Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Error We Usually Make

There is a story, somehow related to Martin Luther (I'm not sure how) about a man riding a horse. He was tired, and started slumping a bit to the left. As he got tireder and tireder, he slumped further and further, until all of a sudden he fell off the left side of the horse and landed in a heap on the ground. The man awoke with a start, and when he got back on the horse he solemnly pledged that he would never again fall of the left side of his horse. So he adopted a peculiar posture, leaning to the right. Of course, it wasn't long before he fell off the right side of the horse. He was so intent on not falling to the left, that he made the same error in the opposite direction. The goal, of course, is to ride the horse sitting straight up and down.

Many churches and theologies are like this hapless horseman. Especially those of us in the conservative branches of the church. We feel like the church fell off the liberal side of the gospel horse back in the mid-twentieth century, and we have seen the disastrous effects that caused. So now we are so committed to not doing that again, that we are leaning heavily towards the conservative side, and again we are in danger of falling off the horse, simply in the opposite direction. The goal remains being able to ride the gospel horse straight up and down.

How does one fall off the conservative side of the horse? A friend I was enjoying lunch with last week put it this way: Liberals tend to take away from scripture, conservatives tend to add to it, and both are equally bad.

Indeed. I thought this way of putting things was insightful, yet upon reflection so obvious as to hardly require explanation. Liberals have been taking away from scripture for years, no longer listening to its teaching on sexual ethics, the uniqueness of Christ, the resurrection, etc. Many of their churches can now be clearly seen lying in a heap in the ditch on the left side of the road.

Conservative churches, meanwhile, have been so afraid of that left ditch that we have built a hedge around the scriptural teachings to keep us from breaking them. To protect ourselves from sexual promiscuity, we have prohibited dancing. To protect ourselves from drunkenness we have prohibited all alcohol whatsoever. Now, of course, these prohibitions come with good intent. But the Bible says we are not to take away from it, or add to it. Is that a conservative church I spy in the right-hand ditch, lying in a heap while the gospel horse walks on unriden?

I am a conservative. Perhaps you are too, or perhaps you are a liberal (or perhaps you don't identify as either, the labels aren't really that important). Neither of us has yet perfected what it means to ride the gospel horse straight up and down. Neither our casting off of biblical burdens, nor our taking on of additional ones has taught us how to live in the freedom and joyous constraint of the biblical gospel. All of us must continually go back to the scriptures, find their level, and discern our own leanings.

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