One of my favorite movies is the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Earlier this year, my wife and I took a few days off in Minneapolis and went up to Chanhassen Dinner Theatre to see the Broadway version. Fiddler, if there are any who do not know the story, is a struggle of the traditionalist Tevye in a rapidly changing world, and focuses on his three daughters’ marriages.
The first daughter, Tzeitel, is matched to an old, widowed butcher, but is in love with the poor tailor Motel. At first, Tevye is outraged, but he gives the matter some thought. “On the one hand.” “On the other hand.” He goes back and forth and finally decides to give his permission for the wedding (and concocts a brilliant dream to explain the matter to his wife). Later, his second daughter, Hodel, falls in love with a political radical and informs her father they are marrying and asks for his blessing only, not his permission. Again, he goes back and forth. “On the one hand.” “On the other hand.” Finally, he decides to give his blessing (and, he asserts, his permission).
The crisis comes when his youngest daughter, Chava, elopes with a Russion boy, a Gentile. She meets Tevye on the road and begs him not to reject her. He is torn to the core and goes through his internal debate again. “On the one hand.” “On the other hand.” Just as it seems that he is going to give in to his heart and accept his daughter’s marriage, he stiffens and says,
“No. There is no other hand.” To yield on this matter was impossible, denying the core of his being, rejecting his faith and no matter how much he loved his daughter, it was something he could not do.
I am an “on the other hand” kind of guy. I believe that many of the issues over which we fight are more multi-faceted than we want to admit. A friend once asked me, “Is there any fence you won’t try to straddle?” I had observed that in the debate about “Christ-centered hermeneutics” at the last convention, I thought all three presenters had made some good points and my position fell in the middle between the extremes. “On the one hand.” “On the other hand.” The depths of the Scriptures are not nearly as easily systematized as we would often like. To my point there is usually a counterpoint. When I look on the one hand, there is usually an “other hand” that needs to be considered.
But sometimes, “there is no other hand.” On some issues, there is no middle ground. I think that truth is on the side of “middle ground” on many of the issues we discuss on blogs. But if we try to straddle the fence on certain issues, on those issues for which there is no middle, we damage the faith.
Sunday, I read a post from Patheos concerning Danny Cortez, a Southern Baptist pastor in the LA area who recently rejected “traditional” (he avoided the word “biblical”) teaching on homosexuality and was attempting to embrace what he called a third way, a middle ground teaching on homosexuality. It is hard to see what he means by a middle ground here. What he called the third way is really just acquiescence to the cultural mandate of tolerance over the biblical teaching. He chose a side and called it the middle. Homosexuals will be welcomed in his church, even those actively and unrepentantly participating in homosexual relationships. Those who hold to biblical views are leaving the church after their “conscious uncoupling” on June 8.
Al Mohler, in an article released Monday, has argued convincingly that there is no middle ground on this topic, “Third Way”. “There is no other hand.” Either one believes homosexual behavior is a sin or one does not. There are minor issues on which biblical Christians disagree, but at the root is a black and white issue – either homosexual relations are a sin or they are not. Cortez has not adopted a “Third Way”, he has abandoned the Bible as his authority and embraced cultural compromise. He is not straddling the fence, he has taken a giant leap over it. On this issue, there is no other hand.
I am going to remain a middle ground man on most issues. I do not think that is a lack of conviction or a biblical compromise, but I sincerely believe that in most of our arguments the extremes are guilty of grabbing one piece of the truth and pretending it is everything. The Bible is a book of balance and most of the time the truth is not on the edges but balancing the Bible’s multihued teachings.
Most of the time. Not always.
Sometimes, like Tevye, we have to set our feet in cement and say, “There is no other hand.” Sometimes, we have to say with Luther, “Here I stand.”
I still believe that most of the issues we argue about are not as black and white as we make them out to be. I’m a committed, uncompromising, devoted, antinomist, middle-grounder and will remain so because of my study of God’s Word. But we cannot compromise where no middle ground is possible.There are issues on which attempts at middle ground are impossible, by the very nature of them.
- Either the Bible is inerrant or it is not. There is no middle ground. Oh, we can realize that our interpretations are not always correct, but there is no other hand on inerrancy. Either you believe the Bible is God’s perfect Word, or you believe to one degree or another that it contains errors.
- Either Jesus is the ONLY way to God or he is not. One must consciously repent of sin and place his faith in Christ to be saved, or there are other paths of salvation besides Christ. There is no middle ground. “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him.” There is no other hand.
- Either salvation is by grace through faith alone without works, or works have a part in salvation. You can’t have salvation mostly by grace and a little bit by works. It has to be one or the other. There is no middle ground, no other hand.
Pretty much all the fundamental doctrines of the faith are like this. EIther/or. No middle ground. Either God is Trinity or not. Either Christ was God Incarnate or he was not. There is no other hand.
Most political issues are middle ground issues. Good points with biblical bases can be made on both sides of the immigration debate. Issues like taxes, healthcare, and other hot-button topics can be debated from scripture. But some issues are clear-cut, black and white, one side or the other, no middle ground issues.
- Abortion has no middle ground. If life is sacred and begins at conception, then taking it through abortion is heinous, murderous and despicable. To enter a mother’s womb to kill her baby is a brutal, evil act. There is no other hand, for Christians. Other than certain debates over the actual health of the mother, and perhaps children of rape and incest (rare issues) there is no other hand on abortion.
And this is what makes the homosexuality issue so tough for those of us who refuse to turn our backs on or dishonestly redefine biblical teaching on the subject of homosexuality. Yes, we want to be loving and kind to homosexuals. We want to present the grace and forgiveness of Christ to them. We want to be respectful and decent toward them (which has no always been so, unfortunately) But there is no middle ground on this issue. Either homosexual activity is sinful or it is not. There is no other hand. Our culture demands that we not only tolerate but celebrate homosexuality. That is something no Christian who values his Bible can do.
Fundamentally, to accept the unrepentant homosexual into the church is to deny the gospel. That is not because we condemn homosexuality as different from other sins, but because we treat it like all sins, which separate us from God and must be cleansed by Christ. When ministers begin to compromise that truth, denying the reality of sin and no longer proclaiming repentance, they have swung the ax at the root of the gospel. If sin can simply be ignored and excused as Danny Cortez has done, then the death of Christ becomes pointless.
Tevye refused to deny his faith, even for the sake of his daughter. For the sake of his son, Danny Cortez made a very different choice. Get used to it folks. In the next few years, pastors, churches, and denominations will be walking the path of Christian compromise that one pastor in California has decided to walk. It may be a trickle now but soon it will be a tsunami! Those who jump into the waters of cultural acceptance will be celebrated while those who hold to the gospel and to biblical truth will be increasingly treated like the gender KKK.
What will we do? Will we deny Christ and the gospel to please people and be well thought of in the world? Will we yield to the overwhelming pressure from the world or will we hold to the truth of the gospel? Will we repudiate Christ for cultural acceptance or stand with Christ even under the derision and scorn of the world?