For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
-- Romans 8:15
I hadn't realized this, really, until a couple of years ago, but the church traditions I grew up in dealt heavily in dispensing spirits of fear. I felt an aversion to a lot of what I experienced -- although not to the core doctrine I was taught, which was all solid -- all through my adolescence, but it took me into my thirties to put a label on it: the spirit of fear.
The revivalistic invitationalism reduced the gospel to a bet-hedging spin on Pascal's Wager, hinging on the weekly intonation of "If you were to die on your way home tonight, would you go to heaven?"
It's a great question. It's a valid question. But in the context of the spirit of fear, it didn't just create a tremble at the thought of hell, but a tenuousness in our thinking of salvation. (Was I ever really sure? Maybe I should say the prayer again or rededicate.)
The list of things to be afraid of began when I was young and did not relent.
- The inherent witchcraft in the practice of trick-or-treating or any other recognition of Halloween.
- The New Age infiltration of everything from He-Man action figures to rainbow stickers.
- Nuclear war, which Gog (or Magog -- I can't remember which) was going to wage on us, according to prophecy.
- Basically any non-Baptists.
- People who drink beer.
- Demon stories told by youth leaders at camp.
- Skits about car crashes.
- Youth camp games like Underground Church, which involved "pretend torture," and Sheep and Goats, which involved simulating a mass disaster and sending certain church youth groups to "hell."
- Backmasking in rock and roll music.
- People and places and works to boycott and/or protest.
- The rapture.
That last one really did me in. The original "left behind" movies (A Thief in the Night and those other classics of 70's Christian cinema) had me so in fear of being left behind, I had ongoing nightmares. I was twelve years old and had to sleep on the floor of my parents' bedroom. I ended up getting saved and baptized again.
I'm a neurotic guy anyway and was plagued with a natural lack of self-confidence. This stuff really messed me up.
Yet I'm not mad about it. I get angry sometimes about the stuff itself, and the spirit that gives rise to it. But I know when pastors and churches deal in this kind of stuff, they basically mean well. There are subtle issues of control and power going on in there, but I know a lot of this stuff was meant to move people to Jesus. And yet the damage it does along the way can leave scars that remain long past salvation. This is not the sort of confidence gospel wakefulness is meant to create in the born again.
I know all my pastors and Sunday School teachers and church leaders loved me. They cared about my soul. But they made me a very frightened, timid, powerless believer. And I was ill equipped for real life, because I had been given the spirit of fear.
Thankfully evangelicalism seems pretty much "over" a lot of this stuff. But we peddle in new fears, and it grieves me. What are we afraid of now?
- That liberals will take God out of America. (As if that was possible.)
- That Democrats will pass bad laws.
- That stores will say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
There's a lot more, and most of them are of the culture war variety. Politics and social concerns. You may think these are all valid issues, and some of them are, but the way they grip the evangelical's attention and the way they drive him and her into anxiety, preoccupation, anger, obsession are all evidences of the spirit of fear.
The difference maker is this: Is God sovereign or not? Is Jesus risen and now sitting on the throne or not? If so: Relax.
I know all the fear-spirit peddlers usually mean well. But an imperfect love, even though love, is not the perfect love of Christ which drives out fear. If God is for me in Christ, who can be against me? What shall I fear?
(And by the way, it really confuses (and sometimes concerns) people if you don't give a crud if the Ten Commandments get taken out of the courthouse or if "In God We Trust" gets taken off the money. They can't take Christ out of my heart or God out of his heaven, can they? No? Well, I'm all set then.)
The love of Christ is perfect, securing salvation eternally, fostering assurance and confidence in him.
Let the world toil and tumble. My Redeemer lives.
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
-- 1 John 4:17-18