While vices are always destructive, few people seem to realise that a virtue taken to extremes is equally destructive.
Take, for instance, the man who practices the virtue of charitable giving by handing his entire wage to the homeless while his own children are left to starve. To do such a thing is to twist the intended virtue into something dark and ungodly.
Or, to use another example, the woman who practices the virtue of cleanliness in her home by using such dangerous chemicals and cleansers that her family grows ill. By going to the extreme, she completely defeats the value and goodness of the virtue.
Unfortunately we live in times when virtues are practised in this fashion. The great Christian virtues have become detached from the Faith and the Person of Jesus Christ, and have instead gone wandering through the world on their own, being taken to extremes, and wreaking havoc everywhere. Like black holes, these virtues have acquired their own cloud of satellite ideas that swirl around them. These prove to be ultimately destructive and are never conducive to human flourishing, despite so promising.
Communism, for instance, was predicated on the noble virtues of helping the poor and relieving the oppressed. It morphed into a dreadful and murderous justification for corruption and power. Feminism was built on the virtues of treating women fairly and giving them dignity. It has transformed into the mutant creature of third wave feminism which seems intent on unloosing the anchors of civilisation itself.
Virtues on their own, are not good. Virtues must always live in balance with other virtues. They must be disciplined and guided. There must be careful thought invested into how best to practice them. Virtues must always be lived out in such a way that they hold the integrity of their form, and achieve God’s purposes rather than ours.
In church history, the question of how to balance the virtues of doctrinal purity with mercy has occasionally arisen. It is not an insubstantial issue. If one goes too far in either direction, the virtue collapses into error and irreparable damage, most especially to people’s immortal souls and eternal future.
For instance, the virtue of sound doctrine – taken to extremes – becomes an excuse for inquisitions, interdicts, and mass excommunications. It results in suffocating, merciless dogmas. Nearly every denomination that once took doctrinal purity to an extreme has receded into a cold, empty formalism.
On the other hand, the virtue of mercy and love – taken to extremes – results in the jettisoning of God’s word and a toleration for every aberration and error within the culture around us. For instances of this, one need look no further than various Anglican communions around the world where, under the umbrella of “love” and “mercy”, there is now such a broad latitude in these churches, that they show indifference to the doctrine of their communicants and clergy.
You hardly even need to believe in God to be part of the Anglican communion nowadays, much less be a Christian. There are atheist clergy walking the ecclesiastical ranks. There is toleration and celebration of nearly every trendy left-wing cause, no matter how unbiblical. Practically the only thing that can get you tossed out of an Anglican communion these days is to espouse something politically to the far-right, like fascism. On the other hand, you can be an atheist, a neo-pagan, embrace historic heresies, and deviations and still find comfort, embrace, and inclusion. Because that is “loving”.
On page 10 of the recent edition of the Diocese of Toronto’s Anglican Newspaper, there was a recent article in which an Anglican church there is devising ceremonies and rituals to bless people who undergo gender changes. It is a testament to the speed at which the transgender movement has gained credibility and acceptance within the Diocese of Toronto that their Anglican newspaper does not once question any of the assumptions surrounding the rite and the individual involved. It is taken for granted that the whole matter is entirely consonant with the Holy Scriptures, because it is about “love” and “celebration”, ergo virtuous.
The photograph features two female clerics performing the rite. The church building is adorned with a rainbow flag. The only visible remnants of any link with our ancient Faith are the vestments worn by the two women which constitute merely the sad vestiges of a past era. The fact all of this is contained in a “Christian” church is illustrative of the compounding nature of error. It grows, steadily but surely, until it reaches a point where it chokes everything else and renders its host a corpse.
(As an aside, the presence of traditional vestments always interests me. This is one the most remarkable things about the culture warriors in these churches: though they are willing to jettison nearly every biblical doctrine, create novel new rituals, embrace fashionable causes, and design hideous new churches with “hip” architecture, the one thing they cling to with tenacity are the robes and collars, the titles and insignia of the clergy.
It is an irony, really, that among orthodox clergy, those external trappings of office are often put aside. Former Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Australia) preferred casual clothes or a tidy suit. Most Reformed local churches have done away with vestments entirely. Even Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wore the traditional preaching gown in church, had no interest in collars and robes. Leonard Ravenhill gave those things up and even came to repudiate them as unnecessary innovations. Yet, among liberal, heterodox clergy, those things are always last to die. They seem to exalt in their purples and silk.)
How does a church so spectacularly collapse as these Anglican denominations have done? Precisely because they made a choice in generations past not to try to walk that narrow road in which one rightly balances the affirmation of doctrinal truth with mercy and love.
Neither of these virtue can (or should) undo the other. Both must be present in harmony, the one feeding the other. Pure, sound, biblical doctrine gives rise to a ceaseless flow of love and mercy. And love and mercy to the sinful, broken and the lost reinforces the beauty of orthodoxy; the loveliness of biblical truth; the necessity of God’s holy precepts. Both virtues, properly attached to the True Vine – the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ – are filled, animated, actualised, motivated and energised by Himself. For love is only true love when it is His love. And doctrine is only any good when it is His doctrine.
How does one walk this fine line? By having an apostolic fidelity and allegiance to the Holy Scriptures as the first and final authoritative centre of Christianity.
And the only way to maintain this in any church is with loving, but firm church discipline. Toleration of heresy; the embrace of false creeds and doctrines; the widening of boundaries to the point where there is no longer an identifiable marker between non-believers and believers is a certain recipe for a church’s death. The Anglican communion has now reached a point where its evangelicals and orthodox are evacuating it. This process is very nearly complete. And once finished, there will be nothing left to sustain and maintain these denominations who are already consolidating an ever-shrinking catalogue of churches.
How sad it is and yet how eminently predictable. Church discipline matters because it keeps a church alive for the following generations.
Neglect it, and there is nothing more certain than that the next generation will go into captivity.