We all have issues; lots of issues. Some of them become our pets, and we especially like it if we can start a club (formal or informal), and get others to gather around our pets. This is not normally a problem if the kite-flyers club meets on the first Saturday of every month at the public park to discuss the various kinds of kites and their relative aerodynamic properties. The kite enthusiasts might even place some flyers, start an email list and offer a few lectures on the health benefits of kite-flying, along with information on how parents and their children can grow in their personal relationships by way of family kite-flying activities. However, enthusiasts of all sorts tend to attract extremes, and thus the folks with the “strongest views” of kite flying tend to step forward to show the newbies how it “ought to be done.” So far, not so bad.
The danger comes when someone (or a group of someones), has the bright idea of exporting their love of kite-flying to everyone at church. This “good thing” is so good that they not only want to share it with others, they have really come to see what everyone else is missing: it’s healthy, good for family life, the fellowship is sweet, and it beats sitting around and watching television. People would be way better off if they joined the kiteites. Soon it is the frequent topic at church in private conversations, then at larger gatherings, and then it becomes obvious that the church leadership should get behind this idea and promote the kiteite constituency and their agenda; it’s the Christian thing to do. Those who are reluctant to get on board either don’t understand, and therefore need instructing, or else they’re stuck in their old way of thinking and should be pitied.
We can replace the kiteites with other kinds of enthusiasts e.g., nutrition, exercise, home-birth, home school, alcohol, guns, political views, etc. (there’s quite a long list). Now all of this is simply a new form of legalism that the Bible strongly warns against: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths…” (Col. 2:16). There are a wide range of Christian liberty issues that often press themselves to levels of importance that are higher than the Bible assigns them. “Wisdom issues” (which are debatable in themselves), are easily set forth as things that “ought” to be done, taking them to the lofty place of moral requirements. There is a huge difference between arguing that this or that might be a “good idea,” or that it might be “prudent,” verses “this is what everyone ought to be doing.” These kinds of issues can easily become the central issues of a party spirit, which can infect a church and derail it from its central calling, which is the pursuit of peace and unity in the context of sound doctrine and fervent love of the brethren.
The church is called to establish and teach the eternal truths of God’s law and gospel. Therefore, we must resist the temptation and/or political pressure to allow these other issues to become a prominent part of the church culture. There should be great liberty on matters that do not involve clear sin. If you want to be gluten-free, go for it. If you want to buy guns and ammo, go for it. But you may not expect, promote, require or exclude, directly or by implication, if others don’t share your views on these kinds of matters, and you may not develop (directly, indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally) a party spirit in the church over such things. Sub-cultures in the church can undermine the primary culture of the church. The church should scrupulously avoid endorsing or promoting (even tacitly) these kinds of divisive issues. They certainly must not be allowed to become threshold issues (e.g., you wouldn’t be comfortable in this church if you don’t do kite-flying.). The ultimate responsibility of pastors and elders is to oversee the church by instruction in the truth, guarding against error (both content and emphasis), and protecting the flock from anything that would cause her to lose sight of her first love. We are to adorn the gospel, but never to add to it.