People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction. – Umberto Eco
There are many quotes like the one above out there. The premise from the atheist philosophers who share the quotes like them is that becoming a fundamentalist (we’ll get to that definition in a minute) or “radical” adherent to a faith system – any faith system – is a bad thing. It’s an evil thing and it is bad for society, bad for the world and bad for the adherent who has become such.
Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens and others in what has sometimes been called the “new atheist” movement have furthered that view and gone as far as to suppose that teaching these principles to ones children was an act of evil, even bordering on abusive or dangerous behavior.
They lump all faiths in together and leave it at that. They dig up news stories, they dig up history, they seem to (for the most part) ignore the context and teachings and end up with the thought that being a radical is bad. Now I may agree with them in some respects – but I am concerned mostly with Christianity here. I can’t truly say what it means to be a fundamental or radical member of any other faith. But I am qualified, I think, to talk about what the Bible seems to offer about what it is to be so as a Christian.
And I’ll be honest with you and tell you a secret about myself… At the exact same time I am both desiring to be closer to being such a Christian…. And terrified, in my flesh, of becoming closer to being such a Christian…
I’ll try to explain why…
First Some Definitions
Now perhaps I am being unfair and these folks really mean something different by the terms they use.
But I basically define Fundamental as “Get’s down to the most important, and core principles of something”. Webster has more and for the most part agrees.
I basically define Radical the same way. Webster here seems to agree with me – but also disagree. One of the definitions is “Very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary” – and with that definition? I’d agree – being a Radical Christian is a bad thing. But I’m sticking with the first few definitions from Webster here.
Why am I Afraid of Being Radical or Fundamental in the Expression of my Beliefs?
How about why not first…
- I’m not afraid of being like, say, Fred Phelps – The Bible doesn’t proclaim anywhere to preach “I hate you. God hates you.” <raspberry sound>. Yes there are some tough messages there for sure, but the tough messages are borne out of love. Verses abound here but this is a proper one “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Jude 1:23 (ESV)
- I’m not afraid of strapping a bomb on myself and blowing up an abortion clinic… I don’t need to explain this one – the Bible doesn’t condone this, and the verse above even makes this clear. Yes I should love people enough to be willing to tell them “God has a standard, you are falling short of that. I’ve been there. Here’s what the Bible says, you should repent and seek God”
- I’m not afraid of turning my children into horrible monsters – When I get to the why, I think you’ll see that if my children came out acting like radical Christians they’d not be looked upon as horrible monsters at all..
So Why Be Afraid?
I have a condition of my heart and mind. I’m a sinner. I like myself. Sometimes too much – usually too much. I like taking care of myself first – I’m selfish. My normal state is to think of myself and my comfort. I don’t even like the idea of moving when my wife ever talks about it – mostly because I can imagine all the packing – I’m lazy too. My natural state before Christ grabbed a hold of my life and shook me towards Himself was even worse. Since then? It’s been a journey. Each year more of Him and less of me. He’s been working through my life in amazing ways and I’m getting to the point now where it is exciting to see where He will take me next.. But even still – I am, at once Justified (I’m going to Heaven. I’m His, my old nature has been defeated, I’m in God’s hands and I can’t do anything to screw that up) and at the same time still a sinner (that bondage of the old nature still lurks, and some days it is more enticing to me in fleeting moments of idiocy…
Take that as a back drop to some verses on what Christ wants for the life of those He ransomed –
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Luke 9:23 (ESV)
This right here is enough to be afraid of all by itself. The other verses are just icing on the cake. The cross isn’t meant to be a picture of something small – like climbing a hill on a bicycle – the cross was the place where Christ received the full weight and agony of my sin. I’m supposed to take up my own cross daily and follow Christ. Christ didn’t go into fun places. He didn’t stay clean and sit back and order folks around. He went to where the hurting were and he helped them directly. He went to where the sinners were and ministered to them directly while being unstained by their sin and remaining pure. If I am to be a fundamentalist or a radical – I need to be willing to go wherever Jesus would have me go. WHEREVER…
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ – John 15:18-25
I’m a people pleasing people person. I like being liked and I like having friends. If I live like Jesus wants me to live and like He directs me to live – I will sometimes be hated, scorned, spit on and mocked – like He was. My flesh? It doesn’t like the sound of that.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48
I’m supposed to then love those folks who would scorn me, spit at me and persecute me? Jesus did. He prayed asking for forgiveness for the very soldiers who mocked Him and hung Him on a cross. I need to be like Steven in Acts who prayed for those who were stoning him to death. Is this the kind of radical or fundamental Christian they are afraid of?! The one who will truly believe that those who are persecuting them are to be loved and prayed for? Not spitefully, but genuinely and lovingly?
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. -Mark 12:28-31
OUCH! One could say that Christian living boils down to these two commandments. IF they did they’d be agreeing with Jesus.. Love God.. (Sounds easy, right? I do love Him) but.. With ALL my heart, ALL my soul, ALL my mind, ALL my strength… ALL? That’s a lot – and that’s all the time. I don’t do that. I could focus on this one command forever and still not be nearer to Christ’s perfect example after a full life.. But Jesus adds to it – I have to love my neighbor as myself… He explains who the neighbor is in Luke.. It’s the person that your heart, mind and soul would most despise.. Picture whoever that is. Maybe Osama Bin Laden if he were alive still. The point is – my neighbor is everyone. I’m to love them like I love myself.. And I just got done telling you I love myself a lot. My neighbor is also those people dying halfway around the world. My neighbor is those bearing the sword against Christians in Mosul, Iraq right now.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:22-27
A verse to wrap it up with. In case it isn’t clear – I’m to not just listen to these commands, if I am to be a fundamental Christian, I’m to live them out each day. I’m to practice my faith and show evidence of my faith through bearing fruit and living this life out.
Some examples that come to mind quickly of folks who have done this before me or who are doing it now:
- The Doctor who just contracted Ebola in the course of a medical mission – leaving the comforts of America to minister to those dying of Ebola and help an overwhelmed system.
- The missionary who died in an island of lepers because he had to go there and love them and knew the risk and hugged those lepers and taught them anyway.
- The young Moravian men who literally sold themselves into slavery so they could proclaim the gospel to slaves where no missionary was able to visit.
- The men killed by the Auca Indians or their wives who still ministered to them afterwards.
The story doesn’t even have to end in tragedy in earthly terms. It can just be being bold and sharing faith where led, even if it means to a land where proselytizing could mean death. It could be being faithful in the little things..
In summary… Christ wants Radical or Fundamental Christians. Not necessarily all to join the mission field, not necessarily all to become full time evangelists. But all to do what it is in the body of Christ God ultimately wants us to do. And do so willingly, lovingly and totally surrendered to Him. Loving all we encounter, and proclaiming the truth – not as a mace to strike someone on the head and say “HA!” about – but because we want the lamb who was slain to receive the glory due to His name.. Because we want His elect to hear His words and repent and turn to God. And if they don’t? Well the Bible says we love them anyway…
That’s radical or fundamental Christianity. And those selfish parts of me? They are terrified of that prospect…