Zealotry 4

Zealotry is to construct rules beyond the Bible and, in so doing, to consider oneself immune from criticism because of radical commitment. What we have learned is that such a radical commitment is actually a fearful commitment rather than a life of freedom. What are some examples?
We could give plenty. Let me hear from you some examples where (1) people add to the Bible and (2) create a sense of holy zealotry that leads to immunity and (3) leads people not to be or do what God wants us to be or do. Got some examples?

Before I proceed, let me say that sometimes there are real differences on interpretation of the Bible; sometimes genuine students disagree. Where there is genuine difference here, we might just as well admit that some “fences” are “legitimate”. I’m not really trying to address such instances, though everything I say below could be disputed by some. I’d rather that my examples be taken as legitimate examples and have us ponder (even if we might disagree slightly or more than that) the implications of what is being done.
First, healing. Here is an instance where we know what the Bible says but, instead of believing it, we create either alternative explanations (parables for salvation) or we create time-world shifts or we create dispensational schemes (that was then, but God doesn’t do sign-miracles anymore). However we do it, we tend to eliminate what the Bible does say.
Torah: God is the healer.
Fence: God is the healer, but he doesn’t always (or any longer) heal.
Immunity: We are not kooks.
Implication: We fail to trust God to heal.
Judgment: Those who practice healing are quacks and fakes.
To make this clear I quote from a recent person who wrote to me about healing.

I see three options for people not getting healing (I am open to seeing more):
God is willing, but not able (biblically not justified)
God is able, but not willing (usually the explanation of sovereignty comes in here; I believe God is sovereign in the sense that there is no one “bigger” and His ultimate purposes will be accomplished, but not in the sense that his will is done without human response; I believe the belief that God is sovereign leads to passivity (“If it’s God’s will, then..” rather than standing in faith, renewing our minds to see the promises of God manifest; besides, how can you pray for healing in faith if you’re not sure it is God’s will?)
God is willing and able, and paid for sickness and sin on the cross, and we are the problem.

(That is, we lack sufficient faith.)
The question I ask is this: Do most evangelicals believe what the Bible says about miracles and healing? Or have they constructed some fences that actually keep them from the freedom (and failure) that comes from trusting God? I see this as an instance of zealotry; not all would.
Second, possessions. Here’s another one: instead of believing and doing, we believe by not doing. (And I’m not innocent here either.) We explain away; we do this by adding to what is said and the additions, like the rules Jesus blasts away in Mark 7 on “korban,” annul the words of Jesus. Or, to follow another strategy, we modify or mollify the words of Jesus by appealing to other practices of possessions in the Bible.
Torah: Surrender what you have to God.
Fence: Financial wisdom means we surrender in attitude and disposition.
Immunity: We are all alike in being wise.

Judgment: Monastics and ascetics are over the top.
What do we make of Jesus’ statements like Luke 12:33? “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” There are other similar statements in the Gospels and the early communities recorded in Acts and hints in the epistles. Do evangelicals really believe what the Bible says about poverty, about the danger of wealth, and about possessions? Do we think it is sufficient for us? Or, do we add other teachings that circumvent what it says?
Third, church attendance, church membership, and tithing. Are these things taught in the NT? Not directly. (Hear me out.)
The Torah on this one is Fellowship — regular and real and financial.
The Fences are that fellowship is truly expressed by attendance, membership, and tithing.
The Immunity is that by attending, by being members, and by tithing we are genuinely fellowshipping.
Judgment: Those who miss church are shallow; those who don’t “join” are not committed; those who don’t tithe are too materialistic.
Not so, I contend: while there is a relationship, that relationship is not necessary. You can attend, be members, and even tithe and not be committed in fellowship.
Fourth, separation. Instead of leaving a text like 2 Cor 6 as either a general call to holiness or a specific call to not marrying non-Christians, some make this a general law that can be followed by numerous deductive rules that end up creating an isolated world. Again, we add to what is said, the additions leading us to not doing what Jesus calls us to do: instead of integration into society with demonstration of holiness, we have isolation from society.
Torah: Live a holy life in this world.
Fence: Don’t mix the world and you’ll never contaminate your holiness.
Immunity: My separation shows my holiness.
Judgment: Those who get too close to the world straddle worldliness and holiness.
We know, at some level, that 2 Cor 6 speaks of a legitimate kind of separation. Do we add to this so that it becomes more and more determinative for us?
But, where does the idea of separation come from that so many practice today? The notion of having Christian yellow pages and shopping at Christian stores and creating our own Christian schools — and there are defensible reasons at times for specific behaviors like this and there are also indefensible ones — … tell me, did Jesus separate from the ungodly? Did he form enclaves of isolation? Did he insulate himself from “the world”?
This whole idea, too, is a bag of worms, and I believe Christians ought to pursue that which his holy, but again: Is there biblical warrant for what is going on with some evangelicals? Or, does the praxis of Jesus not fly in the face of such praxis and teachings?
Last, what about women’s ordination? Clearly beyond the Bible. Why? Because the NT does not teach “ordination.” Does the Bible/NT that women (and men) are gifted and are to exercise such gifts? Absolutely clear.
Tomorrow: How to Avoid Zealotry

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  • Torah: Live in obedience to Scripture.
    Fence: Only *expositiory* preaching honors all of the Bible.
    Immunity: We rightly divide every word of God.
    Judgment: Those who don’t like expository preaching dishonor the Bible and the God Who gave it.

  • John,
    I think you are right on this one. I’ve studied biblical sermons and there is not one example of anyone preaching like that in the Bible. Not that there’s something wrong with it for that is how I often preach. But, a biblical theory of preaching is to be infused with grace and the Spirit so as to be able to declare the gospel.

  • Some administrative members at the Bible college where I formerly worked put in ridiculously long hours. They would get to the office early, leave late, juggle appointments, spend time on the phone, demand meetings, hold secretaries late, etc., etc., etc. The same administration would stand before staff and students, teaching and preaching about our responsibility to give our best to the Lord. By “our best,” of course, they meant workaholism, even though that word was also preached against. They worked as if they actually believed that the scope of the ministry and education actually rode on their own shoulders and not God’s.
    Torah: Work as if unto the Lord.
    Fence: All of our work (vocational and avocational) is part of our spiritual life and should be approached with utmost diligence if we are to pass the final judgment.
    Immunity: I work very hard, very long, and very well at my job and at my church, talking about the Lord constantly, so I work as if unto the Lord.
    Judgment: Those who approach their work and ministry with a 40-hours-per-week mentality don’t take God seriously.
    Another example that plagues the evangelical church is that of “devotions.” We’ve all been told since our first day as a Christ follower that we must “do our devotions” every day to grow spiritually. That usually entails spiritual disciplines, but it’s also usually limits itself to Bible reading and prayer. That’s why there are children’s songs that say, “Read your Bible, pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow. Neglect your Bible, forget to pray and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.”
    Torah: Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you.
    Fence: If we comb the Bible for spiritual disciplines and emphasize the ones we see most, we’ll obviously practice the means for drawing near to God.
    Immunity: I read a chapter of the Bible every day, pray for thirty minutes, fast on Wednedays, and attend weekly church meetings, so I’m drawing near to God.
    Judgment: Those who do not practice any spiritual disciplines cannot know anything about Him.

  • Scot – The big discussion around alcohol that is going on as of late would be a good example. One could easily argue a biblical position that would support abstinence for some and moderation for others. This being said, the fence has been put up, treated, and reinforced in some circles.

  • Chris Jones

    Hey folks,
    What do we do with the issue of modesty? Being that 4 of our 5 children are girls, I struggle with this one (I am not saying guys do not struggle with modesty). Are there fences to build? The problem is that the community has different views on this one. Is freedom in Christ the freedom to wear anything or the freedom from being controlled by the fashion world? I guess a fence would be really easy on this one. It should would make parenting a bit easier.
    ps: Lynn, great observation on devotions.

  • Chris,
    Let’s agree that “modesty” is biblical, and let’s derive it from 1 Peter. Let’s agree that the Church has always taught Christian modesty.
    Now, the issue is this: How do we teach our young men and women to dress modestly?
    It is easy enough to equate modesty with clothing that covers everything completely and with no margins for error (say collars up to the neck, etc). The problem comes in equating collars with modesty. Modesty is a mind-set and a moral value not a specific regulation.

  • David

    Did Jesus always do the same thing all the time? Looking at his life he rarely approached situations, people and challenges the same. Can Zealotry often be masking that we dont know the heart of God and cant discern what to do so we fall into a pattern of behaviour that is consistent and easily managed and defined? Getting caught up in routine……beuracracy……..workaholicism……is just a ploy to make us less anxious because we really dont feel
    his presence. Activity instead of relationship. I remember hearing that the definition of a fanatic is that having lost sight of the goal………they double thier efforts. Did not Jesus say……the kingdom of heaven is within you……..if it is within us why are we chasing it?If the Kingdom of heaven is within us then it should flow out of us like a stream and effect the world around us. If it is not within us……..then no matter how much time we spend doing things……….it is not going to matter. I think the shift in thinking is that with a misguided zealot myself included and currently working out of the trust is in their ability whereas with a kingdom heart……….the trust is in the king…and the heart is full of love…….joy and peace.

  • Chris Jones

    Right on Scot,
    I discuss it with my girls that what really matters is the heart. We have already agreed that their view of modesty will differ from our view. But in the time being we must direct them in what modesty looks like (though we teach them that this is our view). The problem is when there is no standard within the congregation. Those of us who lean towards simplier and less revealing clothing are accussed of being legalistic, though I am not. I make it a point to instruct our girls that following Jesus can not be reduced down to a piece of clothing. There is a fine line between conviction and zealotry.
    Thanks for the post. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

  • Fred Phelps, the name alone makes me shudder. It is his and his families proximity to my family that has spurred me to action. I have included an informational link.
    some examples where (1) people add to the Bible
    -This group states that God hates groups of people, and that He is reigning down condemnation on America because of their sin. This is the group that protests at funerals.
    (2) create a sense of holy zealotry that leads to immunity -This church believes they are the only ones who will be saved.
    and (3) leads people not to be or do what God wants us to be or do – This group promotes hate.
    It is amazing how God uses all things for good. This man has created opportunities for me to talk with people in our communities about what the bible says regarding God’s precepts and character.
    I am sorry this is such a disgusting example, but grateful that our God still loves Fred Phelps. I am not taking any bets on how much he likes him though.

  • MarkE

    Torah: God is the healer
    Fence: God is the physical healer, even though I do not really see evidence of remarkable physical healing
    Immunity: I believe even though I do not really see evidence of remarkable physical healing
    Implication: I must suppress the troubling incongruity between what I believe and what I see
    Judgment: Those who deny physical healing do not have faith

  • Mandi

    I’m gonna give this a shot to see if I am grasping this properly…
    Torah: The body is a temple
    Fence: We should not have piercings or tattoos because they deface our temple.
    Immunity: I am more “undefiled” in God’s eyes vs. a person who has piercings or tattoos.
    Judgement: People who have tattoos and/or piercings are un-christian.

  • Bob

    Torah: The Holy Spirit will warn of coming judgement, convict of sin, and guide in paths of righteousness.
    Fence: Only the church (or preacher) is quailified to rightly discern the Word of God.
    Immunity: If I listen to my priest/pastor, I will avoid error.
    Implication: I cannot approach God without an intermediary.
    Judgement: Those outside of the (local) church are in error.
    (Church used here as local congregation not Body of Christ.)

  • Is zealotry always intentional or can it slip in the midst of good intentions and honest desire to follow God? The examples given are good and at time obvious. But I wonder if while I am trying live as disciple zealotry sneaks in and warps my efforts and transforms them into judgment?

  • Bob

    Correction on #12
    Judgement: If you disagree with the priest/pastor, you are in error.

  • I think this one is really big in how many evangelicals approach the arts and literature. I guess it would go something like this:
    Torah: Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable, think on these things. (Phil 4:8)
    Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. (Rom 12: 1-2)
    Fence: Avoid all secular music, art, literature and movies, as they might express points of view we disagree with, or have offensive or disturbing elements. Also avoid anything written or made by Christians that might have anything discomforting or disturbing in it. Only listen to, view, or read safe Christian art, music, literature, etc.
    Immunity: I am safe from worldliness and exposure to harmful beliefs and ideas because I avoid secular art and music, and only consume Christian art and music. I am also excused from the hard work of developing serious critical and discernment skills since everything I consume is safe and Christian.
    Judgement: People who view, listen to, or read secular movies, music and art, or anything that makes me uncomfortable or has an offensive element in it are spiritually suspect or compromised.
    I’m not completely happy with this example, but I think it’s generally accurate.

  • Let me try this again in the TFIJ form.
    Torah-It states that: “[A man] shall not lie with another man as [he would] with a woman, it is a to’eva” (abomination)(Leviticus 18:22).
    Fence-Homosexual relationships are an abomination to God, a greater sin than other sins.
    Immunity-Homosexual relationships and the condoning of them are causing a judgement to be brought down upon our country.
    Judgement-If you are not a part of [local church] you are bound for hell.
    Scot or others, please help me if I am missing the mark. I really want to get a good understanding of this. Thanks

  • 2e

    Your thoughts might benefit from reading this. I found his thinking to be insightful and clear. He’s saying many of the same things you are. There are another 6 posts following that one. You can find them all here.

  • Shari,
    If you want to stick to the homosexuality issue the fence would be some kind of behavior associated with homosexuality but not homosexual sexual behavior.
    Immunity would be not doing that practice.
    Judgment on any who do that.
    Don’t use personal illustrations.

  • Thanks Scot and 2e,
    I realize now I should have grabbed something a little more narrow and easier for me to articulate to begin with. Appreciate the input, sorry for the personal illistrations.

  • Bob

    How ’bout this on the homosexuality:
    Torah: (the abomination stuff)
    Fence: All affection between the same gender is evil.
    Immunity: As a father, I will not hug and kiss my sons.
    Implication: (thinking of this brings tears to my eyes…)
    Judgement: Any physcial affection between the same gender is an abomination.

  • For what it’s worth, I’ve been in “name it claim it” churches where the healing “fence” went in the opposite direction:
    Torah: God is the healer
    Fence: God will always inevitably heal if we have the faith.
    Immunity: We can’t be accused of not having faith.
    Implication: The “success” of prayer for healing is completely dependent on human faith.
    Judgment: Those who are not healed were deficient in faith.

  • BeckyR

    I wouldn’t know how to parse it out into the 4 steps, but those pockets of christian people who emphasize the necessity of application. Like, after a Bible Study, or in a small group during the week discussing that Sunday’s sermon, that there should be application to apply right then. I think it’s dehumanizing, expecting ppl to be automans who can come up with an application, rather than hanging out with the Spirit and seeing what arises. I’ve had trouble with that because often what was said in a sermon or Bible study won’t become a life application thing with me for a year or more. Would it be something like : those who can say how to apply christian teachings to their life are better christians? This also stands out for me because in my in law family, they are simple folk, not much into examining and thinking and critical analysis, just go to church and live a good life. I do not have reason to question the sincerity of their devotion to Christ, but they are not analytic thinking people. Or that a sermon must have an application in it. We go through a book of the Bible in our church, and I would like for it to be enough, just to exposit what are in the verses taught, not a pressure there be a “therefore” to put in it every time.

  • RJS

    The healing one is tough – since so far all have died eventually, most of illness or lingering injury of some sort or other. Does this mean no one has ever had enough faith – even if they were healed, albeit temporarily, at some time or other?
    Sabbath keeping could be an example.
    Torah – The command to keep the Sabbath (even if transposed to Sunday)
    Fence – Rules on what keeping the Sabbath means.
    Immunity – Genuine Holiness
    Judgement – We are better Christians than those who succumb to – shopping, playing, working etc.
    This was a much bigger deal when I was young than it is these days. But I sometimes think we stray too much the other way, keeping a Sabbath isn’t bad, just when carried to Zealotry by the definition in play here. It is bad when it engenders a feeling of self-righteousness from the immunity acquired and a judgemental attitude toward others who feel or act differently.

  • The “healing fence” has people on both sides – a) or b).
    Torah: a) God is almighty OR b) by faith everything is possible.
    Fence: a) In order to protect myself, I say healing is up to God, OR b) to protect God, I say healing is up to me.
    Immunity: If I’m not healed that’s fine, because a) God has a higher purpose, OR b) I just have to listen to a few more tapes.
    Implication: I walk alone in my time of need because a) I’m (fatalistically) waiting for Him to touch me OR b) I’m so focused on reaching Him I do not see His outstretched arms.
    Judgment: a) The healing folks don’t trust God OR b) the que sera sera-people lack faith in God.

  • RJS, I think you’re exposing something interesting about the Sabbath. Contemporary Christians might take a fundamentalist extreme position (any work or fun on Sunday is wrong) or the opposite extreme (Sunday is just another day, so let’s party!). The thing is that neither side has slipped from zealotry. Both camps are making the Sabbath about a day, something that the Bible refutes in many places. Regardless of what you think about the Sabbath day principle, focusing on the day is where we begin adding to Torah. It seems to me that this is common for all examples. If the drinking example centers around alcohol rather than the condition of a person’s heart (self-control?), then we’re missing the point. If devotions are about disciplines and not about seeking God, then the same is true. Scot, is this basically what you’re getting at?

  • David

    I think that in many cases we can look at the effects to determine whether or not we have it right. If it brings more love and compassion then it is good ……if it brings something else, then it is not. From my perpective….being a Zealot and even someone trying to adhere to the letter of Law without Grace is in a precairous situation. The angel that fell from heaven fell because of Pride. Does what you do generate pride or gratefulness in Jesus who lived a perfect life and died a perfect death? Are you zealous about Gods love or are you zealous about following the Law? In addition to the Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace, there has been another book that has helped me in understanding that I should spend more of my time focusing on God. I think we in American Culture get so caught up in success and in doing things and in proving our worth and in demonstrating proficiency that sometimes we can completely forget the message. “I come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.”
    This abundant life is not more of the same……..it is not more pressure………it is less. Larry Crabb has a great book ” The Pressure is Off.” It is about living in a way that reflects the intentions of Jesus. “If you are
    still living the old way your life is filled with pressure, you see no way to step off the tredmill. Or life is going well and your satisfied. But something is wrong, something is missing. But once you discover the new way you have hope. Your soul may be weary, your interiour world may be filled with struggles no one sees, but you have hope. At times you rest. Something is alive in you; the desire of your heart is not smothered. You can taste freedom. And the taste brings joy.” ( Back Cover of accompanying workbook) I think sometimes fences are a good thing if they are done in love. Not drinking around brothers who are alcoholics……..wearing modest clothing around brothers who may have a hard time when you look like JLo. It is all about being compassionate and putting on his love. Can we glory and take pride in anything other than the cross and God’s constant love for us?

  • Cliff

    Hmm. Sometimes these things work themselves out more easily in reverse order (at least it did for me):
    Judgement: Pastors are better than lawyers.
    Fence: Christian work is always more Godly than secular work.
    Torah: Do all your work as unto God.

  • Lynn, Good point. Yes, I agree.
    Cliff, I like your overall point alot: we are called to do what God gifted us to do. That is all.

  • Torah: Be not conformed to this world.
    Fence: Don’t read nonChristian authors or listen to nonChristian’s music.
    Immunity: We can learn or receive nothing good from those who are of this world. We certainly don’t need them; they can add nothing good to us!
    Implication: Those of this world are hardly (if at all) made in God’s image, and we have no real common ground.
    Judgment: If a Christian favorably receives a nonChristian’s writing or music, then the Christian is being conformed to this world.

  • BeckyR

    ya know, one thing occured to me today. The one lifestyle is one of hearing the enemy at the door, bracing the door and your body pushing against it so to keep the enemy from broaching the door. It is always, listening fearfully for the enemy and what blockades may get put up to prevent entry. Whereas the other way of doing it, with grace, with the Holy Spirit, is active and with a sense of security and hope – not in everything being the way I’d like it, but because I am walking with God. We are not preventing, we are acting into. We are not acting from fear, we are acting with hope in our God. All is ok because I am with God. Know what I mean? Words are not my best medium, and I do get frustrated by them. Just give me time to paint the picture, then you’d know what I mean.

  • BeckyR

    I know a family that let their kids listen only to christian musicians and read only authors that were christian. Big restrictions on movies they could watch. It’s about control. It has a godly coating, but it’s about the need for control. She also controlled the eating of sweets. Those kids got to be teens and went ballistic – drugs, drinking, running away, crime, prison. I think they needed a way to get away from their parents’ control. It’s about controlling. And it only leaves the kid wanting gobs of what is restricted.

  • BeckyR, maybe… maybe not. I’ve seen both scenarios, parents who weren’t all that restrictive and kids that did well, made good choices in negotiating the child to adulthood thing… and parents who were more restrictive and the kids made good child to adulthood choices and the other way around and families with mixed results… certainly ‘control’ is a big issue but control is not always what’s going on here…. just some observations triggered by your post.
    This whole discussion is intriguing to say the least!