They Will Know We Are Christians By Our . . . Doctrine?
What is the real evidence of faith? Well, consider the following passages and you tell me:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35 ESV)
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34, 36-40 ESV)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10 ESV)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)
Is there any way we can read these words from Jesus and Paul and not realize that love is the defining characteristic of the Christian life? Can we show no love for anyone and still claim Christ? Of course not.
So here’s the question– where is our focus? If you read great debates on blogs, review the topics of conferences, or listen to the exaltations or condemnation of the latest Christian fad what do you see? Doctrine- no question. If someone steps out of line on the smallest detail, suddenly everyone is up in arms to defend or burn the accused heretic. Our conferences are scared to death of anyone walking out with a wrong idea about any piece of theology, so we proclaim it loud and hard.
Now is all of this bad? No- I don’t think so. Doctrine is essential. We cannot love what we do not know, and doctrine at is all about knowing and understanding God. If you have the time, I will sit with you for hours and discuss the finer points of Reformed Theology, arguments for the existence if God, or the mystery of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. And I believe all of this shapes what my Christian life looks like. But if doctrine is ALL I have . . . I have nothing.
We give a pass to a mega church pastor who can get bodies in the door and teach them to recite the five points of Calvinism, even if his manner is hurtful and abusive. We will not work with those outside of our tribe if they don’t have the same views on non essential doctrines we think are important. And we’ve made the Gospel about mental assent to a particular form of soteriology ($5 word!) rather than a repentant heart desperate for Jesus. We view Christians in light of their ability to speak and write doctrine, not their ability to love.
This must stop. Of course understanding essential doctrine is critical– we ignore the essential creeds to our own detriment– but speaking doctrine is not what defines us. If our beliefs do not lead us to lives that are more loving, we are missing the point. Are we learning how to love? Are we going so deep into the love of God that the world knows we are Christians by how we love one another?
I think the prevailing attitudes and doctrines surrounding domestic violence that turn churches into co-abusers are largely derived from ignorance. Ignorance about the effects of abuse, and ignorance about how God calls us to respond. But ignorance is no excuse– we have earned this ignorance: we treat the Bible like a puzzle to be solved and our doctrines are the pieces. We SHOULD treat the Bible as a compass that guides us to love better and deeper every day. What person whose life is all about love will look at an abused woman and say the kinds of things that have been reported on this blog?
Make no mistake, I believe we MUST be about doctrine- we will not understand the heart of God without it. But we also MUST be about love. Love doesn’t just “happen” because we learn doctrine. Why are we not as intentional about love as we are about doctrine? Why are we not learning and teaching about how to bring justice for the oppressed? Why is love something we leave until the last minute and then expect it to work naturally?
Love is pervasive and love demands we do justice for the abused. I pray that the church can soon repent and show that we are about love for God and love for others. If we do not, whatever we are doing it isn’t worth it, because there is something better.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV)
He’s talking about love– love is the MOST excellent way.