A Jagged Contention: Fanatics in Charge

“Religion has become, for fanatics, a way of establishing righteousness for people who have been on the margins of society and they do appear truly holy for doing this. Religion then becomes inclusion in the higher law of love. It tries to make people righteous by giving them a new law, and so their consciences can finally be comforted. Before, homosexual acts were excluded, now they are approved. This, however, is not the Gospel; it is a change in law, in the form of a new law that is put before people as the place for their hope.

“We are in a time of fanaticism. Coming to grips with this is necessary for preachers and for hearers of the Gospel. Will you cling to your old Father God, or will you go with the future—the spirit? So it seems one must choose sides between two types of legalism fighting for the right to be the true church—the conservative or progressive.

“Of course, the odd man out in fanaticism is always Jesus Christ. He brings nothing other than the forgiveness of sins. The true preacher applies forgiveness to actual, ungodly sinners, who have been revealed as such by the preaching of the law. The solution to getting rid of fanatics is true preaching, even though it appears as the weakest thing in the world. There are always two words in preaching: the ‘rebuke’, and the ‘forgiveness’. Fanatics do not want to be sinners, so they gather together, vote on it and find they are not!”

– Stephen Paulson, Against the Holy Blasphemers 


Stephen Paulson, in typical form, lucidly presents the importance of distinguishing Law and Gospel in dealing with the legalistic fanaticism inherent in our immoral culture. Anti-nomianism is simply a new form of legalism. How should we, as congregations which are a part of a larger church body, operate when said bodies are enmeshed in legalism of either a progressive or conservative kind? How can we remain engaged in the process of institutional decision making without becoming complicit the legalism that reduces faith and life to a vote? For example, should a congregation faced with the fanaticism in the ELCA leave, stay and fight, simply disengage, or try to take control? Or, is it a matter of just preaching Christ, the denomination be damned?


4 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: Fanatics in Charge

  1. This is an existential question. I suppose that if you give people a vote on matters of doctrine (and I use that term in the broadest sense), which seems insane when theology is the issue, then preaching may be the only tool available to raise up God-ward minded voters. Also, that’s the pastor’s vocation.


  2. Throughout the history of the church many schisms, heresies, false teachings, and theological disputes have continually arisen, and today is no different. In my view, the plain language of God’s word gives us guidance in moral areas like homosexuality, yet if a denomination or church is intent on making sexual sin acceptable, then the Bible will be dismissed. How many times can one change the meaning of clear scriptural teachings before you no longer have Christianity? We should not have to choose between a pervasive and progressive form of theology primarily pleasing to the secular values of the world, or a hyper legalistic fanaticism. I believe ELCA is clearly an apostate body driven by progressive ideas. Since the LCMS is still faithful, in my opinion, I will stay on unless one day we wake up to find we are in step with the progressives…but I do not see that happening.


  3. During the Arian controversy ,Athanasius reportedly said,when told the whole world was against him,then he said”Then Athanasius is against the world.” We can’t change doctrine by a vote,but we may have to”come out from among them” to stay true to the Lord. This goes for Legalism and Antinomianism.


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