Monday, November 7, 2011

Christian Fanatics

Dan Delzell has an article on The Christian Post called How Christians Can Avoid Tangents and Fanaticism .
Think of it this way. Every Christian has opinions on many secondary areas of doctrine and practice. I am talking about things that are not essential for salvation. This is the level I call "Convictions." Picture it being the center circle of several concentric circles. At this level, Christians differ from one another on a multitude of perspectives and practices. It doesn't change the fact that every believer, regardless of his other convictions, is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are one in Christ through the blood that He shed to make us His own. We are family forever.
This sounds reasonable but he does not give any examples. Why not? One reason is that there is not agreement on what is a secondary doctrine and what is "essential for salvation." For example, some Christians get excited about speaking in tongues. I was there once. Most would see this as a good example of an issue Christians can become fanatical about. But there are also many Christians and some fairly large churches that teach that speaking in tongues is essential for salvation. So if you make that your example your whole point will get sidetracked by a discussion about whether that teaching is true or not. Guess what? Almost any example you give presents the same problem. End times prophecy, political activism on the left or the right, anti-Catholicism, no matter what you chose you will get somebody saying it is not a secondary doctrine.

So he is assuming people can clearly discern whether something is primary or secondary when that is precisely what Christian fanatics cannot do. They need help. Is their church going to help them? Often the church is part of the problem. They have hooked up with a strange pastor who seems quite holy but has a pet issue he talks about way too much.

Pastor Delzell analyzes this in terms of everything's relationship to the center. He imagines concentric circles and later defines tangents from those. But the assumption is everybody knows where the center is. They don't. Most think they know. But they can also be convinced they have missed some central truth of Christianity. How often do books make a claim that they have discovered some key principle of Christianity that has been missed up until now? Even this very article has a hint of it:
Brother in Christ. Sister in Christ. Please sit down when you have some time and prayerfully meditate upon Romans 14. It will change your life. It will change our churches. It will lead to renewal in our fellowship with others. If you and I as Christians think that somehow we are above or beyond this sinful tendency toward tangents and fanaticism, we are living in denial and we have only deceived ourselves. There is a beautiful saying that goes like this: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
Romans 14 talks about giving other Christians freedom in one non-essential area, the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. The point is Paul has the authority required to declare this matter to be non-essential. In 1 Cor 5 he gives some very different instructions about a matter of sexual immorality. Again he has the authority to decide that this matter is much more serious. The question is who has that authority today? If it is yourself or someone of your own choosing then you are assuming you are "above or beyond this sinful tendency toward tangents and fanaticism." It needs to be someone ordained to speak for God the same way Paul was ordained. The amazing thing is God provides us those leaders today.

If you want an example of how this should work look at what Cardinal O'Connor said
Indeed, on this current occasion I have repeated publicly what I have said before and mean, with every fiber of my being: "If anyone has an urge to kill an abortionist, kill me instead." That's not a grandstand play. I am prepared to die if my death can save the life of another.
The killers of abortionists are often cited as a typical example of a Christian fanatic. If they accepted leadership from men like Cardinal O'Connor then that fanaticism would not happen.

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