“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NIV)
Education secretary Nicky Morgan announced this week that tackling extremism in schools is to be made a higher priority. It is an understandable reaction to the so-called “Trojan Horse” case in Birmingham, where certain schools appeared in danger of infiltration by Islamist ideology.
But these kinds of government statements make me wonder: what would Christian extremism look like?
My Oxford English Dictionary defines extreme as (of opinion, person etc.) going to great lengths, advocating severe measures, not moderate, whence extremism, extremist. It is not about what your views are, but how seriously you take them, and how far you go to put them into practice.
At one level, real Christians will have no motive to pursue “extremes”, because they have the assurance that their sins are entirely forgiven by Christ. It is those religions that offer no such assurance which encourage, by their very nature, the doing of more and more extraordinary (and sometimes terrible) things as people try to be rewarded by their god.
But Jesus does still want us to be wholehearted, as He says in the verses above.
We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and with all our strength. This will mean coming to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ, looking to Him for the forgiveness of our sins, depending on Him in prayer, and offering our lives as worship to Him, living in trust and obedience. Loving Him will mean wanting the world to know the wonderful truth about Him — the God of love. All our gifts should be at His disposal, all our motives ultimately concerned for His glory.
And we are to love our neighbours as ourselves — yes, as much as that! We are to be generous, not greedy; forgiving, not grudging; truthful not lying; faithful in marriage rather than sexually immoral; humble, not arrogant, givers, not thieves; loving, not hating — including to our enemies!
Is that extremism? It might seem so to some. But is this the sort of thing our society really needs less of?
Memo, then, to H M Government. Extremism as such may not be the problem. The question is the ideology we’re extreme about.
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