Extremes Are Sometimes Necessary
Donald Gee (1891-1966)
(From a 1953 article in “The Voice of Healing”) One of the paradoxes of the truly Pentecostal witness is its emphasis upon the necessity of maintaining a proper balance in doctrine and practice, coupled with a complementary testimony that often urges to extremes in both.
Paul’s teaching concerning spiritual gifts is all for balance and moderation — “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also”; We are to avoid giving any impression of being “mad”; “By two, or at the most by three”; God is not the author of confusion, but of peace”; “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:15, 23, 276, 33, 40). Yet at the same time he affirms in extreme language that he speaks with tongues more than they all; expresses a vehement preference for teaching at a ratio of 10,000 to 5; and says “ye may all prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:18, 19, 31).
So many of us are [firmly established] extremists. If we see any ray of truth we push it to such an extreme that our constant pressing of it becomes offensive, vain, and at last erroneous. If we discover any successful line of ministry we run after it to such an extent that it becomes nauseating and exhausted. We are forever missing genuine usefulness by our constant failure to keep well-balanced. In the end men lose confidence in us, our intemperance grieves the Holy Spirit, and we are cast upon the scrap-heap of rejected and unprofitable servants.
But still more of us are in danger of missing a life of power by seeking to walk in monotonous middle-course that never ventures to an extreme at all. Our preaching lacks fire because it always is trying to present both sides of a case at the same time, and our methods are ineffective because they [avoid] any offense against respectability or tradition. We may, if we like, pride ourselves upon our success in avoiding disaster but our safety has been achieved by remaining static. We have made practically no impact upon the community. If it be true that they have never charged us with “madness,” it also is true that they never have reported that “God is among us of a truth.” Most probably they do not even know of our existence!
We rightly extol the importance of balance; we correctly affirm that the way of truth will not be found in extremes; we justly point out that persistent extremism is suicidal for both men and movements — but we desperately need to recognize that revivals are never launched without someone going to an extreme. Passionate intercession is positively unbalanced; so is much fasting; so is fervent preaching that makes sinners tremble; and feverish itinerating that makes a missionary or an evangelist seem beside himself. We do well to remember that our Lord’s Own kinsmen thought that He had gone mad (Mark 3:21); and that He quoted “The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17) when He kicked over the table of the money-changers.
The Day of Pentecost so disturbed the emotional balance of the disciples that they seemed like drunken men… Thirty years later a Roman Governor accused Paul of being mad. The charge was courteously and properly refuted, but let us admit that Festus was no fool. Paul himself testified that at times he was beside himself (2 Cor. 5:13), and his superb sanity of teaching and outlook operated on a heavenly level.
There HAS to be an extremism to move things… Miracles of healing occur when faith refuses to be logical, and blinds itself to arguments, based on plenty of contrary experience and more “balanced” teaching. Indeed we may well inquire whether there is not something extreme in any genuine miracle.
Where, then, lies the way of Pentecostal truth that embraces a legitimate extremism and an essential balance? I can only reply that we need the extremist to start things moving, but we need the balanced teacher to keep them moving in the right direction. We need extremism for a miracle of healing, but we need balanced sanity for health. We need extreme fervor to launch a movement, but we need the repudiation of extremes to save it from self-destruction. Only a wisdom from above can reveal the perfect synthesis. It takes Pentecostal genius to know when and where an extreme doctrine or practice must be modified to a more balanced view; and where, on the other hand, the broad lines of truth must be temporarily narrowed into an extreme emphasis upon one point to ensure a dynamic powerful enough to move things for God. The possession of that uncommon genius marks the God-sent leader who has emerged in truly great periods of revival.