Moderate Christianity?

In high school, I was in a class where we read certain pieces of literature. One that has stayed with me all these years is Enemy of the People by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen was a progressive-minded writer in the 1800’s, the same period when the play was set. The main character, Dr. Stockman, also shares those progressive views, which include ideas contrary to the Bible, like eugenics and a denial of absolute truth. But like many people today, Dr. Stockman also has a moral code (oddly enough) that echoes biblical morality whether he realized it or not. He discovers that the water in the town baths is contaminated by the byproducts of the factory owned by his own father-in-law. He feels responsible to warn the town, but these baths are its main attraction, and the local economy relies upon the baths to attract visitors.
Dr. Stockman has trouble printing his findings in an article, because the press is concerned about the effect on the economy and the reaction from the people. So he calls a town meeting, where as thanks for his efforts toward safety and health, he is branded “an enemy of the people.”
The thing that most stuck with me in this play is a character (the printer, in fact) who seems to be trying to help Dr. Stockman, but ends up being no help at all. His name is Aslaksen. His chief interest is “moderation.” He ends up having a key role in the town meeting, where he takes a moment to describe it:
Aslaksen. And now, as I am in this position, I should like to say a few brief words. I am a quiet and peaceable man, who believes in discreet moderation, and—and—in moderate discretion. All my friends can bear witness to that.Several Voices. That’s right! That’s right, Aslaksen!

Aslaksen. I have learned in the school of life and experience that moderation is the most valuable virtue a citizen can possess—

Peter Stockmann. Hear, hear!

Aslaksen. —And moreover, that discretion and moderation are what enable a man to be of most service to the community. I would therefore suggest to our esteemed fellow-citizen, who has called this meeting, that he should strive to keep strictly within the bounds of moderation.

A Man by the door. Three cheers for the Moderation Society!

Under the leadership of “moderate” Aslaksen, the town turns against Dr. Stockman in violence by the next morning.
This view of moderation has been the most memorable part of the play for me ever since. Because  the playwright, Ibsen, successfully shows that moderation is not really a virtue.
Leaving the play behind now, think about moderation in relation to the Christian faith and the Bible.
The word means “the quality of being reasonable and not being extreme.” That sounds virtuous, doesn’t it? To be “moderate” sounds good, and to be “immoderate” sounds bad. For a long time now, our country’s press has described certain politicians as “moderate,” which I think is meant to sound better than those who are described as far in the wings.
But Ibsen was right about moderation not being a virtue. Can you think of biblical examples? I think all of the OT prophets would be called “immoderate.” Think about Jeremiah and how he irritated people by continuing to speak God’s Word as truth even when it angered others. Think of the way Elijah confronted King Ahab in 1 Kings 18:17-18.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. (ESV)
Think of John the Baptist, calling Pharisees a den of vipers, and calling out the immoral ways of King Herod. Think of Jesus and the apostles, who almost all died for the Christian faith. One example was Peter and John in Acts 5, who said before the highest council of the Jews:
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
These examples were all “immoderate” in that they held to God’s Word no matter what. But you might say, “Well, they were also all prophets and apostles — sent by God with that job! They weren’t normal people like me.”
Answer: Except for Jesus, they were more normal than you might suppose (speaking as a pastor). But even more to the point, consider the Christian martyrs (a word that means “witness”) over the 20 centuries since Christ. Some were ministers of one kind or another, but most were not. Even today, there are ordinary Christian men and women, boys and girls, who steadfastly and immoderately continue to live as Christians in word and action no matter what it brings them.
This is one of the reasons the Church has taken pains to remember a few of our fellow heirs (“brothers” whether male of female) in the faith at certain times every year. There’s a great book that helps with this called Celebrating the Saints, which happens to be written by the same person who described the Easter Vigil in the podcast link I included above. When we remember the example of faith of those who have gone before us, it helps encourage us as we live out the same faith in a hostile world.
This faith itself is immoderate by nature. Instead of moderating or limiting itself, faith leaps into the darkness on the basis of one sure word of God. The Lutheran Confessions frequently describe faith as that which sets God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation (the gospel) against the condemnation and threats of the law as well as the circumstances of our earthly lives. This can’t be done moderately.
And when such an immoderate faith is found in the world, it inevitably results in immoderate actions. Christians gladly give up time doing anything else to gather on Sunday to receive God’s forgiveness. They believe Him when He speaks this forgiveness even through a mouthpiece who is himself in need of that forgiveness. With the boldness of faith, Christians say what is right and true when it needs to be said, and do so with love for the individuals who have been deceived or defiled by sin. It may be tempting to think of this as a moderate form of condemnation, but it’s not. Christians are not speaking hatred or intolerance of our fellow human beings when we uphold God’s order. We are doing something even more radical (immoderate) that the fallen world can’t stand. We are calling upon our fellow human beings to repent and receive the forgiveness that forms the basis for our own lives before the face of God.
The fallen world is not moderate in its opposition to God and His Word. But it would try to convince Christians that if we only moderate our faith, limit our speech, and subdue our actions relating to the Christian faith, we will be better received in the world. Some might even promise that we would be loved that way. But that’s a lie. The fallen world hates God, His order in Creation, the gospel, and those who live by it. This hatred is deep and thorough. Of course, the fallen world continues to depend on God’s providential will for existence. Yet this only makes its hatred worse.
As the fallen world is not moderate, so also the Christian faith is not moderate in its love for God. This is why Christians should exercise our faith daily, with gusto and joy. We need to keep learning and growing in knowledge and wisdom. This comes with the study and application of God’s Word. We need to keep receiving the lifeline of God’s forgiveness in the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments. We need to keep speaking our faith in prayer before God every day, and also when the opportunity arises, in the ears of our neighbors. We need to keep showing God’s love for others by the way we care for them in our daily vocations. We need to love not only God, but His Church, which is like our mother who gave birth to our faith in the womb of holy baptism. She continues to care for our faith over time, and she will finally lay us to rest in the hope (future certainty) of the resurrection.
So let’s be moderate where appropriate, like in the amount of salt we might put on our food. But let’s forget moderation in the things that are 100% always good in every way, chief of which is our Christian faith.