Hitting the (slippery) slopes
Yesterday we had a typical discussion in our adult Sunday School class. It was lively and good-natured, also, as usual, it ranged quite a way from the planned lesson and managed to do so without anyone being too upset. In fact, cheerful disagreement is something of a hallmark for the class. Along the way we somehow managed to get into a discussion of slippery slopes.
We all know the slippery slope argument, we hear it all the time in political and religious circles. The essence is that a small, seemingly minor, step can lead to radical and horrifying results. It is sort of “if we move from A to B there is nothing to stop us from ending up at Z”.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are really good at this argument. If we make even a minor change in how Medicare works we are on a slippery slope to taking away health care for our poor seniors. If we have any regulation that even slightly impacts churches we are on a slippery slope to ending freedom of religion in America.
Churches aren’t bad at it either. Sing a contemporary song in the worship service and you are on a slippery slope to liberalism. Or, if you already have those songs in your service, put a traditional hymn back in you are on a slippery slope to radical fundamentalism. In fact, if you listen carefully, you will see that some people are sure that every step you take is on a slippery slope. If you do anything to celebrate Christmas there will be someone to tell you that you stepped out onto a slippery slope. The darn things are everywhere! But there are a few things I have come to believe about slippery slopes.
– Real ministry happens on the slippery slopes. It is there that we will meet people different from us. I am convinced that it is only when we spend time there that we will be agents of the Great Commission.
– Christians grow spiritually on the slippery slopes. A challenging encounter out on the slopes does more to cause us to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian than a year of Bible studies.
– The Word of God is powerful on the slippery slopes. Like mountain climbers who depend on their lifelines, the Word is our only security on the slopes. And it is on the slopes that we truly learn that we can depend on its power.
I have two cautions about slippery slopes. One is that we need to show grace to others who won’t set foot on them. In the same way that alcoholics cannot take even one drink there are fellow believers who know that they are not called to the slippery slopes. We need to respect that.
The second is that there is some validity to the argument. Sometimes the first step does indeed go all the way; sometimes a person can go from A to B and eventually end up at Z. Every slippery slope proponent has a tale to tell to prove they are right.
However, there is one flaw in the argument. The reality is that each step is a decision. If I move from A to B I am not obligated to go to C, let alone Z. If I take that step deliberately, with a purpose in mind, I am much less likely to slide down the slope.
Ok, it is time for a confession. I am more comfortable off the slippery slopes. I like sitting in a Bible study talking with those who already love God. There are times when life on the slopes makes us uneasy. We have to make tough choices. Here at Christmas there are lots of them. Should I let my kid believe in Santa? Should I go to the office Christmas party that has little to do with what Christmas is about? You will probably face a dozen others. My one plea is this, when you go out on a slippery slope, go there on purpose. Don’t stumble blindly out there. But when you go, be prepared to be amazed what God can do on a slippery slope.