I am becoming more and more convinced that Christianity is a balancing act, that following Christ requires the grace of a dancer as well as the grace of God. Danger, for the Christian, lies on all sides – for he lives behind enemy lines. The Christian must be doctrinally sound, but not dogmatic; wise but not detached; zealous, but not reckless; obedient, but not legalistic; righteous, but not self-righteous. He must love all men and hate all evil, live in the world but be not of the world; he must be a soldier and a peacemaker, a shepherd and a prophet, a meek revolutionary and a submissive rebel.
It is a tall order – indeed, the tallest of all orders, for we are called to perfection. What are we to make of it?
We are all in a war between good and evil. This war is at least as old as Adam, and all men know it firsthand. What all men do not seem to know is that the war began as a war between good and good – between God’s command and man’s desire for wisdom. The root of evil, as St. Augustine observed, was not evil itself, but disordered good; idolatry does not begin with the worship of Satan but with the worship of the secondary: family, country, comfort, romantic love, the Law… Lewis’ example is instructive: It is not a sin to love a dog; it is a sin to love a dog more than one loves one’s fellow man. And a man has not understood himself until he has identified his dog.
Thus, in the history of the Church, we see Arius sacrifice Christ’s divinity for the sake of his humanity; we see Calvin sacrifice free will for the sake of God’s providence; we see the sinfulness of the flesh become the heresy of original sin, and the Bible’s call for justice become liberation theology. We see movements that are too moralistic, and movements that are too worldly; movements that dream of the past, and movements that dream of the future; movements that have forgotten Heaven in their quest to bring it to Earth, and movements that have never given a thought to Earth in their anticipation of Heaven. The centuries are littered with ascetics and materialists, fideists and rationalists, sinners and clumsy men who never learned to balance.
This is not an issue only concerning doctrine and history; it is not even an issue primarily concerning doctrine and history. Every church and every man today and forever walks upon a tightrope: the Lord himself assured us that the way was narrow. Our modern Christianity can be too individualistic – but it can also neglect the centrality of personal faith. We can forget that we have freedom in Christ – and we can also forget that we are slaves to righteousness.
In my own life, I see my healthy skepticism sometime devolve into cynicism. I see my hunger for righteousness become an implicit belief in salvation through righteousness. Maintaining my balance – not squelching one good out of love for another – is a delicate task. In fairness to myself, I am hardly alone in this matter; everyone around me runs similar risks. The introverts think that Jesus was an introvert, and the extraverts (unsurprisingly) disagree. Surely, he was a Republican – unless he was a Democrat. Christians ought to pray more, read more, evangelize more, be stricter, be more tolerant, be bolder, be more open-minded, be more merciful, be holier, be more reverent, be more joyful, and so on. We each overemphasize our pet virtues and pet vices (which generally reflect, respectively, our strengths and weaknesses), neglecting other virtues and vices until we have distorted the faith entirely. Thus do we make our God in our own image, and thus is the Body broken – for if its members cannot balance, it will be torn apart in every direction.
The problem, then, is a failure to balance. What is the solution? I am no prima ballerina, but I do have a few suggestions.
The first is simply to recognize that danger lies in more than one direction – that virtually any good can be taken too far. The second is to maintain always a sober judgment about ourselves (something impossible, by the way, with pride). The Church is a Body, and the foot is useless if it does not understand that it is a foot. In the same way, every Christian must see his idiosyncrasies, biases, and prejudices – see and understand his predispositions, inclinations, and preferences. In doing so, he will inevitably begin to recognize the ways in which he is tempted to trip and fall; that is, he will begin to recognize his spiritual center of gravity.
The corollary is to remember the importance of unity: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.3, NIV). Once the foot achieves a sober self-judgment, it cannot help but see that it desperately needs the rest of the Body. The Church is not the Church until She is constituted of the whole motley crew of mankind: the traditionalists and the progressives, the jocks and the geeks, the cautious and the firebrands, the loudmouthed and the shy. A Church composed only of feet is not just weak and unfruitful, but creepy.
My most important suggestion, however, is to meditate upon this one simple fact: We will only ever achieve balance if we fix our eyes upon Jesus – a master of grace in every sense of the word. A King and a Shepherd, a Lord and a Servant, a Lion and a Lamb, he transcends every tired party line, and truly is an everlasting man. If we set our sights on being conservative, we will fall; if we set our sights on being liberal, we will stumble; if we set our sights on being Lutheran, Calvinist, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or Evangelical, we will surely fail. Aiming for evangelism or prayer or Bible study or social justice or peace or sound doctrine is not enough; we must aim for Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith. After all, how can we balance if we do not know where the tightrope is? And how can we know where the tightrope is if we do not follow the only man who ever successfully navigated it?
Yet we are so easily distracted. Lewis writes, “There have been some who were so preoccupied with spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.” The same could be said of any other good that has turned men away from the Good. How easily we act in the name of Christianity or of world peace, toleration or tradition, when we should act only in the name of Jesus Christ!
Our Lord’s words have never rung more true: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14.6; emphasis added). If we truly seek to follow him, we just might be blessed with balance.