by Ryan Beaty
Fear is an emotion that we are all intimately familiar with. When we were children we were afraid of the dark, the boogey man, storms, and bad dreams. As we grow we leave those fears behind and take on new fears. Though we no longer refer to them as fear but responsibility. I don’t fear losing my car, I have the responsibility to pay for it. I don’t fear someone breaking into my home, I have the responsibility to protect it however, so I have a gun. We can call these and other examples responsibilities all we want, but for many people it is fear that is driving them. It’s not that these fears are irrational or unreasonable, and taking steps to ensure the continued status quo of the life you have built is not a bad thing, but whenever our motivation is fear our lives are more out of balance than we may realize.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the church. In a verse we are all very familiar with, the Apostle Paul tells his son in the faith Pastor Timothy, “… God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV) Yet with this encouragement to Timothy to be motivated by power from on High, love from the Savior, and self control which is a fruit of the Spirit, it doesn’t take long for us to look around and see a church filled with fear. We see it in the blogs we are writing, the politics we are engaging, our interaction with the lost, and in the way we are teaching our own doctrines.
I grew up in a conservative Pentecostal church. I’m still a part of the same denominational, as well as still very theologically conservative and thoroughly Pentecostal. Growing up in the 80’s there was a LOT of talk about the end times and the rapture for a variety of reasons I don’t have time to go into here. I constantly heard about it. I saw the cheesy movies where Americans are being beheaded for taking the mark of the beast. And it SCARED me! Every time my parents were gone for five minutes longer than they said they would be, I started calling the elders in the church because I was afraid I had missed the rapture. It was a very real fear, and in no way healthy. I experienced a core doctrine of my denomination, not in a way that demonstrates God’s love for us that Jesus would one day return to be with us, but as a tool of fear that if I miss that brief flicker in time I would literally lose my head.
Fear should have no place in the church. Yet it would be impossible to count all of the ways fear has motivated us as a people in the past few decades. This is especially true when we look at our political involvement. How many times have you heard pastors or other religious leaders speak of politicians or laws in a way that sounds something like, “If we don’t vote yes/no on this person/law then God’s wrath will come/God will forsake America/we will no longer be a Christian nation?” While I will not argue that some politicians and laws definitely affect many Christian people in a negative way, the employment of fear as a motivator is wrong in and of it’s self, as well as because it turns us into idolaters. We make an idol out of the government with these kinds of actions saying that they control us, and we make an idol out of ourselves saying that we have all power. For the Christian person only one entity should receive all of our dependence, trust, hope, and faith, and that would be Jesus.
Jesus is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18) and has been give ALL AUTHORITY under heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). No leader in this world is placed in authority and given authority except through God’s decree (Romans 13:1). Furthermore, all that is happening, the unfolding of time that is leading us to the return of Jesus is nothing to be feared because it is only happening because Jesus is worthy to make it happen (Revelation 5:1-5)!
So do not be afraid dear friends! Fear not the government. Fear not sinners, nor saints who believe differently than you. Jesus told his disciples not even to worry about where they would sleep or what they would eat, or even when they would be arrested what they would say (Matthew 10, Luke 12, Mark 13)! Live in the love of the Savoir, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the self-control of a life completely submitted to Christ.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). After all, what have we to fear when he is with us?
Ryan Beaty is the founding pastor of VillageHouston, an Assemblies of God church located in urban Houston, TX. He is an avid reader, pop-culture nerd, and theology honk. He and his wife, Korista, live in urban Houston where Ryan also serves as the chaplain of an Episcopalian day school.