Conservative vs. Liberal

Vantage Point
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The terms have become easy labels to dismiss our neighbors. In some circles the terms convey disgust or are used to demonize others.

I wish we would stop using the terms “conservative” and “liberal.” Today these terms have become so broad that they don’t convey any clear meaning. They are used in political and church arenas, so they might have widely different meanings. We have to ask: conservative or liberal about what?

Further, the terms have become easy labels to dismiss our neighbors. In some circles the terms convey disgust or are used to demonize others.

Let’s get back to the original meanings. A conservative is one who seeks to conserve. So being a conservative is only good if what you want to conserve is good.

In Jesus’ day, was it good to conserve the old covenant and reject the gospel and new covenant in Jesus’ blood? Of course not. In this regard, Jesus and the apostles were definitely not conservatives. The hostile religious leaders were the conservatives.

Today, is it good to conserve a high view of Scripture as the inspired Word of God? Yes! We don’t want to flounder with a low view of the Bible as little more than human opinion.

In turn, the word “liberal” originally meant generous. It is a Christian virtue to be liberal with offerings for the poor. 

“Liberal” can also mean open-mindedness to new ideas. In this sense our Christian colleges offer a liberal arts education. They educate students on a broad range of subjects and help them think critically about whether ideas or viewpoints are sound and true. 

But the term “liberal” can have another facet: being not only open to new ideas but readily embracing them.

What if new viewpoints or behavior stand opposed to biblical values? Like being conservative, being liberal about other viewpoints or behaviors is only good if the new ideas or behaviors are good. Was it good to be open-minded about Jesus’ message? Absolutely! No Christian would commend the close-minded attitude of the religious leaders.

Is it good to be liberal in embracing the popular view that there are many ways to God? No. That would abandon the teaching of Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Being a conservative is only good if what you want to conserve is good. Being a liberal is only good if it means being generous or open to new ideas and embracing what is true and noble.

I hope God’s people will spend more time applying godly wisdom to the issues of our day rather than labeling people. Let’s conform our minds and actions to the mind and call of Jesus. To that end, I wish we would drop using the terms “conservative” and “liberal.”

About the Author

Neil Jasperse is a specialized transitional minister currently serving Highland Church near Cadillac, Mich.

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