Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm So Excited!

No, the title is not a reference to the 1982 song released by The Pointer Sisters, though I do remember when it hit the airwaves.  Instead, I would like to investigate the entire notion of getting excited for Christ being visibly exhibited both in worship and a fully committed life.  In 2010 David Platt introduced this idea with Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream which challenged Christians to eschew American values and rediscover the commitment of biblical discipleship.  In 2011 Kyle Idleman followed suit with his book Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, wherein he compared a nonparticipant (fan) in sports or music with a participant (follower), encouraging the reader to be the latter.  While I appreciate both men’s desire to get Christians to reorient themselves and demonstrate faith by their works, they inadvertently put emphasis on the wrong thing.

Idleman, for an example, got his terms backwards.  The fully committed person, the one “all in,” is the fan.  What do I mean by that?  The word fan is short for fanatic.  Merriam-Webster (M-W) defines this: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion, coming from the Latin fanaticus (inspired by a deity, frenzied).  In modern parlance, this person is in a spiritual and mental state more akin to demon possession than devotion, resembling the conduct of one confronted by Jesus:
He lived among the tombs.  And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces.  No one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.  (Mk 5:3-5)
More appropriate might be a word used in the M-W definition above—enthusiasm—defined as:
  • 1 a : belief in special revelations of the Holy Spirit
  •     b : religious fanaticism
  • 2 a : strong excitement of feeling : ardor
  •     b : something inspiring zeal or fervor
These are divided between categories of religious and worldly, however, definition 1a is the sole New Testament use leaving the others to the realm of emotions.  It is within this latter sphere that most people use the word or its derivatives.  Looking at the history of the word, we see that “enthuse” comes from the Greek entheos (ἐνθεος: in god, or god within).  Simply put, an enthused person is one being driven by god-induced passions.  Most Christians I know will read this and think, “That’s right.  A believer needs to be passionate for the Lord.”  Actually, the reverse is true.

The ancient Greek understanding does not border on fanaticism as described above, but the degree of devotion towards a god or goddess drove followers to act out in irrational ways.  A biblical example of this type of behavior can be found in the Old Testament, wherein Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.  Notice their behavior:
And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!”  But there was no voice, and no one answered.  And they limped around the altar that they had made.… And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.  And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice.  No one answered; no one paid attention.  (1 Ki 17:26-29)
Driven by their fervor, the prophets performed all manner of invocation to get Baal’s attention to no avail.  While this is not a response from Greek idol worshipers, the passion exhibited is very similar to that employed in Athenian (and Roman) temples centuries later.

To be sure, there is a danger in giving undue consideration to etymological history over current usage, however background knowledge helps us understand that the enthused person is driven more by emotions than cognition.  For the Christian, this is particularly dangerous, since the resounding theme coming from most sectors of the Western church is the need for increased fervor by whatever means possible.  The two books mentioned at the beginning are examples of attempts to foment righteous fervor in the body of Christ.

Let me state that I am not opposed to passion and fervor.  A quick review of godly individuals in Scripture will attest to their zeal for the Lord’s things.  My complaint is with the means being used to stir up hearts.  Over and again, preachers and conference teachers will do their best to guilt believers into doing more for Christ out of duty: get with the program and help reach the world, or some part of it, for Christ; get to work in some ministry; do more for Christ’s kingdom.  While these imperatives are true, they will not sustain me.  In the end, I believe the attempts to stir the rank and file are closer in their rhetoric to a political campaign than to disciple-making.  We do not want to be caught up in the excesses.

Living in Iowa during the campaign season, I am bombarded early and often with slogans ad nauseum about how this candidate or that is a better leader, is more Christian in conduct, is attuned with Midwestern values, etc.  The advertisers make their appeal to a “typical Iowan” (whatever that may be) hoping to motivate voters to actively support their candidate and get involved, all of which sounds eerily like a typical preacher any given Sunday:
The culture is rotting around you.  You need to get to work.  Get out, and make a difference.  If you give you all, you’ll be taken care of.
The difference between Jesus and a political candidate, though, is infinite.  I don’t know about you, but I am not in any shape to “make a difference for Jesus” simply because I have nothing to give.  The Lord was (and is) God incarnate.  He willing went to the cross and died for my sin and the sin of the world, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven until He returns.

How does passion get ignited?  How does zeal grow?  How do we get excited for Christ?  The answer is in the faithful teaching of God’s promises in Christ Jesus.  I have heard more than one message decrying doctrine as a lifeless edifice that must be removed for God to move, but the truth is that doctrine is what motivates people to share the good news of Jesus.  The faithful communication of the Lord’s precepts, commandments, statutes, and promises are those things in which the psalmists continually ask the congregation to rejoice.

Do you want those under your tutelage or within your sphere of influence to be motivated for the work of the kingdom?  Do not resort to behavior modification, brow-beating, or dangling carrots.  Give what they need—the full, undiluted Gospel.  Give the fullness of Christ and Him crucified.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes! Bring our youth to the Word and let the Living Word do the regenerating work in their heart. Out with the worldly schemes which are supposed to make them "like" church. The Word of God stands on its own!