romans 14:1-6, 10, 12-13[a])
That said, there are issues scripture is clear about. If someone came to me and said, “I think Jesus is ok with me having an affair because my spouse doesn’t love me,” I’d point them to the scriptures that condemn adultery. Some things simply cannot be justified: theft, extortion, false witness, sexual immorality, abuse, idolatry and lack of compassion (for starters). These are sins that, if committed willingly without repentance, should not be tolerated within the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 5). Harsh words, for sure. But you can’t define anything without boundaries, and that includes faith.
To put my words into perspective, there’s much within Catholicism that I find heretical and maybe even sinful. Yet I believe some Catholics will go to heaven. I don’t agree with many of the doctrines circulating among America’s evangelical mega-churches. Yet I believe some of their congregants will go to heaven. I’m saddened (and somewhat appalled) that many believers reject the idea that God still heals people today through the power of the Holy Spirit. But I also think some of these people will go to heaven. I’m not saying what a person believes doesn’t matter. It does. It just may not matter that much:
[I]f you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Not many provisos attached to that one.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: We all have to think for ourselves when it comes to matters of faith (Philippians 2:12). We must be clear where scripture is clear, but humble and forgiving where it’s not. We must learn to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance in the gray areas, follow our consciences, and be settled in our own minds. We must also be open to God’s conviction and willing to change whenever we’re in error. My purpose in writing this blog is to bring hope, healing, freedom and conviction to those who need it. And if it ministers to just one person in a meaningful way, I’ll die happy. But interpreting scripture correctly and living out faith is complicated, and I’m not a know-it-all. No one is. So learn to hear God’s voice for yourself. I promise, He’ll challenge you far more than any one person’s opinion ever will.