Amish_at_the_beachIs compromise a virtue or a vice?

Once upon a time, here in the US, there was a statesman (not a politician), Henry Clay, known as the Great Compromiser. OK, he actually was a politician and even ran for the Presidency in 1824, then again in 1832 and 1844. His fame, such as it is, came, not from failed political campaigns, however, but for successful compromises. He was instrumental in formulating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, both tiptoeing around the issue of slavery.

Some might point to those compromises as means by which slavery was propped up for four more decades. Others might say they kept the union together until the North was strong enough to oppose a seceded South.

Others have been touted as statesmen for their ability to bring two opposing sides together. Neither ends up with everything they hoped for and both give in on things they stand against.

The way the US government was set up required compromise. Small states had equal voting power in the Senate, so large states couldn’t overlook their needs or ignore their voice. The President had to look to Congress to generate the legislation he wished to see enacted, requiring a fair amount of give and take on both their parts.

On the other hand, in the early history of the US, there wasn’t much compromise when it came to religious things. In part this intransigence explains the large number of Protestant denominations. When a group became convinced of the rightness of their theology, they weren’t about to hedge or make concessions with someone who saw things differently.

In this arena, too, people see the lack of compromise as both good and bad. It kept Christians opposed to one another, separated from each other, suspicious of others–pretty much the opposite of what Paul says in Colossians 3–“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other whoever has a complaint against anyone” (3:12-13).

On the other hand, a lack of compromise works against false teaching and the kind of slide into sin we see in the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament.

What strikes me in thinking about compromise and the general overview of it in the history of the US, is the fact that today we seem to be approaching compromise in exactly the opposite way it was used in the first half of the 1800s. Then politicians who compromised were statesmen and professing Christians who compromised were heretics. Today, politicians who compromise are sell-outs, and people of religion who compromise are tolerant.

So what’s your take on compromise? Are there things, similar to Israel’s neglect of the Sabbath or care for widows and orphans or involvement in idol worship, that the Church (not people who say they are Christians because they were born in the US or because they go to a Christmas church service or because their parents identified as Christians) is compromising on today, and should not?Traditional_Amish_buggy Are there things the Church is holding on to, similar to the Amish horse and buggy or 18th century dress, that ought to be compromised?


  1. Interesting question. I think the church at large is compromising on the necessity of believing the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Many professing Christians today don’t believe the Bible is God-breathed, Rather they believe it was written by men who are capable of erring,

    On the other hand I think there are other segments of the church who hold to things that are extra–biblical, such as the idea that saying a curse word or playing with a deck of cards or writing novels is always sinful.

    It’s hard to say what the church is doing today because there are so many different beliefs in the visible church. I think we’re kind of like the people in Judges–everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Even then there was a remnant. I tend to believe today that there are real Christians in many denominations. But I don’t believe any one denomination has it 100% correct. I believe we are all holding to some traditions we need to let go and all compromising on things we should be standing firm on.

    My goal has been to find the church I think is closest to the truth and love and serve the people and allow them to love and serve me.


    • Sally, I think the attitude toward the Bible is the biggest change and the one that has the potential to be most costly. I look at it as similar to the nation of Israel ignoring the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

      I don’t know why God wouldn’t pronounce the same kinds of judgments on the churches in America as He did on the various churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

      Yes, there is a big of “doing what’s right in your own eyes” going on. I think that’s due to the breakdown of church discipline–which I guess should go on the list of what we’ve compromised! 😕



  2. I can’t think of anything. You compromise to reach a settlement which benefits two parties, and each party gives something up to reach that. Usually when I hear calls to compromise, it means one side capitulates to the other in an issue due to numbers. For specifically Christian things, I can’t think of something where we’d really compromise as opposed to capitulate on.

    I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I’m trying to think of an issue that would pop up. Did you have any in mind writing this?


    • DM, your use of compromise certainly portrays it as a virtue. However, I think the word is also used in the sense of compromising our standards, which would not be a virtue.

      I agree that in our governmental dealings, the idea of “compromise” seems more like a power play.

      For the Church, I didn’t have anything specific in mind. A friend of mine told me about her church’s study of Ezra. In the Jewish community of returned exiles, they quickly broke their vow and began intermarrying with the peoples around them. My friend’s pastor asked what things is today’s church doing that might be like that.

      Some things that come to mind are not Biblical admonitions but traditions–music style, for example. Others I wonder if they are Biblical admonitions, though most people in the Church don’t see them that way–buying and selling on Sunday, or in the church, for example. Then there are tenants of the faith I do believe some in the Church are moving away from. I’d put Creation in that category and also the inspiration of the Scriptures. I think some look at pretty much all the Old Testament as literature and therefore open to interpretation or even consider it of little value. I also think there’s a huge change in the idea of personal righteousness–from attitudes toward homosexuality, pre-marital sex, divorce, pornography, lying, retaliation (or vengeance), boasting, and many more. These are things our culture says are good, and the Church hasn’t done a good job, I don’t think, spelling out what the Bible has to say about them.



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