Whether the subject is politics or some Biblical issue, the direction of compromise always seems to be in the direction of what you could call the “liberalizing end” of the issue.
For example, let’s look at politics and associated moral issues. Democrats generally wish to spend more money, and Republicans generally wish to spend less money. A Democrat proposes to spend $1,000 on a project, the Republican doesn’t wish to spend anything on the project. After debate, they reach a compromise where the amount spent is $500. The “compromise” resulted in the Democrat getting half of what he wanted and the Republican getting nothing of what he wanted. A year later, the Democrat proposes another spending project and ends up with another $500, which is the amount he wanted in the first place, while the Republican has completely capitulated to the original goal of the Democrat. Yes, compromise was practiced by both, but only in the direction which the Democrat wanted.
Now, let’s take this situation to a moral issue. The Democrat wishes to legalize something which is currently illegal, such as recreational use of marijuana. The Republican wants marijuana use to remain illegal. After much debate, they reach a compromise where marijuana can be used only for specific, medicinal purposes. The Democrat has received some of what he wanted, the Republican receives none of what he wanted. Again, the “compromise” was only in the direction which the Democrat wanted, the “liberalizing” direction. At some point in the future, the Democrat will again attempt to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and the “compromise” will result in even more legal use of marijuana.
Multiply the above examples by many more and you will see a trend in politics and wider society: The compromise is almost always in the directions of freedom and liberty, loosely defined. Those who wish to restrict “liberty” are “bad,” and those who wish to give more “liberty” are “good.” As these types of “compromises” accumulate, you see the results in the wider culture as more behaviors and activities which were previously illegal or discouraged are now legal and accepted/tolerated. And once a behavior or activity is legalized, it is almost impossible to reverse that direction.
Now consider this same practice concerning some Biblical issues, such as music or clothing standards. Think of a church which uses music usually known as “traditional” or “conservative.” More people, particularly younger adults and teenagers, wish to use more “modern” and “contemporary” music. In order to maintain church harmony and growth, the church reaches a “compromise” where the church has two services, one for those who like more “contemporary” music, and one for those who like the more “traditional” music. The “compromise” has been in the “liberalizing” direction and not in the direction of the “traditional.”
Or consider clothing standards. A church has historically emphasized and practiced “dressing up” for church. The wider culture is becoming more casual (even sloppy) in its clothing standards, and this casual attitude concerning clothing is influencing Christians to also become more casual in the clothes they wear to church. In order to maintain unity and growth, the church leadership almost unconsciously doesn’t talk about clothing standards any longer. By a process of neglect, a “compromise” is reached, but that compromise is in the “liberalizing” direction, not the more “conservative” direction. Apply this same topic to a Christian college which is experiencing declining enrollment and pressure to relax its traditionally strict dress standards. The college changes some of its dress standards in order to satisfy prospective students and alumni concerned about the future of the college. As in previous examples, the “compromise” is in the “liberalizing” direction, and those who do not wish to change dress standards receive nothing in the “compromise.”
The above examples illustrate a disturbing tendency in Bible believing churches and the wider culture: Compromise is almost always away from the “conservative” viewpoint and toward the more “liberal” viewpoint. Whether the arena is a church, Christian college or school, or whether the arena is the political realm, the compromise is almost never towards a more conservative or traditional position.
The question, then, is “Why?.” I suspect a large part of the answer lies within our sin nature and our desire to resist and rebel against restrictions. Who is not in favor of “freedom” and the “pursuit of happiness”? But while we convince ourselves that we are only becoming more “mature” and “nuanced” in our beliefs and practice, the end result over time is a country, a church, a college which reflects less of Biblical principles and more of the secular culture.
Those who have leadership positions in churches and schools commit those institutions to changed practices and long-term goals which will last far beyond their own time in leadership. The negative consequences of those changes usually do not become obvious until well into the future. Therefore, those in leadership positions should be very careful that a well-intentioned change (compromise?) today does not result in significant damage in the future.
So what steps can we take to guard ourselves from subtle compromise and long-term mistakes? First, be honest about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Why are we making changes? Why are we willing to change previous positions and policies? We can easily convince ourselves that our reasons and motives are laudable when, in fact, we are being influenced by the wider culture in negative ways. Are we tempted to change because of financial pressures, declining attendance/enrollment, or other considerations? Second, think ahead about the practical results of changes. For example, once dress standards are made more casual, you can never go back to a stricter standard. Human nature won’t allow it. And third, don’t try to make the Bible fit what we want to do. Everyone claims to be a “Biblicist” yet still come to different conclusions. We don’t want to be a modern-day Pharisee who uses Scripture and tradition to maintain the status quo. Yet we also don’t want to be modern-day Sadducees who give up Scripture under cultural pressure.
Compromise doesn’t have to be a dirty word. But more often than not, the compromises and changes we tend to make in the ministry too often result in unforeseen negative consequences many years later. May the Lord give us the wisdom and courage to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and resist pressures to conform to the world’s culture.
Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.