The High Cost of Ambivalence

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Walking away from gospel orthodoxy or disconnecting from the stream of church history should strike terror in our hearts. But because of personal compromise, far too many believers are found “walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the path of sinners and seated with the scoffers” rather than defending the faith to the death.

When was the last time you thought deeply about the consequences of “little” erroneous theological decisions that can subtly distort both your faith and practice? The Apostle Paul’s grave concern in 2 Corinthians 11:3 was that we would be so easily led astray by the Devil from our “simplicity and devotion to Christ.” The pastor who lacks theological discretion is of all men most pitied.

Oh the folly of a careless mind open to everything and falling for anything. G.K. Chesterton once said an open mind is like an open mouth. It is intended to shut on something solid. An orthodox view of Scripture is certainly worth sinking our teeth into. Let’s examine why people who are superficially orthodox turn the truth of Scripture into a lie.

As I survey the rough terrain of compromise, there are many reasons, but seven to be sure, why people depart from the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 4):

1. Fear of man. When you fear man and not God, you are not standing on solid ground but shifting sand. As Proverbs states, the fear of man is a snare and can dilute our convictions faster than any external force. Peer pressure and the thought of being narrow-minded causes many to compromise to the culture rather than being an example of steadfastness.

2. Impatience with results. Having a short fuse with people and ministries can undercut all the good will and investment that people have. The slow process of progressive sanctification causes some leaders to allow the end to justify the means. Short-circuiting the sanctification process will sometimes deliver short-term results, but it rarely has lasting fruit.

3. Personal conflict with the truth. What he does when confronted by truth on a personal level can tell a lot about a man of God. When exhortation from the Scriptures comes home, do you respond how you expect your congregation to respond? Mark Twain insightfully remarked, “It’s not the truths I don’t understand that bother me; it is the truths and texts that I do understand that bother me.” Remember Hymenaeus and Alexander, who rejected the faith and became enemies of Christ because truth contradicted them (1 Tim. 1:18–20). Possessing a good conscience was necessary to steer a first century ship through the rough seas of error, just as it is today.

4. Culpable Ignorance. As spiritual leaders, we are expected to contend diligently for the faith (Titus 1:9 and Jude 4). We can’t claim ignorance when we have failed to study and clarify in our minds a theological issue. This is why we don’t lay hands on men too quickly lest we place a person in leadership before they are ready for the task. A strong study ethic is crucial for leaders.

5. Bad influences. Jesus said, a disciple is not greater than his teacher. We are all products of our teachers in more ways than we might recognize. Choosing the wrong examples (see Phil. 3:17–19) can determine our trajectory. Paul said, “bad morals corrupts good company” (Rom. 15:33), and I would add, “Bad influences corrupt healthy ministries.” There is a New Testament expectation that we handle the Scriptures with extreme care. To abuse the Scriptures is tantamount to abusing God.

6. Lack of personal transformation. We can’t take people where we are not going ourselves. It’s a dangerous practice for any leader to transition subtly away from daily personal transformation and end up only seeking to apply the Scriptures to others (Prov. 1:20–33). We are to practice what we preach, and we are to practice before we preach. Being an example of the transforming power of the Scriptures is the New Testament expectation in 1 Timothy 4:11. Truth always starts at home before you export it. We must be aware of our besetting sins lest we lower the standard of the Scriptures to our present standard of living (Heb. 12:1). The spiritual leader’s task is to adjust his life to the Word and not the Word to his life.

7. A moving hermeneutic. Once you cross the Rubicon of adjusting your exegesis to your life and/or the culture and claiming that there are many ways to interpret what is clear in Scripture, you are moving into the dark wooded area of subjectivity. The statement, “That is your interpretation,” is code for ambivalence. Changing the science of interpretation always results in disaster for both leader and the church. Staying tethered to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the safest and best place to stand.

The Apostle Paul gave the Philippian church a four-fold picture of the kind of person to avoid in Philippians 3:18–19. Their end and future is one of destruction. They are controlled by their fleshly appetites. They glory in what should bring them shame and embarrassment and they are entirely earthy—attached to the world system and philosophy, which wars against the cosmic Christ.

Both living out the gospel and proclaiming it faithfully will keep us from “stumbling and make [us] stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). Ambivalence is like a rope that, if left unchecked, becomes a chain that binds the man to heresy.

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