On Balance

By Marv

Once the Babylonians were finished with Jerusalem, no temple remained to perform the sacrifices prescribed in the Law. But the elders of the people, taking the Scriptures wherever they went, continued to teach the Word, and this tradition continued for centuries, well after a rebuilt temple allowed resumption of sacrifices. The restored priest class, the sacrifice-makers, hugged close to the places of power, even during times of foreign hegemony–which was most of the time. Their circle, named for one Zadok (or Tsadok), became known as the Tsedukim, Greco-Latino-Anglicized as “Sadducees.” Such, in large measure, were the priests

By contrast, the teachers continued in parallel, with concentrated attention to the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Less prone to cozy up to the Syrians, Egyptians, Romans–whatever invader happened to be in charge at the moment–many of these stressed the set-apart-ness that the Law demanded. These Separatists, Perushim, we call the “Pharisees.”

The society in which Jesus was born was rife with factions, of which the above were only two. Each side was imbalanced: the Sadducees had the cultus, but were weak on the Word, accepting only the Penteteuch, and rejecting doctrines such as the existence of angels and the resurrection. The Pharisees, by contrast, offered solidity of doctrine, but were for the most part outsiders to the functions of the Temple.

Yet, I think each group can be said to have found itself with a particular calling, the Sadducees to maintaining the worship system, sacrifices and Temple; and the Pharisees to rigorous study of and adherence to the Scriptures. That each side did so imperfectly–very imperfectly–is evident from the gospels, in which Jesus Christ–their long awaited Messiah–met with pretty much equal resistance from the two factions. But imperfect–failing though they were–Jesus affirmed their ongoing places of responsibility under God:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. (Matt. 23:2)

“See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:44)

In the final analysis each of these is to be evaluated, not by how balanced each is, but by how faithful each is to its calling, to the particular gift given as God wills. A balance there was, however, in the form of a bipartisan chamber, the Council, known to us by its Greek name for “seated-together” synedrion, the Sanhedrin. Together in this body, the differing emphases of the priests and the teachers found equilibrium, balance.

  • Calling, gifting calls for zeal and faithfulness.
  • Body is for balance, for completeness, for interaction.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Note Paul says “Christ.” But he is talking about the Church. Who can doubt that Jesus Christ represents perfect balance in roles: Prophet, Priest, King? And in His works: Teacher, Prophet, Healer, Giver, Comforter.

We now have inherited His name, as a body, “Christ” as the apostle calls us. And we have inherited his roles:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles*, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues**. (1 Cor. 12:28)

(**Apostles, I take to be generalists. **Tongues, I take it came in with Pentecost.)

Now we can count on the Spirit of God to keep the Body of Christ well-balanced since He  “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 11). It’s when we scoop a bit out of this well-blended mixture and place it in a particular time and a particular place–a local church–that unequal distribution may occur. I don’t think the various gifts land in one-to-one correspondence with people, due to the way Paul encourages us to pursue prophecy or pray for interpretation of tongues. But it is apparent that excelling in use causes people to fall into characteristic roles: “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers…” (Acts 13:1)

Human nature leads us to value these gifts or roles unequally. Otherwise Paul would not have to admonish us: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Cor. 12:21). We can’t, but we do.  Strength in gifting tends to have a magnetic effect; for example, a strong teacher attracts many who appreciate strong teaching.

The result is little body-lets with distorted features: one little local body of Christ has whopping great feet perhaps, and puny hands. Another Dumbo ears but tiny mouth. Imbalanced bodies; history is rife with these, maybe more the rule than the exception, and this disequalibrium is one souce of sectarian division.

Something along these lines happened, I suggest, about the turn of the twentieth century. Two different callings arose–distinct but not incompatible. Those responding to the call acted with zeal and with faithfulness–albeit imperfectly. What was lacking was balance, since, while there was some overlap, the two callings attracted followings that each tended to undervalue the other, discount the other’s legitimacy and–being disunited–fell into imbalance. In short, each said to the other “I have no need of you.”

Taking a cue from Acts 13:1, I’m going to call these two camps “Teachers” and “Prophets.” For those inclined to quibble, note I do put quotes around them. I don’t mean these terms in any absolute sense.

The “Teachers” responded to the call to contend for the Bible and the essential doctrines it teaches against a growing threat from Higher Criticism and theological liberalism.

The “Prophets” saw that a major truth of apostolic Christianity lay neglected after centuries of Church history, the power ministry through the Holy Spirit, and “spiritual gifts.”

In parallel courses, the “Teachers” produced The Fundamentals–giving rise to the label Fundamentalist. The “Prophets” saw the development of a Pentecostal movement. Again, these streams are not without admixture. For example, Pentecostals might well affirm the declarations of The Fundamentals.

Interestingly also, each one, about midcentury, fired off a kind of second stage: Charismatics and Evangelicals. Once again, I don’t wish to draw too sharp a distinction. Many Charismatics would be well cast as Evangelicals. But still two distinct lines of heritage are clearly discernable, and in many ways each of the streams tended to distance itself from the other.

My own heritage has been on the “Teacher” side, and I think I can speak with greater freedom in regard to the activities on this side of the divide. Take B.B. Warfield for example: his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible is a diligent and faithful defense of the Scriptures. On the other hand, his Counterfeit Miracles, laying a foundation for Cessationism, may have been intended also as support of a strong Bibliology, but uses–I suggest–a dubious Biblical argument to do it.

But the main point I want to make is this: it has become common for the “Teacher” side to characterize the “Prophet” side as imbalanced. And indeed much evidence may be given that this is the case. This charge by “my side” is regrettable for at least two reasons: first, I submit that the “Teacher” camp is also imbalanced, though perhaps in a less noisy way. Second, and more important, due to the way the Spirit has arranged the Body, my calling an opposing camp “unbalanced” may revert the responsibility back to me.

Consider two children playing on a see-saw. When one goes up, the other goes down. When that one goes up, the first goes down. It is a study in balance. Now say kid A decides to jump off, leaving kid B to fall to the ground with a thud. How meaningful is it for kid A to accuse kid B of being “imbalanced.”

If the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the 20th Century Church can fairly be called imbalanced–and it can–whose fault is this? Let me submit–quite irenically–from the “Teacher” stream of heritage, a main cause for it has been the “Teacher”-side invention of Cessationism–and the consequent absence of much of the Body’s stong teacher gifting from that “other” side.

I don’t mean to suggest that the “Prophets” have been teacher-less. Not at all, but all the energy that has gone into building and maintaining the (in my opinion) unbiblical position of Cessationism, could have been better spent in helping guide the stream of Pentecostalism/Charismaticism into more Biblically and theologically appropriate directions.

This is why what we see occuring toward the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is so encouraging. Individuals began to arise with heritage in both streams–or coming from one learned to embrace the other. Figures such as John Wimber have been key in this regard. What was once considered an oddity, Calvinist Contintuationists such as Sam Storms, C.J. Mahaney or John Piper, are now becoming more and more common.

It is not completely clear what labels to use, if we must use labels. Some have, I think mis-characterized this union of streams as a hybridization, and it may be tempting to imagine clever terms, such as “evangematic.” But I think it is better to see some in the Church now re-reading our Bibles, welcoming the whole counsel of God, not reacting to our brothers and sisters’ failings, and taking seriously our call to pursue our giftings with zeal and faithfulness, in a way that takes seriously “our” need of “them” and “their” need of “us,” trusting God’s Spirit and God’s word to bring us into balance.

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