Zealotry is the Christian theory, never expressed consciously, that if we are more zealous than the Bible we are immune from criticism. After all, we’ve done at the least what the Bible says and more! Zealotry leads to a life that goes beyond the Bible and in so going there is convinced that such a life can’t be wrong. Not so. Why? Zealotry is motivated by the fear of freedom rather than the courage of faith and love.
Zealotry, again, is motivated by a fear of freedom. A fear of freedom for ourselves — so we tie ourselves into knots and rules and boundaries and regulations — so we can contain what we fear about ourselves. Instead of living in freedom, in trust, and in God’s grace for power, we hang around the fences we have constructed to prevent ourselves from breaking laws.
A fear of freedom for others — lest they begin to do things we are uncomfortable with, lest they begin to explore things we’d prefer they not do, lest they take chances and make mistakes. Again, we do this to protect ourselves and to control others — in so doing, we fail to encourage others to grow in faith. If I fail to teach my children how to ride a bike because I fear they wander into a dangerous street, I fail to teach them the joy of the ride — and I fail to give them the learning that comes with that freedom. (Now, I’m not talking about encouraging kids to ride on highways.)
A fear of freedom for our group: our church, our small group, our whatever gathering. If we give everyone freedom to live in the Spirit, not everyone will be on the same page, and we’ll differ, and that will mean conflict and tension. Zippering everything up like this prevents the freedom of the Spirit, and it keeps others from developing gifts and from experimenting — but it keeps things the same. Which is why we have lots of churches that have been the same forever and ever.
A fear of what freedom in the Spirit just might create. In other words, the operative word inside the fear of freedom is control. Control of self and control of others. If we construct zealous rules, fences around the Torah to prevent anyone from getting remotely close to breaking some law, then we can control what others will do.
The reason we go beyond the Bible is because the biblical summons is ambiguous, or not as concrete as we might like. (I’ll give examples as this series develops.)
Jesus, however, says “no” to the fear of freedom and summons us to follow him in his radical life of loving God and loving others. Where will we end up?, we might ask Jesus. His answer: We’ll just have to see, won’t we.
Paul, however, says “no” to the fear of freedom and summons us to to live in the freedom of the Spirit — and when we live by the Spirit we need not have Torah for there is nothing the Torah can say to the Spirit. If we don’t need Torah, we don’t need fences. We need the Spirit. Read Galatians 5 sometime. The Spirit created the Torah and the Torah is designed to witness (in a preliminary fashion) to what life in the Spirit is like. Live in the Spirit, Paul tells his congregations. What does that mean, they ask back. His answer: We’ll have to see, won’t we.
This kind of life is threateningly free.
Zealotry, however, is afraid of freedom. Freedom opens the windows, tosses up the doors, and lets the winds blow in and the people go outside.
Zealotry, at its bottom layer, is the unwillingness (1) to trust God to work in others, (2) to trust others to listen to God, and (3) to trust ourselves to do what God wants. The ambiguity created by freedom is fearful to many, so they make fences and laws — and in so doing, they create a bounded society of zealots who convince themselves that, even though the Bible does not say something, what they are saying is really what the Bible wanted after all.