This article appeared in the April-June, 2002 issue of the Gospel Gleaner, a very conservative publication within the fellowship of Churches of Christ, published not too far away from me in Mabelvale, Arkansas. I could see no copyright on the issue, and that issue was not the article’s original publication, so I hope I am not in violation by republishing it here.
When ‘Conservative’ Isn’t Sound
by Mike Vestal
Being religiously “conservative” is not necessarily the same as being sound in the faith (Titus 1:13; 2:2). The two are not synonymous terms. Without any doubt, there are many areas in which Christians are to be, and must be, conservative. But this is not always so. Rather, we must always endeavor to be sound. Of the twenty-three passages where the Greek word for “sound” does occur, twelve are in the gospel accounts and nine are in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The Greek word always has reference to health, wholeness and well being, whether in a physical or spiritual sense.
The idea of spiritual soundness is especially to be seen in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. We are to be sound “in the faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2). We must cling to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). And we must speak, hold and yield to the sound words of Christ (1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 2:8). The emphasis in these passages is on God’s word as a received body of fixed teaching that is to be used to give us the spiritual health we all should desperately desire, as well as to counteract any teaching, concept or practice that would threaten our soul’s health and well-being.
The fact is, there are real dangers in thinking that conservative always equals sound and vice versa. And this is not just an exercise in semantics or straining at some technical, but unimportant, subtlety. This becomes particularly true at a time in which an increasing number of brethren seem to be showing less respect for the authority and all sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is possible to become so carried away with the disregard for God’s word that we are seeing on the part of some brethren that we fall from our own steadfastness (2 Peter 3:16-18). And just as some in their quest for something more have been guilty of compromising Scripture and of damaging their relationship with God, so some in their efforts to be conservative may unwittingly have exhibited something considerably less than what the Lord desires. Christianity involves all the love a man has — his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).
Sometimes “conservative” is merely a buzz word for being sound asleep, or for excusing oneself from at least some aspect of the will of God. And that’s when “conservative” isn’t sound! To be more specific, consider the following occasions when being “conservative” isn’t sound.
Soundness always has reference to good health, wholeness and well being, whether in the spiritual sense (cf., 2 Timothy 1:13) or physical (cf., Luke 15:27). But this is not always true of conservatism. There is a “carnal conservatism” that is every bit as real and wrong as the increasingly blatant disregard a number of brethren are displaying toward the authority and all-sufficiency of Scripture. To be more specific, consider the following occasions when being “conservative” isn’t sound.
When One is Not Motivated by Love. Revelation 2:1-7 speaks of the church at Ephesus. This church was an active congregation as well as one interested in doctrinal purity. In many ways it would have seemed to be a wonderful congregation. But the Lord said they had “left” their “first love.” And that’s serious! 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 speaks of the possibility of eloquence in communication, depth in knowledge and sacrificial giving (all good things) being worthless unless one is motivated by love.
When One Fails to Act Wisely and Expediently. This has to do with the need to humbly respect God’s will and to do what He has authorized in a manner that reflects sound judgment and action (1 Corinthians 6:12). It is possible to believe what is right, but to lack a sense of discernment and diligence in properly carrying things out (Philippians 1:9-11; Hebrews 5:11-14).
When One Talks but Doesn’t Do. What is so sound about any individual or church that talks but does not practice it? (See James 4:17). And while none of us is perfect, those who truly love the Lord will ever strive to do His will more completely (Ephesians 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10). As John penned, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Are both our actions and attitudes sound?
When Sinful Pride Replaces Humility. Is it not possible to become so proud of our stand on various biblical matters, as well as the acclaim, associations, and opportunities that may come along with that stand, that pride rears its ugly head in us? (cf., 1 Corinthians 10:12; Proverbs 16:18). One may take a stand for truth without knowing God deeply and richly, but God desires both! (Colossians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:10). Humility drives away sinful ego when we truly seek to know Him. As John the Baptizer said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
When the “Whole Counsel of God” Gets Lost in the Issues and Controversies of the Day. Truth is often controversial, and error must be dealt with, but the “whole counsel of God” must be proclaimed too (Acts 20:27). It is not enough to just rebuke and reprove error; one must exhort, comfort and strengthen (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2; Acts 20:20). God’s people must not be known only for what we are against. We must also be known for what we are for! (Acts 20:32; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is seemingly no end to the number of errors which may be seen about us, but that is no reason to give congregations a steady and constant diet of every issue and controversy among us. Evangelism and vital forms of edification can easily get lost in the shuffle when this is done. May God give us all greater wisdom in exercising biblical balance in this regard.
One of the greatest dangers of “carnal conservatism” is that it is so insidious. It is easier seen in others than in ourselves. And while I trust, “carnal conservatism” isn’t so in any of us, it is still wise and proper to ask, “Master, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10). For to be guilty of such is to be unhealthy and unsound. — Granbury Street Church of Christ bulletin (May 11, 18, 25, 1997).
I don’t know if this is the same Mike Vestal who is now on staff at the Westside Church of Christ in Midland, Texas, but I strongly suspect that it is, for in a recent church bulletin, there is an article commending love above other law to the members.
And, while I would probably use different words to express similar ideas here and there in communicating the text of the article above, I cannot at all disagree with it. Nor can I insist that what it says can be said only of “conservative” members of churches of Christ. It is just as applicable to those of us who are called “progressive.” (Though, within our fellowship, I would have to say that disregard for the authority and sufficiency of scripture is extremely rare among those of us called “progressive,” much more scarce than those who are called “conservative” might believe.)
It is often a struggle for me to remember to love, to express love, to live out love – especially when engaged in impassioned debate with some of the folks whose views do not agree with mine.
But Mike Vestal has nailed it, in my opinion: If our actions and attitudes aren’t as “sound” (and I would use the word “Christ-like”) as our doctrines, we are only “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13) – whether we are “conservative,” “progressive” or in that vast in-between.
9 thoughts on “When ‘Conservative’ Isn’t Sound, by Mike Vestal”
I tend to agree with the the saying that "conservatives are people who honor the tombs of dead progressives."
I'd never heard that one before, Adam!
7Keith Brenton Did you ever wonder – in light of what Paul says about “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians – if Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” wasn’t necessarily an infirmity … but a person? A “messenger of Satan” who bedeviled him? Somehow, that helps make God’s answer more understandable for me: Don’t think too highly of yourself, Paul; there but for My grace ….Keith, I am glad to hear what you really think of me,but that thorn Paul had was from God, otherwise it might have been removed, maybe there are some who need to be kept grounded, so as not to place to much emphisis on theirself, I believe that is what Paul was refering to. Did you ever think when you are on the wrong track, God speaks through others to right your ship,but some people don't want to listen to Gon, because he don't conform to their beliefs. I still love your soul, even if you do think I might be a “messenger of Satan”
Keith, excuse the bad spelling, but I was in a hurry, to do some more evil work and take my grandsons to school.Keith I am a pretty tough old bird, but I have to admit I shed a tear when I read your comment on Tim's blog. not for me, but for a brother in Christ, who could say something like that.
You took it too personally and carry the comparison too far, bro. Just as you took it too far with Ben in the comments of the health care post.If anything, my comment was meant to reflect more strongly on those of us who are tempted to block ornery old cusses like you … a reminder that we are ornery old cusses ourselves, and we ought not to think of ourselves too highly.
“messenger of Satan” I don't know how to take that any other way than I did.But you are right when I know I am right on any subject, and have proof of it, I hang on like a pit bull, and I don't intend to change just to accomadate soneone's feelings, especially about the word of God. Evidently Tim was having second thoughts about his actions (which by the way I was never informed of, and did not know about, that should tell anyone how often I comment there)so he needed his conscience cleared by others, which by the way he got, from everyone.As far as taking things to far I don't recall Jesus telling his deciples "say it once, never argue the point"Keith please tell me when you ever referred to a brother as A “messenger of Satan” and they took that as a good thing. I know progressives have grown used to calling their more conservative brothers that, but that needs to stop also. I hope I have never said anyone intentionally brought the message of satan, as in the political arena those hateful words have no place in dialog, words have consequences, they indanger lives as well as souls.But if "The indwelled Holy Ghost"told you to say what you did, forget all I have said, because God never tells a lie, and I deserve everything I have been called. and we all can have a clear conscience.Let me explain why I am speaking to you and not Tim,or Nick, because I would expect it out of them.
Laymond, I didn't call you "a messenger of Satan." The only reason I brought it up in that comment on Tim's blog is to make the case that Paul's thorn might have been a person rather than an infirmity. Good grief.You're still a thorn! 🙂
I agree, the Vestal article is a keeper. Like you, Keith, I think that in the Churches of Christ, accusations of not respecting the authority of Scripture are virtually never on target. If someone doesn't respect Scripture, he won't hang out with any of us for very long.
In "Christianity Rediscovered," Vincent Donovan wrote, "There is, on one hand, a moral, human, political solution to evil in the world. And there is a Christian solution. The gospel, which contains the later, will always be compromised by identifying it with the former" (p. 126).This is why, gospel speaking, conservativism and liberalism are really just two sides of the same coin – and a liberal coint that decides what is right based on it 'ex parte' decision making ideology and subsequently incorporating the elements of the gospel which aid their own cause, already having rejected the parts of the gospel which do not agree with the ideology.In the religious-political powder keg otherwise known as the Greco-Roman Rule and Second-Temple Judaism, a man names Saul was confronted with the resurrected Jesus. That same man, Saul, later known as Paul, would write to a church in Philippi and remind them that all of those other ideologies the Jews and Gentiles were so passionately fighting for…they were regarded "as loss because of Christ" (Phil 3.7, NRSV). And why, we might ask? Because this man named Paul, formerly called Saul, now understood that there was only one thing which could bring about the forgiveness, peace, justice, hope, etc… everything humanity longs for to be once again a true a full-image-of-God-bearing-human and it was the Gospel of Jesus ChristGrace and peace,K. Rex Butts