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Any Christian at some point will be labeled an extremist. Also every Christian at some point will call other Christians extremists. Even in any given local church, some will label each other this way.

The question is from what Biblical basis can we say 'balance is good', and therefore what kind of extremes should a person avoid?

For example, most Christians would agree that never reading God’s word but just being blown around by the Spirit would be an extreme position. In the same vein, always reading God’s word but denying the importance of the Spirit for understanding the Word would be the opposite extreme. Is this Biblical for me to paint extremes as bad things this way?

What is the scriptural basis for balance and what might be some commonly held views that are considered 'extreme' by most Christians, regardless of denomination?

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I always wanted to ask this question but couldn't figure out how to word it, good job. –  Greg McNulty Jul 3 '12 at 6:53
@Mike The question should be reworded then. As it is currently phrased, you are asking if the Bible supports it, which it does not, as I showed. It sounds like what you meant to ask was: "What arguments are used to support the idea of a 'balance ...'?" ... or perhaps, "What are the counterarguments to 'extremism'?" –  Jas 3.1 Jul 9 '12 at 20:17
Of course the Bible supports the concept of balance in some sense, the question I asked is in what way does it do so, and how does it oppose fanatical extremes. anybody can argue in what way it does not, this was not my question. –  Mike Jul 11 '12 at 9:04
Is this question fine? You have two hypothetical groups in a hypothetical situation. If the question was only, "Is there biblical support for being "balanced"?" it may be better but "balanced" would need to be defined clearly. –  The Freemason Jun 26 at 14:48
@Mr.Bultitude I don't think the question needs to be changed, but if you want to change the title and cut the fat, go for it. But, hey, if they didn't answer the question they didn't answer it. I think if there's any answers that don't show "the biblical support for moderation" then they are not answers and should be deleted, despite how good they might be. Jay's is a prime example. And so is Jas's, where he gives the exact opposite answer. –  fredsbend 2 days ago

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Ecclesiastes 7 is even more direct:

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness. 16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? 18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.

That said, the Golden Mean is primarily Aristotelean in origin. That alone does not exclude it from Christianity, becuase much of Aristoltelean thought was incorporated into the Church's doctrine in the first few centuries of the early church.

Galileo, for example, was really having quibbles with Aristotlean cosmology, moreso than anything in Scripture itself. The notions of perfect spheres and earth-centricity are not found in Scripture, but had been accepted as dogma by the Church, and as such were defended.

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(+1) For Solomon's quote - maybe that kind of wisdom partly filtered down the ages to Aristotle. I know Plato seemed to have borrowed a bit from Genesis in his account of creation (Timaeus), at least that is what I thought when I had read it years ago. Virgil's predictions of a Messiah also seems like it could have come from Hebrew influence. I bet the Hellenistic Jews also gave as many ideas as they borrowed from the Greeks. The world has always been a small place. Cheers. –  Mike Jul 3 '12 at 15:34
@Affable Geek: very helpful quote, thank you. –  Greg McNulty Jul 3 '12 at 21:15
Although I disagree, +1 for finding a verse that says "Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes"!! I'm curious which translation you quoted? In the NASB, verse 18b reads "for the one who fears God comes forth with both [lit. "all"] of them." –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '12 at 0:03
@Jas3.1 To be candid, I too actually don't believe that Christianity is compatable with "Moderation in all things" (unless if you include moderation in that). That's why I started pointing out the true nature is that it is a Hellenistic accretion. –  Affable Geek Jul 5 '12 at 1:17
The verses you quoted immediately came to mind, when I read the question. Sometimes, well-meaning people tend towards self-righteousness. The advice from those verses are very practical and compels one to keep her/himself in check. –  Igwe Kalu Jun 27 at 15:08

The answer to "What is the Biblical basis for the concept of 'balance' between 'two extremes'?" is that there is none. The Bible does not support the concept of 'balance between two extremes'. What the Bible supports is walking in God's ways, which means operating within boundaries in some areas, and being as extreme as you can be in other areas. In some cases operating within God's boundaries looks like 'balancing between two extremes', but that is not an accurate description of what is going on.

The idea of "finding the balance" in things is widely accepted by today's society, including the church. Sometimes Christians use this alleged principle to explain doctrines like "drinking in moderation", or "eating in moderation". Since we find it useful, we continue to (erroneously) teach it as a Biblical principle. This "principle" is also used to justify false doctrines like "not going overboard in your devotion to God", and having a "balanced view of God" that includes 'a little love' and 'a little wrath'. Neither of these doctrines are accurate Biblically.

Example 1: The word and the Spirit. We are often taught to "find the balance" between the word and the Spirit - in life, hermeneutics, etc. However, contained within this teaching is what is referred to as a "false dichotomy"; the two are not "opposite" in any way, and therefore do not technically belong on the same spectrum in the first place. We make these spectrums because we like to over-simplify things.

A more accurate view would be to consider each individually.

  • You could make a spectrum between "following the Spirit fully" and "rejecting the Spirit fully", which are actually opposites. Of course, you wouldn't want to "find the balance between the two extremes" once the extremes are accurately defined, rather, you would want to be "extreme" and follow the Spirit fully, as Jesus did.

  • Likewise, we could make a spectrum between "trusting the word of God in every way" and "not trusting the word of God in any way". Once again, we would want to be "extreme" and trust the word of God in every way.

The goal is to do both - "trust the word of God in every way" and "follow the Spirit fully". The problem with placing them both on the same spectrum is that it gives the impression that one comes at the expense of the other, which is not true at all; It is not as though trusting the word of God more means following the Spirit less!

Example 2: Drinking in moderation. As I mentioned, Christians often use this alleged principle to explain why drinking is OK, as long as you don't have "too much." The Biblical picture is very different than a "balance between two extremes", though. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose you drew a spectrum and were going to label the "two extremes" of drinking. One would be "not drinking at all" and the other would be "drinking yourself to death." The idea, then, would be that the best place to live would be in the middle of the two. I see three problems with this spectrum:

  • The Bible does not give us such a spectrum

  • The "balance" between the two extremes may very well be "getting moderately drunk on occasion", which is obviously not the instruction of Scripture

  • The Bible doesn't teach that not drinking is wrong. In other words, one of the "extremes" is not bad at all.

What does the Bible teach? Do not get drunk. That's the gist of it. There is no "balance between two extremes" - only a boundary which we are instructed not to cross. You can drink a little if you want - or you can drink none at all. You just can't cross the boundary.

Summary: Our enemy is not "extremism", but rather "deviation from God's ways".

For the sake of brevity, I'll stop there for now. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see another alleged "balance" argument answered and I'll update my post with an explanation.

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As this does not technically answer the question but rather argues for the opposite position, I suggest you delete it. I know that guidelines were different in 2012, but we do like to gradually bring older questions in line with current standards. (As an aside, you won't lose any rep for doing so.) –  El'endia Starman yesterday
Hopefully the edit I just made is enough to make this meet current guidelines. I did also delete a bunch of chatty, irrelevant comments. –  David yesterday
@David I don't think it's ever proper to answer "What is the Biblical basis for X?" with "There is none." If X is an actual view of Christians, it will have some Biblical basis; whether it's valid or not is a different question. Allowing answerers to say "There is none" makes the question a popularity contest, or a Truth question. I think this meta discussion is relevant: They are asking for the reasoning that some Christians believe a certain thing. It is wholly inappropriate to answer "Well, actually, those Christians are wrong." –  Mr. Bultitude yesterday
@Mr.Bultitude _ I see your point, and I did flag it for the other mods to look at after I made that edit and comment. –  David yesterday
@David: Ultimately, I agree with Mr. Bultitude. I don't really want to just go ahead and delete it without Jas 3.1 seeing these messages, however. –  El'endia Starman yesterday

The Bible does indeed support the idea of balancing between two extremes, even if only indirectly.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Interestingly enough, when I recalled this verse before looking it up, I had this mental feeling that to go to either the left or the right side of the road would be on the path to destruction (likely influenced by this scene in Facing the Giants). However, as I realized when I read it, Jesus is actually talking about two separate roads. So, I had to get the don't-turn-to-the-left-or-right part from somewhere else.

Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

Proverbs 4:27 (NIV)

27  Do not turn to the right or the left;
        keep your foot from evil.

In both of these verses (and at least five others), there is this idea that going straight is the only good way. Hence, this can be combined with Matthew 7:13-14 to say that narrow and straight is the road that leads to life, so to turn away from it is to invite destruction. There is also the fact that turning off a road usually wasn't (and isn't, especially at high speed) a great idea, given all the bandits, wild animals, and other dangers were off the road.

So there you have it. Stay on the road and don't turn to the right or left. Balance between two extremes.

(Note: I didn't answer your secondary question. That could easily be its own question.)

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+1 - That's one way of extracting balance from the Bible. I never thought of it that way before. The use of the word 'crooked' is often used in the bible to denote a wicked way or crooked path, which also supports your method. In this sense anything that is not 'balanced' is in a sense crooked and wicked (left or right). Cheers. –  Mike Jul 3 '12 at 12:37

The bible says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

None of these words tend to draw images of somebody flipping out along an extreme. Love may be the most balanced emotion, in that it alone can direct all other emotions without causing internal conflicts. The word self-control also speaks directly to the subject, for it implies that as humans we are tempted towards excessive behavior, that even moralists like someone else pointed out, the Greeks, condemned.

For example, where self-control is not followed, as in the case of excessive drinking, the Bible contrasts this extreme, as opposite to being filled with the Spirit on account of it:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). 

Interestingly the word debauchery (ἀσωτία) means 'excess', or 'riot'.  Is being excessive not being extreme? This is really what many mean when they say, 'Well that's pretty extreme' often followed by laughter. It means someone hast lost their balance, or 'cool' and is acting to 'excess'. 

Excess often takes the form of excessive emotion that do not seem to match what the circumstances call for. From this standpoint extremism is simply long term emotionalism indicating damaged emotions. Sometimes a perfectionist acting like a theological cop on the beat, is just a sincere person who had a father that did not accept him, so there all stressed out poking themselves into other people business when not invited.

For extremism related to damaged emotions refer to this post as God is in the business of healing us regularly.

What kinds of extremes have I encountered (or have been terribly guilty of)?

  • Too much into God's word, neglecting the fruit of the Spirit that makes a person relaxed and loving
  • Too much into the Spirit wondering if it 'God's will' to buy this chocolate bar versus that one.
  • Too much into church, neglecting family and friends
  • Too much  friends and family time, with no time to meet new people at Church
  • Too much insistence on traditions of a single church
  • Too little respect for anybodies traditions, or the beliefs of previous generations
  • Too many opportunities for sharing the gospel where its actually just rude pushiness
  • Too little concern and sharing with others about God's love in the gospel
  • Too much involvement in politics so that the gospel message takes a back seat while abortion, poverty, etc. grab all the attention.
  • Too little concern  for our community or church, resigning everybody to hell as we whistle and skip along our merry way -Too lazy to get a job or work hard in the crummy one that we have
  • Too ambitious and greedy in our career to stop to think what matters
  • Not believing in the supernatural at all
  • Thinking their is a demon lurking around every corner
  • Giving all you have to the poor but not calling them to repentance and faith in Christ
  • Giving all to yourself and wondering why you don't receive the proper respect for your knowledge and wisdom?
  • Judging yourself by standards nobody has ever lived up to
  • Congratulating yourself for getting out of bed

Anyway the list could go on forever but love avoids all extremes and balances justice and mercy. It made Jesus tough and tender, serious but relaxed, among many other perfect excellencies of virtue.

The fruit of the Spirit leads to a balanced mind and heart, so 'yes' although the word 'extreme' may not have been common in Biblical days, the Bible inherently avoids all extremes. Extremes are to be avoided unless they are extremely good, like total abandonment to faith, love and hope in Christ. Such a person is extremely balanced all the way around.

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sounds like you have learned a lot by trial and error. Sometimes it seems like the further I learn about the word the mire confusing things get but I believe ur makes me a better person so it's worth it. –  Greg McNulty Jul 4 '12 at 6:45
By the way, just so you know, accepting one's own answer doesn't automatically put it at the top. –  El'endia Starman Jul 5 '12 at 6:54
Great list. Being an extremist by nature, I have probably done most of the things on it, on both sides! –  Paul Chernoch Jun 26 at 18:51

This has been an interesting and enlightening read. I will just like to add to it by saying,

Whatever 'balance' that does not eventually lead to sin remains healthy for one's spiritual life...on the other hand, whatever 'balance' that threatens your spiritual nature in Christ should by all means be avoided.

Eg 'balance/moderation' will not work for someone who has an addiction weakness to say alcohol or sex. Extreme avoidance in such situations will be better for that individual.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Jan 29 at 17:11
Typically, answers should stand on their own. Your post would be better if you referenced the relevant verses. Click edit under your post to do that. Here's a +1 in advance. –  fredsbend Jan 29 at 17:13

I would think that you could only talk about moderation in things that are not clear rules. Moderation in exercise or things such as that. some things are pretty cut and dry. Casual sex, fornication, not up for debate. Getting drunk, clearly prohibited. The bible is clear on a lot of things. It is the rest that you use moderation and balance in.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Feb 19 at 23:15
Are there some verses that you could edit in that support what you are saying? That is what the question asked for. –  fredsbend Feb 19 at 23:16

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