Are you a fan of Jesus Christ?
Do you have a favorite sports team? Is there a professional franchise you follow closely? If you don’t follow a professional team, maybe you hail from a college with intercollegiate athletics, and you wear your school colors with pride on game day. In one way or another, in some shape or form, the majority of us are a fan of some team. What does it mean to be called a fan?
The word fan is short for fanatic. So if you root for the Yankees or Patriots; Crimson Tide or Fighting Irish, you are fanatical about the Yankees or Patriots; Crimson Tide or Fighting Irish. When I first considered the meaning of fan and its given context: that I was fanatical about the team I root for, honestly, I didn’t like it; it made me uncomfortable, BUT why was I uncomfortable?
Initially, I suppose it was just my intuition, and then I went to my Latin dictionary and discovered why my intuition served me well. The word fanatic comes from the Latin fanaticus, which translates as "mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god." I realized that my team became “a god” replacing the one true God (especially on Sunday). Interestingly, most dictionaries define a fanatic as “an insane person.” If you are not sure this definition applies to you, have someone record you while you are rooting for your favorite team. If you are anything like me, after you are done laughing at yourself, you may realize how silly, or should I say “insane,” your fandom has become.
That being said, what does this treatment of fanaticism have to do with our faith in Jesus Christ? To answer that question, let me first ask another question: what increases our fanaticism? Growing up, I used to spend a great deal of time getting to know the players I would root for. For better or worse, I could still probably give you the lifetime stats of all the players who played for the Oakland Athletics from the 1980’s. I could tell you the birth date and place of most Oakland A’s players, when they were drafted, and everything else that you might find on the back of a baseball card. My fandom went so far as to study the tendencies of the players; their strengths and weaknesses in the field and at the plate. Looking back, I could see how the more time I studied the details of the players I followed, the louder my cheers for them became. In other words, my fanaticism increased to the degree I got to know the particulars of the players I was rooting for. Translate these points to our faith journey and you have your link between fanaticism and our faith in Jesus Christ. Essentially, the more time we feverishly get to know Jesus Christ and His teachings the more our fanaticism for Jesus Christ and His teachings will expand. What you feed grows!
Now, what is a practical way to increase our fanaticism for Jesus Christ? Worship. Here, we should revisit the Latin word fanaticus. The root to fanaticus is fanum, which means "pertaining to a temple, shrine or consecrated place." Being a fanatic for Jesus Christ is to worship Him in His holy temple—literally! It should come to no surprise that the saints and angels in the book of Revelation erupt (like that of a fanatic) in praise and worship. In point of fact, the only time you see the word Hallelujah in the New Testament is when the great multitude (saints and angels) are worshiping the one true God with incense and smoke, crying out, “Hallelujah, salvation, and glory, and power belong to our God” (Rev 19:1). Fanaticism and worship belong together.
What’s more, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the “cloud of witnesses” who are worshipping God, are also cheering us on, urging us to fight the good fight and meet Jesus Christ who waits for us at the finish line (cf. Heb 12:1-2). To worship God is to worship in communion with the saints. How awesome is that? The team you root for is also rooting for you.
What does all of this mean? Do we stop rooting for our favorite teams? Not necessarily, but we need to remember that there is one team above every other team--the team of Jesus Christ and everyone who is created in His image and likeness, and that team should always take precedence! Lest we be called insane.