The Siren Call of the Popular Cause

It seems every few years someone discovers that the Bible teaches whatever the latest philosophical fad is. In some ways this is inevitable.

I believe the Bible is the source of ultimate truth–not all truth, there’s not a lot of engineering in it, for example–but ultimate truth. And if that is true, then any philosophy or understanding or movement which reflects even a small particle of that ultimate truth will, in some ways, resemble it. We will always find fragments of the original truth in every echo. And the more complete the echo, the more it resembles the original.

So it’s easy to get caught up in these movements. They are often very laudable. But for Christians, that isn’t the question. The question isn’t “Is this a worthy thing to do,” because, frankly, we are very good at rationalizing that we ought to do whatever we really want to do. Instead, the Christian should ask, “Is this what God wants me to do?”

What am I talking about? In the early 19th century, retired sea captain Joseph Bates became deeply involved, and committed his considerable energies, into two worthy causes: Temperance, and Abolition.

It’s difficult to argue that these were not among the most worthy causes of any era. Drunkenness and attendant violence had become a terrible scourge in early America. And slavery– what remains to be said about its evils? Surely, worthy causes, and in line with Bible teachings.

But Bates found two new issues–issues which were neither so obvious nor so popular: the Second Coming (in the Millerite movement), and the seventh day Sabbath. The other causes were worthy, but he was called to be a pioneer in the SDA church. Bates championed the Sabbath in the early Adventist church. Without him, it is difficult to know where that truth might have come from. For Bates, Temperance and Abolition were distractions. Others would carry those causes to fruition. God was calling Bates to something more important.

Some might argue that nothing could be more important than ending slavery. It seems impossible to contest. But we are all slaves to sin. Which of us, if faced with the choice of slavery in this life, but certain salvation for eternity, or luxury in this life, and eternal death, would not choose slavery?

Once again, we the truth that “the good is often the enemy of the best.”

And then there’s the temptation to take the good too far. John Brown wanted to end slavery. He saw its great evil. But he believed he was justified in slaughtering those who disagreed with him(see the Pottawatomie Massacre). Today’s equivalent might be the abortion clinic bomber.

Every generation has its worthy causes. But we must be careful to keep perspective. An old saying warns, “The closer something resembles God, the greater the danger that it will become an idol.” Worthy causes often become just such an evil distraction.


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