More and more we are hearing about the dangers of extremism and religious people. We are hearing sentiments like “all religions are good, but it is wrong to take any religion to an extreme.” The use of the term “extremist” and even “fanatic” is unfortunate. Why? Because it sets people up for thinking that faith, any faith, can only be good in small doses, that a wee bit of religion is ok, but less might be better.
Being a Christian I will leave speaking about the other religions to others, but I wish to point out that Christianity works best when taken to an extreme.
Consider first some people who would fit the description of being Christian extremists. For example, someone who has taken Christian evangelism to the extreme: Billy Graham. Or someone who has taken practical expressions of Christian love for others to the extreme: Mother Teresa. Or someone who has taken Christian thinking to the extreme: C.S. Lewis. Or someone who has taken a Christian vision of, and hope for, the future to an extreme: Martin Luther King Jr. Many great women and men of history have been what you should call Christian extremists. Many of the great women and men in my life have been Christian extremists.
And consider the most extremist Christian there is, who happens to have affected history more than any other person: Jesus Christ himself. He calls us to follow him in the way of the cross. If we are doing that, love will be taken to an extreme. Forgiveness, grace, generosity, and compassion will all be taken to an extreme. You cannot be a Christian, a Christ follower, and do this in moderation. You are either following Jesus in the way of the cross or you are not. The fruit of the Spirit is described as being “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV). These are not qualities we want only in moderation.
Now you may be thinking, what about the Christians we might know who are super-religious but not at all loving, religiously church-going but hypocritical? Such are often not extreme followers of Jesus, but rather just extremely wrong in what a Christian is and what a Christian does. To know what Christianity is, you need to go to Christ. To be a Christian you need to stick with Christ in the way of the cross. To accept or reject Christianity, you need to focus in on Jesus and his teaching. In fact when we Christians put others off by our hypocrisy, it is because we have failed to follow Jesus to an extreme. Repentance to an extreme is in order.
One last thought: When you understand the depths of God’s love in Christ, the first thing to be taken to an extreme is gratitude. Moderation just feels so wrong. “Extremist” is an unfortunate label.
Submitted to our local paper as my turn for the “Articles of Faith” column. This was submitted before the terrible happenings of this past week.