There is a struggle that we all face as we seek to live truly faithful Christian lives – and that is to conquer our fear. Because the existence of Satan requires us frequently to check out how we are managing (are we truly God-honouring, and in what ways do we need to reform ourselves, or redouble our efforts to be Christ-like?), for we are, as the BCP describes it, in a constant battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
It is all too easy for us, when engaged in the Christian life, to take our eyes off the one in whom we are more than conquerors, and instead get bogged down in the mud of life, and so, like Napoleon’s artillery at Waterloo, to become ineffective – in our case ineffective both as Christian individuals, and as Christian leaders. One of the easiest ways for us to get bogged down is to be affected by fear.
Now, let me be clear, there is a perfectly reasonable form of fear – the fear of falling from a height (or is it the fear of hitting the ground after the fall?) serves to act as a brake on acting foolishly – for most people. The fear of being made to look a fool can serve as a spur to make greater efforts in our preparation of, our study for, and even in our presentation of talks, liturgies, sermons and the like. But there is also a fear which is a paralysing agent – a fear which can prevent people from acting. Those on the stage or in music can suffer from stage fright – that is a fear that prevents the individual from doing something that they are perfectly capable of doing in the practice room. And we know that many Christians live their lives in fear of failing as a Christian – such fear ends up making the person anxious, uptight, and ineffective as a sharer of the gospel. In the January 2018 Tabletalk magazine this is described as “…due, ultimately, to disordered doxology.” And they go on to say that those who fear man so much do so because they fear God so little.
With specific relevance to our current situation, there can be a fear of the world and of what it might think. Such a fear may be a fear for the reputation of the individual themselves, or of the congregation, or of the Christian faith – but such a fear is folly. It is right that we should take reasonable precautions – it has always been thus however. A man professing to be a Christian recently stated that because he might be a unwitting conduit for carrying the virus he would be remaining extremely vigilant, wearing a muzzle (as Peter Hitchens describes face coverings), and that he desires the lockdown to continue. Except he forgets that he might, and always may be, an unwitting conduit for carrying a virus which may possibly do someone else harm. Is he going to live his life in such fear?
When Peter wrote those famous words: 1 Peter 3:17 – “Fear God. Honour the king.” he was seeking to tell us that we needed to turn the way we regard the worldly authorities, and life itself, around – that Christians should not be like the pagans, who honoured their gods with incense and offerings, and lived in fear of the king. Instead, though we should make efforts to honour the secular authorities of this world, we should reserve our fear for God himself. John Flavel:
Godly fear does not arise from a perception of God as hazardous, but glorious.
It is notable that over the last few months many Christians in positions of responsibility have demonstrated what I would term ‘craven’ attitudes in the face of the demands of the governments in their nations, and demonstrated a real and tangible fear that because they might lose the good opinion of the secular world around them, and its leaders, we must all genuflect before their demands. The number of clergy is significant whom I have observed to comment that we should lock down, or stay locked down, because the world will think badly of us if we don’t kow-tow to the ‘rules’ imposed. As Dave Brannan wrote in his Brephos article – reposted by Christian Concern – such men have adopted the attitude that
it’s what they [the world] think, not what God thinks, that makes witness ‘good’. Fear of man, rather than fear of God.
What saddens me is that so many, Christian leaders, and Christians, have clearly lost sight of the fundamental truth laid out for us in Scripture – that the critics they are so afraid of are those who are dead in their sin, and who therefore have no time for us in the first place. The gospel will not fail because we are weak and human – because we are and always will be weak and human, and the spread of the gospel of God transcends our hopeless humanity. If we live our lives in fear of the world, in fear of the court of public opinion, we simply would not preach the only gospel of eternal salvation there is. And that is no way for the faithful Christian to live. The most repeated command in the Bible is “Fear not.” Dave Brennan finished his Brephos article by saying:
What we need in this present crisis is more than just to act as implementers of government guidelines. What we need, is to exercise real, courageous, spiritual, Biblical leadership. And we need to be clear on what our ultimate authority is.
There is our challenge.