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Religious Fanaticism

by Elder Glenn C. Shoults

How strange indeed that when one refuses to go along with the world in its religious holidays, when one refuses to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2), when one refuses to highly esteem that which is highly esteemed among men knowing it to be an abomination before God (Luke 16:15), when one refuses to regard the honor of men or the doctrines and commandments of men, he is then railed upon as a “Religious Fanatic.”

The pressure on men today is to go along with the established order of religious thinking. The trend is toward universalism or catholicity and if one refuses to conform to this world (as Scripture tells him in Romans 12:2, not to conform), it is only to raise the ire and anger of religious leaders and they hurl the slanderous attack upon him—RELIGIOUS FANATIC!

Our Lord faced such anger and malice from the religious leaders of his day for many [not few, but many] said, “He hath a demon, and is mad [to rage as insane]; why hear ye him?” (John 10:20). The Lord warned His disciples concerning the hatred of religious men against them as it was against Him (John 15:18-21). And why did these religious leaders hate Him? It was because He had told them the truth. They were exposed by the Light and their wicked deeds they could no longer cover (John 3:19, 10:22). 

The apostle Paul faced these slanderous accusations also. As long as he was “zealous of the traditions of the fathers” and “persecuted the church of God and wasted it,” as long as he imprisoned and beat believers and consented unto the death of some (Acts 22:19, 20), he profited in the Jews’ religion. He was not looked upon as being insane or driven by religious fanaticism. But when it pleased God to call him by grace and reveal His Son in him, and as soon as he began to preach Christ in the Synagogue, that He is the Son of God, and as he increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the very Christ, the Judaizers took counsel to kill him. Even the Governor of Damascus tried to apprehend him but Paul “through a window in a basket was let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (Acts 9:20-23, II Cor. 11:32, 33). 

In Jerusalem the religious leaders cried, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: For it is not fit that he should live.” (Acts 22:22) 

Festus said to Paul in a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” (Acts 26:24) 

History is one continuous story of God's servants being maligned, mistreated, slandered, and persecuted even unto death, all because they are accused of being “Religious Fanatics.” But we know our Lord warned of such things from such religious men in John 16:1-3, and these men think they do God service. Because God’s servants have stood against catholicity and held to the doctrine of the Lord’s local assembly, they have suffered as “Religious Fanatics.” Because they have earnestly contended for the faith and preached the “all things” as Christ command in Matthew 28:20, they have been despised as fanatics. Because they have preached the whole counsel of God, and in so doing have exposed the error of the traditions and commandments of men, they have been castigated as “Religious Fanatics.” Because they have preached the Gospel of God's Sovereign and Free Grace and opposed the damnable doctrine of Universal Atonement, they are called “Religious Fanatics.” Because God’s servants stand against the great pagan holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter and the rest, they are “Religious Fanatics.” 

There may have been a time when these men “walked in lasciviousness, lust, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” and no one considered them fanatical. Now that God has magnified His Grace in them, men think it strange that they no longer run with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of them. (I Peter 4:3, 4) 


Fanaticism is extravagant or even frenzied zeal. Bigotry is an obstinate and unreasoning attachment to a cause or creed. Fanaticism and bigotry are usually connected and include intolerance, which is an unwillingness to tolerate beliefs or opinions contrary to ones own and like Cain, takes the position of being infallible and kills Abel because he cannot tolerate Abel’s position. Superstition is also connected to fanaticism and is an ignorant and irrational religious belief, thus intolerant because there is no support for this position. Credulity is general readiness to believe anything without sufficient evidence, with a proneness to accept the marvelous. 

Bigotry is narrow! Fanaticism is fierce! Superstition is ignorant! Credulity is weak! Intolerance is severe! Bigotry has not the capacity to reason fairly; fanaticism has not the patience; superstition has not the knowledge or mental discipline; intolerance has not the disposition; credulity has no desire. Bigotry, fanaticism and superstitions are perversions of religious sentiment. 

But, God’s people are ready to give an answer of the reason of the hope that is in them. Certainly this cannot be religious fanaticism. Can it? 

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