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