Religious Fervor: What’s the Cause

Religious fervor is not new. Pope Urban II gave a stirring appeal at the Council of Clermont in 1095 AD. With the theme “Deus vult,” which means “God wills it,” he rallied people to go to war against the Islamic “infidels” that occupied Jerusalem. Young men from across Europe responded in a cause they believed to be from God. Parents viewed it as a privilege to see one of their sons dedicated to this “holy” crusade. Regrettably their cause was not to bring the word of reconciliation, but conflict and war. 

Urban promised, “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.” We do well to remember that the exhibition of religious fervor does not necessarily mean that God is involved, or that we are involved in a holy cause. Just because people are willing to lay down their lives does not mean they are responding to a holy stirring by Jesus Christ.

Today the “Christian” right battles the “Christian” left and vice versa. Everywhere we look there is conflict: Muslims and Christians, Russians and Chechnyans, India and Pakistan, Jews and Palestinians, Christians against the world, and Christians against one another. And everyone believes God is on their side. In fact, almost every warring faction invokes the name of God.

Do you have religious fervor? Does God agree with you? Is He against those who differ with you? I don’t care to comment on the inner workings of various religions, but as far as the Christian faith is concerned, it seems we have forgotten that the one thing we are to be zealous about, and even fight for is the Gospel. Paul battled to the point of openly rebuking his fellow apostle, Simon Peter, when the truth of the gospel was threatened (Gal. 2). Legalism was making inroads in Galatia and taking away the freedom that people had experienced through the grace of Jesus. To Paul this was cause for a battle.

I’ve noticed a lot of misdirected religious fervor. Christians are urged to take political stands. In fact, according to some, it seems political change has become the savior. If we could only make our country “Christian” and adopt a “Christian” morality then everything would be alright. Whenever a new moral low is reached, we are told that this, if anything is going to rally Christians.  My friend Dr. T.L. Osborn visited our church a few years ago and said, “moral teaching can at best make you a Pharisee, and Pharisee is a self-righteous hypocrite.” I agree. Morality doesn’t save; Jesus saves. Paul had religious fervor to the point of being willing to give up his own salvation if only his countrymen could understand that righteousness comes not by self-effort but by the grace of Jesus. His passion was the word of reconciliation. It should be ours.

Urban II rallied people to murder and slaughter in the name of Christ, saying, “God wills it.” If the cause that stirs you is not to give the word of reconciliation of what Christ has done, ask yourself if it’s worth your fervor. Save your passion for the only cause that is worth being passionate about.

Your thoughts? -Peter

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