We hear much about “extremism” lately. There are extreme sports, extreme science, extreme makeovers, and extreme videos. Webster’s defines extreme as “going well beyond the ordinary or average.” With the possible exception of makeovers, extreme carries the connotation of dangerous. It is well beyond the usual.
The term “religious extremist” conjures the image of a fanatic who is out to destroy the world as we know it, generally through means of violence or other coercion. Religious extremists, formerly known as religious fundamentalists, are to be avoided at all costs.
Often, members of any religion from which these extremists arise tend to distance themselves from the fanatics. They will say, “That’s not what our faith teaches. They are just wackdoodles. Don’t judge me or our faith by their actions.” However, it is the extremists who take their beliefs seriously, and work them out to their logical, and beyond-the-ordinary, conclusions.
Christians are not immune to being labeled Extremists or Fundamentalists. Such terms are considered derogatory and pejorative. Sadly, there are not enough Christian Extremists around. I certainly hope you are one of them!
Now that the hair on the back of your neck is bristling, let me explain. As believers, we are not called to be ordinary or average. The “average” Christian is often indistinguishable from the world around him. He looks the same, talks the same, works the same, and thinks the same as those around him who do not know Christ. This is not the calling we have, brethren. Listen to the reason God sent Israel into exile: “They would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do,’ and they did the things the Lord had forbidden them to do” (2 Kings 17:14, 15).
Church-age believers are to stand out “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). How do we stand out? By being extremists!
An extremist goes all the way. Extreme sports are still sports. Extreme makeovers are still makeovers. Extreme science is still science, and extreme videos are still videos. The beliefs and labels haven’t changed, only the boundaries are being explored. Christian extremists should be exploring the boundaries given by God.
His will is found in His Word. It is the extremist who examines and lives that Word to the best of, and even (by the Holy Spirit), beyond, his abilities. The one who lives the extreme Christian life will stand out and draw a following. He or she will show the world what Christianity is all about: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody” (2 Corinthians 3:2).
How do people know we are Christian extremists? Because we blow up abortion clinics? Because we mock mourners at military funerals? Because we dress funny or pray imprecations on liberals? Because we string up homosexuals and beat our wives into submission? Of course not. Although those things are done in the name of Christ, they are all against our faith.
Jesus told us how we can show we are extreme Christians: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). What on earth is so special about that? Doesn’t everyone love someone? Listen to this:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43–48).
The Christian is called to change the world as we know it, but not through violence or coercion. It is by being salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16) and by not only avoiding sin but exposing it (Ephesians 5:11–13). Those who call themselves Christians but denigrate those who proclaim the Word in all its power through word and deed, and who try to maintain holy, separated lives, are the ordinary or average ones, who do not live out their faith.