Extremism is Extremely Evil

Image © Jack Pardue from GoodSalt.com

Image © Jack Pardue from GoodSalt.com

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Genesis 3:1 NLT

Twenty-nine years later, there are still some things I remember from my Composition class at Southern Adventist University. One thing I was taught is to avoid using the word “never” because it is extreme and usually unrealistic. For example, I heard someone say once, “I never golf, because when I do I play terrible.” Wait a minute? If they never golf how can they say they play terrible? Obviously they golf some, or they would not say that they play badly. So they can’t realistically use the word “never.”

Satan baited Eve into a discussion by asking a question which was obviously wrong so that Eve would feel obligated to clear up the misconception and join in a dialogue with him. He went to extremes by suggesting God told them not to eat of any of the trees.

Today, Satan likes to suggest that Christians are not allowed to have any fun, but that is no more true than that Adam and Eve were not to eat of any of the trees. Some of the Puritans believed that the more things they called evil and abstained from, the more holy they would become, but that is not how holiness works. Now I am not suggesting that we must sin a little every now and then just to stay balanced and moderate. God’s grace is well able to keep us in harmony with God’s law at all times. The problem comes when we make extreme standards that God never intended. God never said “don’t eat of any of the trees.” On the contrary there was only one tree they were told not to eat from.

There is a term I have come up with which I call, “overcompensating for the past.” For example, a young person becomes a born-again Christian and decides to burn all their satanic music in a bonfire. However they get a little carried away, and throw their John Denver and Joshua Bell CD’s in the fire too, declaring them satanic since they are not sacred. They vow to listen only to Jamie Jorge and the Heritage Singers from now on. I am sorry, but throwing your John Denver CD’s into the fire is not going to make up for having listened to real satanic music in the past, and only listening to the Heritage Singers is not going to make you more holy. We do not become more holy by finding more things to call satanic.

It was Satan who suggested that all the trees were evil, so I conclude that calling everything evil is not only extreme but also satanic within itself! (Some older manuscripts suggest Satan actually implied all the trees were okay to eat, which would be an extreme statement in the other direction.)

Another danger of extremism shows up when we have one favorite pastor or author. We decide everything they preach is the truth, never considering they could be wrong once or twice. At the same time we decide this other pastor or author is always wrong, never considering he could be right occasionally. Fact is that none of us are perfect. If Matthew had been “all that,” then we never would have needed Mark, Luke and John. Now I know they all agree with each other, yet the Bible gives us an array of authors so we can have a balanced theology. We learn from all of them.

Several churches have sprung up lately and drawn large congregations. The pastors seldom take a vacation because everyone loves to hear them preach. And if a pastor seldom takes a break from the pulpit I have to guess he loves to hear himself preach too! However after the pastor gets promoted and leaves, the congregation shrinks. Why?  It is because they were following a man and not God. It is not healthy to become attached to one individual.

When I have been having long-term Bible studies with individuals and they come to church, I am happy when I see them mixing with other people besides myself. I am glad when they choose to attend somebody else’s Sabbath School class besides mine! They have been listening to me teach the Bible to them for months, maybe years, and now they can get other people’s views and ideas, so they can form their own balanced theology. I only have so much to offer. I don’t know it all. I may have strengths, but I definitely have weaknesses, and other teachers can complement my weaknesses. A well-rounded Bible student has more than one teacher.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it definitely takes a congregation to raise a newborn babe in Christ. Over the years I have had several pastors ask me to give their children Bible studies for baptism. Since they are pastors, why don’t they just do it themselves? Because the pastors realize their children hear them teach at church and then every day in family worship. They realizes that for their children to be balanced, they will need to have other teachers in their lives besides just them. This is the difference between a good pastor and a cult leader.

I once talked to a member of a church who had the same pastor for over 15 years. He said they kept that pastor because he preached the truth while the other pastors are preaching heresy. I asked him how they knew their pastor preached truth while all others preach heresy. Turns out it was the pastor himself who told them this! That is not a balanced pastor. That is a cult leader. When Elijah claimed he was the only good prophet left, God let him know he was being a little extreme, as God had 7,000 back in Israel who had not run away like him.

Not only is hitching your wagon to one preacher or author extreme, but labels can be extreme also – conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive. Some people like to call themselves conservative and look down on liberals. Some like to be progressive and look down on traditionalists. Problem is they all can become extreme. Jesus was not extreme, as He was all four. Jesus was conservative with His rebukes and on one occasion just wrote them in the sand to avoid embarrassing anybody. But He was liberal with the bread and fish when He fed the multitudes. Jesus was traditional with his custom of going to church every Sabbath, but He progressed beyond man-made traditions and the pompous ceremonial hand washing the Pharisees had concocted.

I visited with a member of a church where I was a guest speaker. The member told me, the goal of their church was not to be conservative or liberal. Their goal was to just go by the Bible. Where the Bible said be liberal, they wanted to be liberal, but in other phases of life where it said to be conservative they wanted to be conservative. I like that! They avoided the extreme labels of conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive and just purposed in their hearts to be like Jesus.

Daniel purposed in his heart to be conservative when it came to his diet in Babylon, but when it came to getting the wicked magicians off the hook for not telling the king his dream he was very liberal!

Again, please do not confuse what I am saying by thinking I am suggesting we make a compromise with sin in order to avoid extremes. I am actually saying just the opposite. If we become extreme in having one favorite pastor or author, we will follow him not only when he is right, but also when he is wrong. If we have been exposed to several pastors and authors, we will more likely follow each one only as far as they are right. We don’t have our wagon hitched to any one person except Jesus.

If we label ourselves conservative, we will fall into sin when a brother needs mercy and forgiveness. If we label ourselves liberal, we will fall into sin when a brother needs to be warned about sin. If we label ourselves traditional, we will fall into sin when tradition contradicts the Bible. If we label ourselves progressive, we will fall into sin when we forsake traditions that are biblical.

Let’s avoid Satan’s temptation to follow extremes and let’s purpose in our hearts, like Daniel to follow God in all His ways, by studying the Bible and following it, without adding or subtracting anything.



Extremism is Extremely Evil — 16 Comments

  1. I like the idea that we need to be conservative, liberal, progressive and traditional (all four) depending on the various aspects of our life. What a great way to take care of the labeling that goes on in our church families! Appreciate your blogs, William!

  2. Excellent. I agree with the 'being all 4' part so much. I have been trying to define which one I was and always came to the conclusion that I was conservative on some points and liberal on others and there is nothing wrong with that. Thanks for validating!

  3. I would like to say that the Word of god is manipulated by the person who speaks in that moment, because there are very few persons who read the bible.

  4. Very inspiring piece. I do have favourite pastors, speakers and authors. But as you have rightly stated, our role model is Jesus and we ought to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our walk with the Lord.

  5. This is an amazing piece! On influencing people on an individual basis, we should all forsake our political views and adopt the eternal vision of Jesus.

  6. When have too much confidence; forget to hold on to Christ who will give us strength to overcome sin,then we won't have to think and act big in small town.

    Eve fell into sin,for she had confidence and forgot to hold Jesus' hand and say what Jesus wanted her to -say what was relevent.

    Zolile Phetshane,South Africa.

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind words, prayers and encouragement as we work together to spread the gospel. Thank you for being a part of the SSNET family, and contributing with your thoughts, and sharing the SSNET website, and Jesus with others.

  8. Love the title!
    People often say, "Always" in a similar way that they use, "Never" and you are right, both are extremes. I have heard a few Christians say, "I would never do such and such a thing." I am amazed at how temptations have changed in my life.
    When I was young it was things like smoking, drinking and other vices. I am not tempted by those things now, but a day doesn't go by that I am tempted by other things. Would I say, "I would never drink some wine"? No, because I know that without the grace of God, I would be drinking. With the genes, addictions and troubles in our family line, it's possible for me to indulge in any kind of escape, should my heart not be in the right place.

    Do we have fun as Christians? I have more fun now, than I had in my whole life, except for being a toddler.

    Loved these concepts that we can be at different times: conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive.

    Lastly, I have seen leaders who have encouraged church attendees to follow them. When the leaders left the church, so did their followers. It's not a good idea to have attendees dependent on leaders.

  9. "How to Identify a Cult" From Mark Finley Bible Handbook

    Matt. 24:24 Jesus warns us of false teachers and prophets.

    John 8:32 Truth in and through Jesus sets us free.

    Identifying feature #1
    Ps. 146:3 Cults usually have a single, powerful human leader who becomes the cult's messiah.

    Identifying feature #2
    Mark 7:7 The cult leader's word, or his teachings, become absolute truth.

    Identifying feature #3
    Josh. 24:15 Each cult uses "pressure" tactics to coerce its members into submission (Rev. 22:17).

    Identifying feature #4
    Rom. 6:23 Each cult denies the central truth of the gospel that Jesus is the divine Son of God (Eph. 2:8).

    Identifying feature #5 -
    1 Cor. 7:13, 14 Cults often urge their "converts" to leave their families (Matt. 10:38; Eph. 5:22, 23).

    2 Thess. 2:10-12 Many will be deceived because they did not receive the truth.

    John 14:6 Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When we discover the way of salvation, He leads us into His truth so we can discover His way of life.

    John 12:35 Our only safety is to walk in the light of His Word as He reveals it (Ps. 119:105).

  10. This was such a wonderful article! I have seen it so often with new members going to the extreme you mentioned of not doing anything that they enjoyed before joining the church. They seldom last long because they also tend to see fault in others who have not done the same, become frustrated, and either go to another more "conservative" church, come up with their own philosophy of how an Adventist should believe and behave, or go right back to their old lifestyle and leave all together. Another example would be the member that stayed and is a talented musician but will refuse to have anything to do with praise music because it is too close to what he played in a bar; however he does not prevent anyone else from doing it. Because we are a two church district we have also had persons that attend the service where the pastor is.

    As you have also said, "We don’t have our wagon hitched to any one person except Jesus". My mother told me this MANY times during my teen years as I pointed out the hypocrisy of many of our church leaders and I have repeated it to myself and many others who are frustrated often by the leaders and members "who should know better".

    Thank you once again for your insight!


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