Fanaticism Is Not Faith (Or: One Conversion Will Suffice)

Ichabod Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches is an excellent resource of a 19th-century pastor’s deeply spiritual conversations with various people in his ministry.  In one journal entry, Spencer talked about a young woman who claimed to have been converted three times in a church that emphasized revivals, emotions, and experiences.  Her emotions and affections were excited, but she had little understanding of the Christian faith and her conscience had not been touched.  Spencer called this “fanaticism.”

The heart that has once been drunk with fanaticism is ever afterwards exposed to the same evil.  It will mistake excitement – any fancy – for true religion.  Fanaticism is not faith.

When the affections or mere sensibilities of the heart are excited and the understanding and conscience are but little employed, there is a sad preparation for false hope – for some wild delusion or fanatical faith. The judgment and conscience should take the lead of the affections; but when the affections take the lead, they will be very apt to monopolize the whole soul, judgment and conscience will be overpowered, or flung into the background; and then, the deluded mortal will have a religion of mere impressions – more feeling than truth – more sensitiveness than faith – more fancy and fanaticism, than holiness. Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from

Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from clear and conscientious perception of truth will be likely to be pernicious. The most clear perception of truth, the deepest conviction, is seldom accompanied by any great excitement of the sensibilities.  Under such conviction, feeling may be deep and strong, but will not be fitful, capricious and blind. To a religion of mere impressions, one may be “converted three times,” or three times three, but to a religion of truth, one conversion will suffice. In my opinion, my young friend was all along misled by the idea, that religion consisted very much in a wave of feeling. Her instructors ought to have taught her better.

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, p. 175.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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