To Err is… to Err

30 Dec

There was a discussion on Facebook the past couple of days that included a topic that some Christians believe to be wrong and others believe to be perfectly acceptable. The particular topic is not of any consequence for this post as long as one knows it is not a thing that Scripture calls sin – such as adultery, theft, lying, etc. The issue I want to bring up is much more vital as it is at the root of the disagreement. See, both sides want to claim that they are living by Scripture, and both sides claim that the other side is not being biblical in their particular stance on whatever uncertain topic they may be addressing at the time.
As Scripture and church history are brought into the discussion, inevitably one side (and it’s always the same side) finally decides to change gears and opts for the “It’s better to err on the side of caution” that they typically couple with “What you enjoy in moderation your children will enjoy in excess.”  Seeing as they have forsaken Scripture in justifying their position on questionable issue “X” and have sought refuge in quaint sayings, I would like to examine the two common rebuttals that really mean “I have no biblical reason for my saying you are wrong.”

Let’s take the second one first – “What you enjoy in moderation your children will enjoy in excess.” This is nothing short of a fear tactic. What is being admitted is that although there is no biblical reason why “X” should be avoided, you should avoid it because although “X” is permitted in moderation you can’t guarantee your children won’t go to seed on it and indulge thus exceeding the permissible bounds of Scripture. The problem with this is that they only seem to apply this quip to things they already don’t like. These people don’t place a prohibition on eating delectable food for fear that their children may become morbidly obese. These people don’t teach that we should abstain from engaging in pleasurable sporting events for fear that our children will make entertainment their god. These people don’t let all their material possession go to waste for fear that their children will become materialistic. No, what they do in these instances is what they should do concerning issue “X” – they teach their children biblical moderation…. Well, sometimes they don’t, I’ve seen quite a bit of morbidly obese children recently.
So although it is possible that one’s children will over indulge in something the parents enjoyed moderately, that is not due to the moderate enjoyment of the parent, but rather the lack of self control in the child. To hold to this quaint saying as gospel is the theological equivalent of Paul not preaching salvation by grace alone due to the fear (reality actually) of some who hear him thinking they can sin as much as they want and all is well with their souls. Gladly, this was not his chosen course of action.

Secondly, let’s look at the primary retort: “It’s better to err on the side of caution”. This is very true when it comes to double checking to make sure a gun isn’t loaded before you let your 6 year old hold it for the first time to teach him gun etiquette; it’s fine if you can’t remember how much air pressure your tires have and stop by the station to check/fill them up before a long trip. But we are talking living as Jesus lived. We’re talking about teaching other men the truth of the Christian life, showing them how to live as God intended men to live. For God to give a standard and a man to come along and not live according to it but rather live by his own standard is rebellion. But it is no less sinful for a man to come along and say the standard isn’t enough and add to it, thus creating his own standard to live by. This is what the “it’s better to err on the side of caution” camp does. To call something sinful that God has called good is to call God a liar right alongside the man who calls a thing good that God has called sinful. One tried to illustrate their position that since we are sinner and will always err then we should err on the side of caution by likening it to driving through a canyon with his family with the steep rock wall on one side and the drop off on the other. He said it was better to travel along scraping against the canyon wall (even breaking an axel) than to drop off the cliff. There are many problems with this illustration, but the primary one is that no one drives this way. The illustrator is assuming there are only two choices – wrong and more wrong – when there is also Truth. Jesus showed us how to traverse the canyon – actually He didn’t just show us the way, He is the way. Neither the traveler who drives off the cliff, nor the one who grinds his vehicle against the wall, is traveling on the road.

When it comes to the Christian life, banning a thing by saying “it’s better to err on the side of caution” is to admit that one is satisfied with the lesser of two evils.  It’s to say that one is willing to live in error as long as that error is on the side of caution. But the truth is, to err is to err. The man who has erred by throwing caution to the wind isn’t following Jesus, nor is the man who has made caution his Bible. Both erring individuals look at Jesus and decide that His path isn’t the wisest and they both go their own way, the only difference between them is how many bits and pieces of Jesus they absorb into their own standard of living. One may like a bit more of Jesus than the other, but neither wants all of Him.

May we follow Him with complete abandoned.


Posted by on December 30, 2010 in Christian Life, Legalism


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3 responses to “To Err is… to Err

  1. techrolle

    December 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Very nice article.

  2. jess

    January 3, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I feel like you over categorize in this article. We should not “Err” out of fear, but out of Love for God. I strive to be more and more like Christ, and in doing so I must ask myself if “X” is something that will honor him as well as encourage others (children included) to be more like Christ.
    I know that my parents did teach me that there are somethings we may learn to use in moderation, such as food, candy, soda, hobbies and the likes. That these can be dangerous, but in and of themselves were not sin. They also taught me that there are somethings that are not even worth our time. That society and sin had corrupted them and we should flee from them. Not out of fear of not being a good enough christian but because I love Christ.

    • danielpulliam

      January 3, 2011 at 11:11 am

      the article wasnt so much of erring due to fear, but choosing to err rather than seeking to be right. if an individual sets a personal preferrence to not engage in a particular thing that scripture doesnt forbid, yet they choose to abstain out of love for the Lord, then that is absolutely wonderful! it is the teaching others that its better to err on the side of caution instead of examining the Bibles teachings on the subject. it is not better to err period. thats the point of the post. i dont believe there is an over categorization here. The apostles didnt teach people to err on the side of caution. they said it was fine to eat meat offered to idols, but if your conscience wouldnt permit it then do not do it.
      Every conversation I have had with an individual of the err on the side of caution mindset has always called things sin the Scripture doesn’t. They have never said “it is not sin, but I can’t do that in. Good conscience.” They have always tried to call whatever they have a scrupple with “sin”. Then, when confronted with scripture, instead of studying Scripture and dealing with the issue openly, they say “its better to err on the side of caution.” Hope this makes more sense. 🙂


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