Liberal or Conservative?

Introduction. In virtually any field there are times when you will hear the terms “liberal” and “conservative” used to describe an approach or philosophy towards the subject in question.
Football: A coach who is conservative may not pass very much - run the ball most of the time.
Cooking: A chef who uses alot of sauce in his dishes may be said to apply it liberally.
Court: A liberal judge may impose strict sentances rarely - while a conservative judge may be known for strict sentances. A liberal judge may believe that the constitution should be reinterpreted by each genaration - while a conservative judge believes that the original intent of the framers of the constitution is paramount.      In religious matters we often use these terms as well, in an attempt to describe different approaches or attitudes towards religious issues. While these may be helpful in clarifying differences it is always important that in using such terms

  1. We do not misunderstand (or misapply) these terms.
  2. We do not use them as party designations or factional labels.
  3. We do not allow their use to become a stumbling block or a cause of hurt to those to whom they are applied (or misapplied).
     This evening let’s explore these things together for a few minutes.

I. What Does the Term “Liberal” Mean?

  1. Definition. “1. Favoring individual freedom and non-revolutionary reform. 2. Broad-minded or tolerant. 3. Generous. 4. Bountiful. 5. Not literal. 6. Of or relating to the cultivation of general knowledge and the humanities.” (American Heritage Dictionary).
  2. The Bible teaches to be liberal
    1. In love for others. (I Thessalonians 4:9,10).
    2. In helping others. (Romans 12:6-8; II Corinthians 8:1-4).
    3. In a willingness to reject the will of man. (Acts 5:28,29).
    4. In doing the Lord’s work. (I Corinthians 15:58).
  3. Yet, the Bible warns about being liberal.
    1. In following God’s word. (II John 9,10).
    2. In determining our own religion. (II Tim. 4:3,4).

II. What Does The Term “Conservative” Mean?

  1. Definition. “1. Favoring preservation of the existing order. 2. Moderate; prudent; cautious. 3. Traditional in manner or style. 4. Tending to conserve; preservative.” (American Heritage Dictionary).
  2. The Bible teaches to be conservative.
    1. In following the Bible. (I Corinthians 4:6).
    2. In what we approve. (Romans 14:19-23).
    3. In testing what is sound. (I John 4:1).
  3. Yet, the Bible warns about being conservative.
    1. In following human tradition. (Matthew 15:3-9).
    2. To the point of inactivity. (Matthew 25:24-28).
    3. If it causes neglect of God’s word. (Matthew 23:23,24).

III. Should Christians Be “Liberal” or “Conservative”? It depends on what issue (or the context) you are considering. Such terms are always used relative to a person’s perspective. E.g. In the former Soviet Union a conservative is pro-communist - a liberal is pro-democratic. In the United States a conservative is (generally) opposed to moves towards socialism - a liberal is less resistent to moves towards socialistic answers to political probelms. We must consider how we understand these terms in different contexts.

  1. The religious world.
    1. Attitudes towards change. A conservative view holds to the status quo. A liberal view demands change.
      • The old way is better -- the old way is worse.
    2. Attitudes towards “church tradition.” A conservative view says human traditions should be upheld. A liberal view might either be one that simply rejects traditions for their own sake - or one that demands Scriptural authority.
      • Church liturgies, traditional formulas -- women preachers.
    3. Attitudes towards morality. A conservative view holds to Scriptural standards of morality. A liberal view accepts Ňmodern lifestyles.Ó
      • Homosexuality, living together, pornography, premarital relations, divorce-remarriage.
    4. Attitudes towards the Bible. A conservative view holds that the Bible is inspired. A liberal view feels that it may have elements that came from God but not the whole.
      • Evolution, Bible as history, Miracles of the Bible.
  2. Among brethren. These terms must never be used as party names. It is just as wrong to call ourselves “Conservative” Christians as it was to say “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos” etc. Even so when these terms are used to describe an approach to an issue they may well be the only way we can identify an issue.
    1. View of Scripture. A conservative would hold that the Bible stands as a binding pattern for what we do and say in religious matters. A liberal view would say authority is not necessary for all that we do.
      • Support of colleges, orphans homes, hospitals, making social functions a work of the church.
    2. Attitudes towards opinions. A conservative view may try to bind opinions. A liberal view may feel that opinions need to be respected but cannot be treated as binding.
      • Issues of modesty, clothing in the assembly, order of worship, types of songs.
    3. Specific and generic authority. A conservative view might demand specific authority for all things. A liberal view holds that action can occur when something is generically authorized.
      • Bible classes, song books, church building, Lord's supper on Sunday evening.

Conclusion. I heard a gospel preacher say once “I want to be as ‘liberal’ as I can be and as ‘conservative’ as I must be.” I think that makes a great deal of sense. If I am conservative in how I approach everything in life I may run the risk of being like the “one talent” man. He was so “conservative” he did nothing. By the same token, if I am liberal in how I approach everything in life I may (as Paul warned) condemn myself by what I approve. Let us do all that we should with vigor and passion, always seeing GodŐs word as the standard that we must confine ourselves to obey.