A. J. Varghese
Religious extremism has emerged as a common trend of this age. It existed, in the past in the form of child sacrifice, untouchability, sati, child marriage, `devadasi' and so on. Now-a-days we notice them in the form of Jehadism, Fatwa, suicide bombing, terrorism, saffronism, talibanism, etc. The need of the hour is to develop a balanced outlook in religion. Is Christianity devoid of extremism? There may not be violent extremism, but one can notice mild extremism in the teaching of speaking in tongues, baptism of the Spirit, wearing of ornaments, use of medicines, ladies speaking or praying in the church, etc. But the mild extremism has also created division and disunity in Christianity. Jesus Christ never wanted any kind of extremism in Christianity. In this context, let us note the characteristics of a balanced Christianity.
Essential And Non-essential
The doctrines of the Bible can be arranged under two headings:
1) Essential (major, principal, primary) doctrines and 2) Non-essential (minor, subsidiary, secondary) doctrines. Non-essential does not mean `unnecessary or unimportant,' but less important compared to the essential. Essential doctrines are those teachings which all born-again Christians believe and accept without any dispute or controversy. Belief in these doctrines is essential for salvation. The following are the common essential doctrines:
a) The divine inspiration and infallibility of the sixty six books of the Bible.
b) Unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in Godhead.
c) The universal sin of mankind, since the fall of Adam, rendering them to God's wrath and condemnation.
d) Redemption and forgiveness of sin only through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
e) The virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
f) The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual sinner effecting repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
g) The indwelling and work of the Holy Spirit in a believer.
h) The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
i) The second coming of Jesus Christ for the Bride which is the universal Church, the body of Christ, to which all believers belong.
j) The new heaven and earth and the reign of God for ever and ever with His Bride/saints.
Non-essential doctrines are those teachings of the Bible which are interpreted differently by born again Christians. Evangelicals differ in the understanding and interpretation of these doctrines. Some of the common non-essential doctrines are:
a) Speaking in tongues.
b) Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
c) Wearing of ornaments.
e) Prayer/speaking of ladies in church.
f) Posture for prayer
g) Use of medicines by Christians.
Arminianism And Calvinism
For centuries, two streams have been flowing continuously and majestically in church history in the form of Arminianism and Calvinism. Both streams have produced great men of God. John Wesely and Charles Finny were Arminians, whereas George Whitefield and George Verwer were Calvinists. One group might have experienced a 'second blessing' which the other group might not have. Both groups differed in their understanding and interpretation of non-essentials. But, both groups were empowered and used mightily by the Holy Spirit. Both the groups fulfilled the wonderful concept of Philip Melanchthon:
"In essentials unity,
In non-essentials liberty,
In all things charity."
In balanced Christianity, there may be differences in non-essentials, but it cannot lead to disunity and schism.
Intellect And Emotion
Human beings are both emotional and intellectual. Heart represents emotions and brain represents intellect. In temperament, some are more emotional and some more rational in their approach. Some people leap in the air, shout, clap, dance and worship God. Some others quietly sit and worship. Both types of worship are equally acceptable to God. In balanced Christian life, there should be proportionate blend of the two. Emotion should never go out of control to make noise pollution or disturb our neighbours when we worship. At the same time our worship should not be dull, dry and drab without any emotion. In balanced Christianity, there should be a balanced blend of both emotion and intellect.
Social And Spiritual
Some people become so spiritual that they are unfit to live and enjoy the life upon the earth. On the other hand, some people become so worldly minded that they least bother about spiritual life. Both these attitudes are extremes. Balanced Christianity is both vertical and horizontal in relationship-a vertical relationship to God and a horizontal relationship with people. Though we speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and have faith enough to move mountains and give all our possessions for social work and give our body to be burned and yet lack agape love, we are a big zero, says Paul. The hallmark of a balanced Christianity is agape love which alone can adorn and animate its principles and doctrines.