How Christians Can Avoid Tangents and Fanaticism

Some movie stars are fanatics. So are some politicians. Even some famous athletes are fanatical. So it shouldn't surprise us that some Christians have to work hard at avoiding their tendency toward fanaticism.

Think of it this way. Every Christian has opinions on many secondary areas of doctrine and practice. I am talking about things that are not essential for salvation. This is the level I call "Convictions." Picture it being the center circle of several concentric circles. At this level, Christians differ from one another on a multitude of perspectives and practices. It doesn't change the fact that every believer, regardless of his other convictions, is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are one in Christ through the blood that He shed to make us His own. We are family forever.

The next level out from "Convictions" is "Tangents." A Christian moves to this level when he is constantly dwelling on his conviction about a secondary issue of doctrine or practice. He is no longer keeping the main thing the main thing. Rather than maintaining a balanced approach to Scripture and discipleship, he has gone off on a mental tangent and it has caused him to become restless in his heart and mind. His tangent has taken away his joy of walking with Jesus, as well as the joy of fellowship with others in the body of Christ.

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The third level is even worse than the second. This is the level of "Fanaticism." This happens when a Christian starts sharing his tangent with others. He feels compelled to get them to see it the way he sees it. He becomes fanatical in his quest to win them over to his point of view on a secondary issue. It wasn't enough to just go off on a tangent. He now is obsessed with having others adopt his tangent. His message is no longer the Gospel. He has turned his tangent into his great commission. He is a self-appointed prophet with a personal agenda for God's church.

As restless as he was at the tangent level, he now has completely lost all self-control and any discernment regarding how unsettling his proselytizing is to other Christians. He is being driven by his tangent and his desire to control the way others think about a secondary matter of the Christian life. He is about the only one that doesn't realize he needs to "get over it" and come back to where he was when he first met Christ. He has gone backwards rather than forward in his life of discipleship.

The 14th chapter of Romans deals with these issues in a beautiful and helpful way. If every Christian would work hard to apply Romans 14 to his daily life, the Christian church would change drastically for the better. Unfortunately, I think Oswald Chambers was probably correct when he wrote: "The average Christian is the most penetratingly critical individual." Unless we rise above "average" through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will live much of our Christian existence at the "Tangent" level or even at the level of "Fanaticism." It won't bless others and it won't lead to peace in our hearts or in our relationships.

God invites us to come back to the center. It's perfectly fine for each of us to have our many convictions. That is not the problem. The problem lies when we lose control of our thoughts and go off on our mental tangents. That leads us to want to verbalize our opinions on secondary matters to win converts to our point of view. It is highly disruptive in the body of Christ. It greatly grieves the Holy Spirit. It probably causes more problems and disunity in Christian churches than just about anything else.

If only we would put God's Word into practice in this critical area of discipleship. "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (Romans 14:19) Can you and I please pause for just a moment? Are you and I truly making "every effort" to stay centered and to avoid tangents and fanaticism? If not, I can hear what others are thinking about us: "You can cancel my subscription because I don't need your issues!"

Brother in Christ. Sister in Christ. Please sit down when you have some time and prayerfully meditate upon Romans 14. It will change your life. It will change our churches. It will lead to renewal in our fellowship with others. If you and I as Christians think that somehow we are above or beyond this sinful tendency toward tangents and fanaticism, we are living in denial and we have only deceived ourselves. There is a beautiful saying that goes like this: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

Will we receive the wisdom of Romans 14 and will we begin to act on it immediately? If so, we will remain centered in our Christian life and the rest of God's people will be edified by our walk with the Lord. If not, we will keep living at the outer two levels and we will continue to drive other Christians nuts.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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