A Radical Religion
In the eyes of the world the man of God will be an extremist. People do not like this since moderation is the order of the day––but the Christian ought not to govern his life by the prevailing opinions of men, or even of the Church, but by the infallible Word of God. Of course, there are many extremists who are not faithful servants of God. Saul of Tarsus was once one such, being “exceedingly furious” (Acts 26: 11) against the saints, yet at the same time believing himself “zealous for God” (Acts 22: 3). Later that same man, now converted, was to write, “And if I shall dole out all my goods in food, and if I deliver up my body that I may be burned, but have not love, I profit nothing” (1 Cor. 13: 3). That, sadly, is profitless extremism. However, this does not alter the fact that a holy walk must necessarily be an extreme walk. Is it possible to walk with God and not differ radically from what is around? Laodicea was a moderate assembly where men and women took just as much Christianity as suited them. The rebuke to the faithful and true witness, (note the contrast), is solemn: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3: 15, 16). It is not possible to be godly and lukewarm. Hot is an extreme, cold is an extreme, but lukewarmness is not. God would rather have us at extremes.
Was not Abraham extreme when he went to offer up his cherished son as a sacrifice to God? (Gen 22: 1–10). Was not Joshua extreme when he and Israel stoned Achan for sneaking home a few trinkets from Jericho? (Josh. 7: 25). Was not Samuel extreme when he hewed the defenceless Agag in pieces? (1 Sam. 15: 33). Was not David extreme when he poured out the water to Jehovah that his men had risked life and limb to bring to him? (2 Sam 23: 16). What shall we say of the prophets? Was not their language often extreme? Look at the Lord Himself. Was not He extreme when He called men fools and hypocrites? What whall we say of His doctrine? “And if thy right hand be a snare to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee” (Matt. 5: 30). Was this not extreme? Was not Matthew extreme in leaving everything to follow Christ? (Luke 5: 28). Was not Peter extreme in the way he dealt with Ananias? (Acts 5: 1–6). Was not Paul extreme in regard to the “wicked person” when he said “with such a one not even to eat”? (1 Cor. 5: 11). Was he not also extreme when he told the Thessalonian saints to “pray unceasingly” and in “everything to give thanks”? (1 Thess. 5: 17). Was John not extreme when he said that “Every one that hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3: 15), and when he told the elect lady not even to greet the one who does not bring the doctrine of the Christ? (2 John 10). Scripture is full to overflowing with examples of extremism, and the inescapable conclusion is that this is normal for the life of faith.
Many precious truths are dismissed as “extreme”, as if that were adequate reason for rejecting them. Too many professing Christians will only take as much truth as they find palatable. Yet can there be a selective obedience of God’s Word? Is divine teaching optional? Of course if a man is ignorant of some aspect of the truth he cannot be faulted for not walking in it, but that is not what is before us here. No this is a rejection of revealed truth, a rejection on the grounds that it is too extreme. In effect this is to say that God made an error of judgement!
The great point about any doctrine or practice is not whether it appears extreme, or not, BUT WHETHER IT IS ACCORDING TO GOD’S WORD. If it is God’s Word, then whether we find it palatable or unpalatable, we are to obey it. As bondmen of Christ we have no other option. God’s Word is not to be treated as a supermarket shelf where I can pick and choose at will. I call Him ’Lord’––well how true is it? Is He practically my Lord, or is it just a glib expression? I say I find a particular doctrine too extreme. Well, who asked my opinion? Who made me a judge of Scripture? As regards His Word God asks just one thing––obedience.
How many reasons are brought forward for avoiding the force of certain Scriptures! Plain words suddenly become vague, texts are twisted and perverted, and some passages glossed over altogether. Appeals are made to traditional teaching rather than Scripture, versions of the Bible sought, not for accuracy, but favourable translation, and all kinds of ingenious, though dubious, interpretations brought into play. The motive throughout is not to learn God’s mind, but like Jonah, to run away from it.
Often a truth is labelled ‘extreme’ simply as an insult to it. There are few if any who will admit this, but the human heart well knows that such a tag carries that thought with it in the public mind. Things are called extreme not only as a description of fact, but to discredit them. This is very sad. Why shouldn’t God’s Word be extreme? Why should that make it an object of our scorn? The fault lies not with the Holy Scriptures but with our own defective views of morality and faith, of sin and righteousness. There may well be a gulf between what we find palatable and what God has said, but that is a reflection on us and not Him. To the man of God it is of no consequence that a particular truth is extreme or not. It is his Master’s word and thus he is happy to obey.