Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 21, 1967
NUMBER 20, PAGE 5b-6a

Are You An Extremist?

Jere E. Frost

Recently a prominent public figure, when asked about his political position and philosophy, said with an air of satisfaction and confidence, "I am an extremist, an American, and I am not ashamed of it." He made the word almost sound like a synonym for patriotism and as if it ought to be worn with honor. And, in fact, when properly understood the word extremist can be used in a high and complimentary sense. Extreme means "the utmost in degree - the best or worst that can exist in reality or in imagination." It is "the utmost point, the most intense kind." For Jesus' sake we should be extremists, that is, we should serve to the utmost in degree, to the utmost point with the most intense kind of devotion. We should give our very best. Moderation and lukewarmness in His service is certainly no virtue; he prefers us extreme or "hot." (Rev. 3:15.) Indeed, a Christian is, ipso facto, an extremist for Christ's sake. After all, he is completely submissive to Jesus, believing all that He says, convicted that His every word is law, and that His commands without exception are necessary and must be obeyed. It is rather extreme to so view Jesus, but He is worthy of the "most intense kind" of loyalty "to the utmost point."

In A Bad Sense

The word extremism properly can be, and usually is, used in a bad sense. It can accurately be applied to a departure to "an utmost point" from the truth, and descriptive of the reasoning and unfounded speculation that produces the instability and departure from sound doctrine. It is used also for radical and violent methods "of the most intense kind" by which one might seek to destroy his opposition. Thus the extremist, in the bad sense, is far removed from the truth in his position, and/or in disposition has lost his perspective.

When Is A Position Extreme?

Doctrinal positions are not extreme because they lack wide acceptance and popularity, nor because they sharply differ with common thought. They are extreme only as they are departures to an "utmost degree" from heaven-sent truth. Consider baptism as an example.

The truth: Baptism is a burial (Romans 6:4) in water (Acts 8:36) for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38.) The extreme departure from truth: Denial of the Bible doctrine that baptism is for the remission of sins, and an affirmation that a man can be saved whether or not he obeys God's command regarding baptism, is a one-hundred-percent (and that's a rather extreme percentage) rejection of what God says on the point and is hence a removal "to an utmost point or degree."

But some who deny the Bible reason for baptism quite ceremoniously practice baptism (of a sort.) They think themselves moderate and well-balanced on the subject; they are extremely confident and insistent that they are not the extremists but rather constitute the mainstream of thought and practice. And the masses testify and bear them record; theirs truly is the popular and theologically approved position. In their world and to their accepted standards, they are not extremists. This raises another question about extremism.

Extreme To What?

Whether one's position is extreme obviously depends upon what standard is used. If the Christian must be judged by the world's standard, he must indeed be the strangest of extremists for he is in both position and disposition committed to Christ "to the utmost degree." But when The Book is the criterion of judgment, it is the world and the so-called moderates who are found to be far removed from the simple teachings of the Scripture and who, therefore, are the extremists. So whenever we talk about extremism, we need to determine our beginning point: "Extreme to what?"

Consistency Is An Extreme

The enunciation of principles and glorious platitudes is characteristic of almost all men. It is universally applauded. But to carry a principle with conviction to its natural application and conclusion is almost certain to evoke a charge of being an extremist. Many government officials decry communism and declare themselves its enemy until a communist or bright pink fellow-traveler is exposed in some high position. Then our own State Department cries "extremist" and "right-winger" at whosoever has brought some pressure to bear upon the communist. The supreme court of the state of New York has just ruled, for example, that no school board can either fire or refuse to hire a teacher on grounds that they are communists. Just say that communism is bad (and say it softly), but do not actually oppose it with any force or militancy for that is extremism! Consistency is thus considered an extreme, for Americanism is historically and philosophically opposed to communism, and yet cannot fight it on every front or even within its borders without patriotism itself being anathematized as extremism.

In the spiritual realm the gospel preacher is to proclaim that the church is all-sufficient. But if he takes himself seriously and objects to human institutions taking the funds of the church to perform the functions of the church under the oversight of its own human board, then he is dangerously close to being an extremist. For example, there are yet preachers who preach that societies are wrong, but will not oppose benevolent societies in church budgets because they do not want to be labeled extremists. If it is extremism to be consistent with truth and one's own heart, then God grant us the courage to be extremists and to wear the charge with honor.

In Disposition And Method

This is a bad sense in which the word extremism can be properly employed. It is possible for one to stand for a point or a principle of truth, and though correct in position be extreme (removed to an utmost degree from what is right) in disposition. He may not only hate a certain sin; he may hate the sinner as well. Such a disposition is extreme from the standard of God. The methods one employs for what is otherwise right could well be extreme character assassination, exaggeration, intimidation and pressure (social, economic or political.) There is no defense or justification for this kind of extremism. But neither should one be discouraged from doing God's will and declaring the truth positively and negatively simply because he fears that someone will think him to be an extremist. The word of God is set in battle array against principalities and spiritual hosts of wickedness. (Eph. 6:10-17.) The naming of false teachers and their false doctrines, along with an exposure and denunciation thereof, is not extreme except in the good sense it is loyalty to God and truth "to the utmost point or degree."


We should desire to be extremists in the good sense of the word as much as we ought to eschew being such in its bad sense. We can accomplish the former by whole-hearted dedication and uncompromising loyalty to God and His word of Truth. We can escape the latter by setting our course by that same perfect standard, His word of Truth, and never veering from it. May we be extremely determined to this end.