The Truth is Somewhere in the Middle

Newton’s Cradle is a popular kinetic energy de-vice / desk ornament widely recognized by the tight row of balls suspended at two points be-tween two parallel rails. Think of all the balls at rest hanging in the middle representing the ideal situation in a church in which all things are at peace, and the truth is taught and believed. Then, a false teacher comes up with an idea (thus raising one of the exterior steel balls from the others) and in teaching it he releases it upon the church and agitates the peace. Instantaneously there is a frenzy of energy bouncing off one an-other as each one responds to the blow. The in-terior balls respond to the force, but they contain their composure, being grounded by one another (as are mature believers.) However, the effect of the initial blow upon the opposite exterior ball causes a severe counter-response. It responded to the force by swinging to the opposite extreme. 

Many times I’ve asked Bible questions of elders or older preachers and been told: “The truth is somewhere in the middle.” What’s not “in the middle” is how I feel about receiving this answer. When I have a question, I want a clearly defined, conclusive answer, not something with a range of possibilities. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “If you don’t know, just say so.” Look, I didn’t say it was a rational feeling; I’ve given the same re-sponse myself! In time, I’ve learned to appreciate the wisdom in being cautious about the extreme positions that often exist on both sides of an is-sue. A common command in scripture is: “…you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I have command you this day, to the left or the right…” (Dt. 28:14—emphasis mine). Sometimes, the truth really is: “somewhere in the middle.” This might not sit well with some zealous brethren, but it is needful nonetheless. It’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that our overreaction is warranted, even commend-able in light of the false teacher’s deviation. Some consider their extreme counter-position on the other end of the spectrum as indicative of great faith and soundness. In actuality, “going too far” (2 Jn. 9) in either direction is not commitment to truth. Hear now the parable of the pendulum. 

If the balls at rest represent the ideal position of peace and truth, the question is, have we ever been the ball on the opposite end? Have we ever responded to false teaching by going too far, thus creating our own blow against peace and truth? Although well intentioned, this will likewise impact peace and truth. Consider some scriptural examples that highlight the need for moderation and discernment when issues arise. 

In Acts 15 we learn that some Jews were requiring that Gentile believers must submit to circumcision and the customs of Moses. It was determined that these teachers were acting without authority (v. 24). Knowing however that such doctrines existed, would anyone be surprised today if they learned that some believers back then had taught that circumcision ought to be avoided entirely lest anyone presume that the motivation was associ-ated with the Judaizing teachers? I wouldn’t be surprised in the least, be-cause I hear this way of thinking all the time. Teaching that the way of un-circumcision was in any way superior would have been wrong because the truth was, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything (Gal. 6:15).” I’m impressed by the example Paul shows about the need for bal-ance in doctrine. His unwillingness to yield for a moment to Titus’ circumci-sion (Gal. 2:5-6), yet favorability towards Timothy’s circumcision so that he could teach the Jews, demonstrates his soundness, his sobriety, and dis-cernment. The easier (lazy) approach to answering the Judaizers would simply have been to become “anti-circumcision.” 

In Nehemiah 13:15-18 we read about all the Sabbath violations going on in Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah. He tackled the problem by rebuking the leaders who allowed it, and by teaching the examples of God’s wrath against those who transgressed (v. 18). He then closed the gates to the city on the Sabbath so that outsiders could not bring in their wares and sell to the city on the Sabbath (v. 19). Sounds like a very level-headed response to me. How then, in the days of Jesus, did we arrive at a point in which even carrying one’s bed, pronouncing one’s hand, eye, or legs as healed, or picking a ready-made snack from the vine were considered condemnable actions? It is be-cause of the danger of extremes. In an effort to avoid the extremes of Nehe-miah 13, the self-appointed leaders in Israel decided that it would be best to restrict people’s behavior way beyond what was originally intended by the Lord of the Sabbath. Their interpretations, when consistently applied, con-demned God Himself who has been very busy (7 days a week) doing good to all men (John 5:17). Jesus also showed that their extreme over-reaction ex-posed themselves as inconsistent (Mt. 12:5) and hypocritical (Mt. 12:11). 

One final example might be seen in the extreme positions that existed in the first century church of God in Corinth pertaining to eating meat offered to idols, or that may have been offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:25). One man’s con-viction, being conscious of the idol (1 Cor. 8:7) forbade his eating of certain meats, and another, with the knowledge of the one true God, understood his right to eat whatever was set before him asking no questions as to its origin. Both of these positions are fine; peace and truth could have existed in the Corinthian church in spite of these differences. But, then you have your ex-treme brethren. You might even say they were “on the right” in that they were the party of knowledge and personal liberty. Being convicted of the truth that idols are nothing, they transgressed “too far” and went to such a callous extreme as eating without regard to the impact on a brother’s con-science. They were so puffed up in their position that they couldn’t even dis-cern what would be wrong with eating meat in an idol’s temple (1 Cor. 10:14-22). Again, the truth was somewhere in the middle! 

We’ve laid the groundwork. Future articles will make specific application of this principle to various issues, and challenge us to consider whether we’ve been guilty of any extreme over-reactions to what is false. This is one “law” of “equal and opposite reactions” that we will want to avoid.