Be Careful with the “Spirit of Fear”
In recent weeks, as followers of Christ have been asked to curtail their practices, some have warned us against giving into the “spirit of fear.” To be honest, I have been so busy working through the logistics of the new normal, I haven’t taken the time to address the concerns I have over the misuse of this phrase. But I have a few moments today to share the thoughts that have been churning in my mind.
When we have concerns about the use of a spiritual word or phrase, we should turn to scripture first to discern root meanings. The “spirit of fear” phrase comes from 2 Timothy 1:7 where Paul wrote, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
The context of this verse is Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to remain faithful in proclaiming the gospel of Christ in the face of hardship and persecution. Timothy was serving in a hostile environment where Christians could be harassed, imprisoned or killed for sharing the message of salvation. There were even false teachers within the church who had shown their willingness to betray their brothers and sisters to the authorities.
Therefore, it appears to me, the “spirit of fear” Paul is talking about is the one Satan puts in our hearts to prevent the spread of the good news of Jesus. There are those who equate this with being told they cannot worship in large groups out of fear of COVID-19.
I understand this is a complex issue, and modern attacks on religious liberty have made us much more suspicious of government interference. We have all seen examples recently of “overreach” where government leaders have put insane restrictions in place that appear to target segments of the population.
I get this, and I will be on the picket line if someone truly tries to take away my right to assemble with others and worship God.
But I wish to share a few other perspectives.
First, the decision to practice CDC guidelines is not the same as the “spirit of fear.” It is a way of respecting the authorities God has put over us and showing deference to our health care workers who must deal with the consequences of our behavior. I have actually been able to share my faith more as a result of the restrictions in our community at this time. God has given me opportunities to meet more neighbors, encourage those who are growing in their faith, and show love to people through caring acts. There are those who attend our on-site worship services (under normal circumstances) who have not yet given their lives to Christ, but in many ways the church has now been pushed back into the world to share its faith with more people.
Secondly, our worship practices are not bound by culture. They are defined by scripture. The first church was made up of house churches, where small groups of people gathered to worship Christ and encourage one another in the faith. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in large gatherings of believers and get excited when I see mega-churches draw tens of thousands of people for worship. What a testimony to our world! But if we think we aren’t gathering for worship when we are singing along with a praise team over the internet and taking communion with our family, we are mistaken. In this case, we are actually closer, culturally, to the model of the first church. Incidentally, one reason house churches were popular was due to the risk of persecution. Yet, Paul didn’t accuse anyone huddled together in a house to worship of having a “spirit of fear.” Rather, it was those who shrunk from opportunities to share their faith with unbelievers.
Finally, some of the “insider” rationales I have heard for equating the “spirit of fear” with a cautious approach to reopening places of worship are more fearful than the fear that is claimed. These rationales include the fear of losing members to other churches, struggling financially due to lower offerings and personal fears of what Satan might do in people’s lives if we are not with our church family. I know there is some truth to these concerns. But is our God so small that He can’t deal with these matters? And are these godly reasons worth putting people’s lives at risk?
I understand the psychology of fear. I realize, we can spend so much time worrying and watching newscasts about people getting sick and dying that we stop living. And I am going crazy without interaction with my church family! This is one of the hardest things I have ever done as a minister. Last week I conducted a funeral service where a family was restricted to ten people and children sat alone in chairs six feet away from their parents. I wanted to reach out and hug everyone, but refrained.
However, we need to be careful we don’t use a verse from the Bible to promote an opinion. More than this, we should never use scripture out of context to manipulate people into doing something that is not in their best interests.
I know everyone doesn’t share my view expressed here, and that’s alright. I also think God has given us the freedom to go in one of many directions in a time of crisis. We just need to be careful we don’t put words in God’s mouth for our own purposes.
That is something that should make us afraid.
Very afraid! (Revelation 22:19)