“Oh, fair to middling, I guess.” Such was a common greeting among the farmers gathered at the Farm Bureau store or the grain elevator to gossip about the latest news or to track the price of corn. My father, and the others, mostly greeted one another with the question, “How are things going?” And the answer was almost always the same – a casual, mindless and non-specific mumble, “Ahh, fair to middling, I guess” – humbly admitting they were in the middle, not so bad, not so good.
The middle perhaps seemed an appropriate description for the Hoosier farmers. They were a modest breed of men who helped harvest one another’s crops, shared ideas, worked together and enjoyed deep friendship, and most all, when I was a boy, they were enjoying post-World War II prosperity.
Middling is an interesting concept, and in some situations can be a good thing. For example, in a fair society, creating a bridge out of poverty in order to pull people up economically to the middle class is considered a good and right thing to do. However, to do so at the expense of robbing others or designing a system that traps everyone, in spite of their talent, education, hard work or genius, in a mediocre prison is oppressive. History has proven that this type of societal manipulation typically stems from evil intent.
Middling, or being in the middle, when it comes to ideology, belief systems and moral codes can be dangerous. Societies, institutions or individuals may aspire to reach a middle position out of altruistic aims; however, the concessions, accommodations, adjustments or compromises required to attain a “happy medium” often make neither side happy. A moral stance is just that, a high ground that allows one perspective to see the chaos, confusion and weakness of the other side. Coming down from this vantage point to meet the opposition in the middle doesn’t project strength or virtue – it does, however, demonstrate that one is willing to give up something. For this reason, meeting the adversary in the middle weakens one’s position, creates dissolution of the original value system and ultimately will render it less effective.
As the disciples of Jesus obediently made their way to the Upper Room we should note that they were not headed toward a mediocre middle. They were about to be born again.
“And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). From that moment, the disciples could never say they were “fair to middling.” There was no middle. Establishing an acceptable middle was not their calling. They made it their mission to preach Christ and Him crucified, not to seek a middle ground upon which they could establish a middle theology. Middling was not their destiny. Their message was controversial. It was revolutionary, and it required full conversion, not confluence.
To their own Jewish brothers they declared, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…” (Acts 2:16-17).
From the Upper Room, the Apostles were left with no options. The truth had now gripped their minds and their hearts. The words of the prophets now made sense. The mission of the Messiah was revealed. Jews and Gentiles were now and forever together in Christ (Galatians 3:14). The middle wall was gone (Ephesians 2:14).
In today’s complex spiritual climate, the most devastating attitude is the attempted personalization of the truth, as if there is a truth for you and a truth for me. Modernity has intoxicated many into thinking that there is no right or wrong. We live in a culture of strict code, enforced by the politically correct and tolerance extended only to one side of an argument – and it’s not really a side at all – it’s the middle. It’s the popular meme expressed in the question, “Can’t we all just agree to disagree?”
I strongly urge us to ask the question, “Exactly what do we give up to come to the middle?” We have to admit that in some ways we have given up ground. I see authority being drained out of our preaching and teaching. Social activism has become the new priority. This was not the way of the Apostles. They refused to forsake preaching to serve tables (Acts 6). The Apostle Paul desired to be in Rome in person, face-to-face, to impart the truth and spiritual gifts. And let’s not fail to note his didactic preaching and single message for all believers, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Anything that is not faithful to God’s Word is not a service to God. The times challenge us to care about every sermon, every song. Once we exalt our own opinions, or treat the middle of the road as an honorable position, we have failed. Anointed preaching imparts a vision of the truth’s power. Anointed preaching helps us see the truth as a contrast to the world’s agenda. We are called to holiness; we are called to defend the message of a new birth in Jesus. We are called to take up the cross, to engage in the fight for the greatest message ever given to mankind. This does not make us intractable, difficult or negative. This makes us committed. Mediocrity will not change the world. Aiming for the middle will not advance the Apostolic message.