Being religiously “conservative” is not necessarily the same as being sound in the faith (Titus 1:13; 2:2). The two are not synonymous terms. Without any doubt, there are many areas in which Christians are to be, and must be, conservative. But this is not always so. Rather, we must always endeavor to be sound. Of the twenty-three passages where the Greek word for “sound” does occur, twelve are in the gospel accounts and nine are in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The Greek word always has reference to health, wholeness and well being, whether in a physical or spiritual sense.
Spiritual soundness is especially prevalent in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. We are to be sound “in the faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2). We must cling to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). And we must speak, hold and yield to the sound words of Christ (1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 2:8). The emphasis in these passages is on God’s word as a received body of fixed teaching that is to be used to give us the spiritual health we all should desperately desire, as well as to counteract any teaching, concept or practice that would threaten our soul’s health and well-being.
The fact is, there are real dangers in thinking that conservative always equals sound and vice versa. And this is not just an exercise in semantics or straining at some technical, but unimportant, subtlety. This becomes particularly true at a time in which an increasing number of brethren seem to be showing less respect for the authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is possible to become so carried away with the disregard for God’s word that we are seeing on the part of some that we fall from our own steadfastness (2 Peter 3:16-18). And just as some in their quest for something more have been guilty of compromising Scripture and of damaging their relationship with God, so some in their efforts to be conservative may unwittingly have exhibited something considerably less than what the Lord desires. Christianity involves all the love a man has — his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Is this truly reflected in our words and actions?
Sometimes “conservative” is merely a buzz word for being sound asleep, or for excusing oneself from at least some aspect of the will of God. And that’s when “conservative” isn’t sound! To be more specific, consider the following occasions when being “conservative” isn’t sound.
When One is Not Motivated by Love. Revelation 2:1-7 speaks of the church at Ephesus. This was an active church, as well as one interested in doctrinal purity. In many ways it would have seemed to be a wonderful congregation. But the Lord said they had “left” their “first love.” And that’s serious! 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 speaks of the possibility of eloquence in communication, depth in knowledge and sacrificial giving (all good things) being worthless unless they are motivated by love.
When One Fails to Act Wisely and Expediently. This has to do with the need to humbly respect God’s will and to do what He has authorized in a manner that reflects sound judgment and action (1 Corinthians 6:12). It is possible to believe what is right, but to lack a sense of discernment and diligence in properly carrying things out (Philippians 1:9-11; Hebrews 5:11-14).
When One Talks but Doesn’t Do. What is so sound about any individual or church that talks but does not properly practice? (See James 4:17). And while none of us is perfect, those who truly love the Lord will ever strive to do His will more completely (1 Corinthians 10:31). As John penned, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
When Sinful Pride Replaces Humility. Is it not possible to become so proud of our stand on various biblical matters, as well as the acclaim, associations, and opportunities that may come along with that stand, that pride rears its ugly head? (cf., 1 Corinthians 10:12; Proverbs 16:18). One may take a stand for truth without knowing God deeply and richly, but God desires both! (Colossians 1:9-10; Philippians 3:10). Humility drives away sinful ego when we truly seek to know Him. As John the Baptizer said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
When the “Whole Counsel of God” Gets Lost in the Issues and Controversies of the Day. Truth is often controversial, and error must be dealt with, but the “whole counsel of God” must be proclaimed too (Acts 20:27). It is not enough to just rebuke and reprove error; one must exhort, comfort and strengthen (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2; Acts 20:20). God’s people must not be known only for what we are against. We must also be known for what we are for! (Acts 20:24, 32). There is seemingly no end to the number of errors which may be seen about us, but that is no reason to give congregations a steady and constant diet of every issue and controversy among us. And it certainly isn’t wise either. Evangelism and vital forms of edification can easily get lost in the shuffle when this is done. May God give us all greater wisdom in exercising biblical balance in this regard.
One of the greatest dangers of “carnal conservatism” is that it is so insidious. It is easier seen in others than in ourselves. And while I trust, “carnal conservatism” isn’t so in any of us, it is still wise and proper to ask, “Master, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:10).