Faithful gospel ministry has the challenge of holding two principles in ongoing tension with each other. We call these principles the open hand and closed hand.
The principle of the closed hand is found in Jude 3 where Jude writes, “although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” We are called to fight, to stand for gospel truth. What we believe matters and is worth contending for.
The principle of the open hand can be seen in I Corinthians 9:22-23, where Paul gives his ministry philosophy: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” We’re called to be as flexible as possible, sacrificing our preferences in order to see the gospel advance and lives be changed. Paul dresses, talks, acts and works like the culture he is in, so that he can be heard by the people in that culture with the goal of the gospel advancing and lives being changed by Jesus.
Gospel ministry has a closed hand and an open hand. If you have two open hands, you have liberalism: nothing matters, nothing is certain, nothing is worth dying for, and you have no salvation to offer. If you have two closed hands, you have fundamentalism: everything is fight, everything is worth dividing over, and you quickly become incapable of communicating the gospel to the lost.
At TAC we put things like the gospel, the Scriptures, biblical preaching, and the centrality of Christ as closed hand issues. These are things we will always hold on to no matter what. Then we put secondary doctrines and ministry methods in the open hand. These are things we can disagree over and still have unity. These are things that we’ll change as culture changes “that by all means I might save some.”
(originally written for Delve on October 10, 2010)