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?