Evangelical Unity and the Principle of Balance

Evangelical Unity and the Principle of Balance

In matters that divide Christians, or cause fierce debate, “the principle of balance” is key for maintaining evangelical unity.

One of the challenges of evangelical unity is learning “the principle of balance”. This was a position exemplified by Charles Simeon.

Simeon was an Anglican evangelical in the eighteenth century. At the time, there were fierce disputes about Arminianism and Calvinism following the disagreement on these matters between John Wesley and George Whitefield.

Simeon was disturbed by the danger of systematised extremes distorting the truth and causing unnecessary division. He encouraged “the principle of balance.”

The principle of balance

Simeon’s conviction was that in matters that divide Christians or about which they debate, the truth often exists in both extremes and not necessarily in the middle.

His illustration was of an old-fashioned wind-up clock: an examination of its inner workings reveals wheels going in different directions yet working together to give the correct time.

He said, "As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve one common end, so may apparently opposite truths be perfectly reconcilable with each other and equally subserve the purpose of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.”

His application of this principle of balance to the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility models how it applies to other areas where biblical Christians may disagree.

We could come up with an endless list of examples. Here are a few:

  • The outworking of a positive warm-hearted complementarianism.
  • Methodology of preaching.
  • How to train for ministry.
  • The work of a pastor.
  • Handling scripture.
  • Leadership structures in the local church.
  • How a pastor relates to other elders.

How to keep balance

The “principle of balance” has implications for church leaders:

  1. We must be aware of our own blind-spots and prejudices shaped by our background, experience, foundation-shaping teachers, theological heroes etc. We all have blind-spots. The problem is that we are often blind to them!
  2. We must be patient with those who see things differently, seeking to listen carefully: not pigeon-holing them; not straw-manning them; not assuming that because they maintain position “x” they also hold position “y”.
  3. We must understand that truth can be distorted through extremes. Remember that God has chosen not to give us a book of systematic theology but a relational, living, dynamic word by which the Holy Spirit is constantly reforming and refining our theological systems, our thinking, and our living.
  4. We must act with grace towards brothers and sisters. We are called to love and honour all who love the Lord Jesus, even when there may be non-salvation matters over which we differ from them. This is true not only on theological matters but also on matters of practice, both personal and in the local church. “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24).

Interestingly, this principle of balance was followed by the founder of FIEC, E J Poole Connor. He sets it out in his little book Evangelical Unity (1941). If you have never read it, I would urge to find a copy and read it. It shows how the principle is at the heart of the gospel-generous ethos which is at the heart of FIEC.

More recently, it fits with Gavin Ortlund’s book Finding the Right Hills to Die On (2020) which, in his review, Adrian Reynolds described as “a manifesto for our fellowship at FIEC”. The book details the use of “theological triage”: thinking about theological issues in different categories and then making decisions about church life and collaboration on the basis of those categories. It's worth a read as you consider this principle of balance.

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