EXTREMES BEGET EXTREMES is a true maxim, and is the title of the article in the book The Guiding Light written by Brother Islip Collyer. In this excellent article brother Collyer makes the point that apart from the evil of extremism in its own right, it invariably has the effect of provoking an opposite extreme. This is what he had to say on this score.

“It is the most natural matter in the world for us to set up a counter-extreme against the outrageous conduct or opinions of our neighbours”.

As unproductive as this is, there is another consequence of extreme views that compounds the evil further, and that is the opposite parties that are formed by the debate, disagreeing, for the argumentʼs sake, with principles upon which they really agree. Again we quote the words of our late brother.

“But when the demon of opposition and debate is aroused, there is often a marked deterioration on both sides. Under the influence a man will sometimes make a violent attack on any proposition that comes from a sustained quarter, even though it simply expresses thoughts that he would have warmly approved before the strife began”.

Brother Collyerʼs article is more particularly pointed at behaviour between individuals, but this danger of the extremes, and the reaction against extremes, becomes even more damaging when it polarises groups of individuals within the Ecclesia of God.

This problem manifested itself in the establishment of the Ecclesia in the first century. Everywhere he went the Apostle Paul was dogged by Jewish legalism, which in turn was matched by an equally dangerous spirit of “Liberalism” which threatened the moral fabric of the brethren and sisters in Christ. It is the height of significance that his words, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”, are applied to the growth of these two extremes.

A Little Leaven

It appears in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 5:9). With alarming rapidity the leaven of Judaism began to subvert his efforts in the region of Galatia (Gal 1:6). Their accursed doctrine had the potential to destroy the work of the gospel, because it was spread in the name of the “Gospel” itself. They did not propose a different gospel, but superimposed upon the true, a legalism that effectively destroyed it (Gal 1:7). Herein lay its danger to deceive those whose grasp of the Truth was not as keen as it ought to be.

These Judaisers clouded everything in legal technicalities. In their application of the Law of Moses, they made that law the equal of Christ, so that to them the shadow system became every bit “the very image” with the substance it was designed to foreshadow. Jesus Christ had died to fulfil, and to remove a system that could not save. If their contentions were correct then Christ had died in vain (Gal 2:18–21).

The other occurrence of the expression, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” is found in 1 Corinthians 5:6 where the opposite extreme of liberalism was rampant. In this port city of Corinth, a bridge between Europe and Asia, every vice gathered, as is common with dockyards the world over. If conformity to laws restraining human behaviour could permeate like leaven, how much more would teachings which pander to the natural instincts of our nature!

Never having been subjected to Jewish legalism, one can image how many of the Corinthians would react against it, even though some were bewitched by it (2 Cor 11:17–20).

Liberalism argues vehemently against law, and as a consequence of its reaction, runs to the opposite extreme, and ultimately turns law into licence (1 Cor 5:1,2, 6).

In todayʼs Ecclesial world we have no Jews among us trying to enforce “law” as Godʼs method of salvation, but the spirit of Judaism (or legalism) is as natural to our flesh, as is the urge to liberalise everything to accommodate our passions. Legalism induces pride in achievement, a feeling of elitism among those who propound its virtue, and leads to a spirit of competition as to who can excel. Such an attitude and consequent behaviour provokes a feeling of disgust among others, who in their determination to expose hypocrisy, go out of their way to “liberalise” their “freedom” in Christ, by allowing unlawful matters to prove their point against their opponents.

Balance is Needed

Balance is what is needed in our approach to the problem of extremes. Our Heavenly Fatherʼs perfect character has its balance of “Mercy and Truth”. He forgives sin, but does not clear the guilty (Exod 34:5–7). His Son is described as “a merciful and faithful High-priest in things pertaining to God”, (Heb 2:17). As our advocate he will mercifully sympathise with weakness he understands, but he will remain faithful to Godʼs principles.

Reaction against extremes is fraught with peril, as it will lead to the rejection of things which are right, to prove the point against things wrong. In the writerʼs opinion this has been the cause of much heartache in our brotherhood in these last days, when there is great need to sympathise with each other in our separate emphasis on divine characteristics, and to unite behind the standards of Truth and decency in a decadent world.

Beside our Statement of Faith and the Commandments of Christ, which are solidly based upon the Scripture, we have our Ecclesial constitutions, with directions for brethren and sisters to help combat some of the modern phenomena. These may sound like “laws”, but it is always to be understood that their purpose is not to provide the basis of salvation, but as Paul taught Timothy, as a curb against the inherent lawlessness common to all the sons and daughters of Adam. Problems arise when unreasonable demands are added and personal views imposed over and above ecclesial approval. When this happens there will always be the danger of reaction.

Christ the Example

The greatest example in all matters is our Lord Jesus Christ. Never had any man faced such hypocritical legalism, with the consequent temptation to react against it at all costs. However, he recognised that not all that these hypocrites said was wrong, and though scathing in his criticism of their ways, he fully endorsed the Word of his Father, to which they also gave their assent, even though it was but lip service.

Here is the advice the Lord gave to his disciples. “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Mosesʼ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Matt 23:2).

We live in a world of great evils. With the onslaught of temptation enhanced by technology, and the humanistic philosophy with its appeal to do it because it feels good, there has come a need for greater insistence upon those time-honoured principles that have characterised our community from our pioneering days. Legalism is, and always will be a danger, and in these circumstances it could flourish. However liberalism can be a greater danger when all about us condones the basic instincts and throws off all shackles of discipline.

Such liberalism can lead us out of the Truth, morally and doctrinally, about which the following articles are designed to exhort.