Something is Wrong! Something is missing! Christ’s message has been distorted! Skewed!
In my lifetime, I have had the privilege of being part of a variety of different denominations, and have participated in the music programs of a number of churches, oftentimes for several years at a time. About forty years ago, I began becoming aware of church preaching and happenings that did not “add,” that did not “fit” in terms of my understanding of what Christ had lived and taught. After much seeking and confusion over the years, I was convinced I had the essence of the problem pinpointed.
For whatever and all reasons, the church has been slighting Jesus’ second great commandment to love one another as ourselves. The negative impact has been and is incalculable. The awesome question remains, then, does the church accurately follow, or represent, Jesus?
Oh, the admonishment to love one another is mentioned now and then in warm, glowing tones, often by the quoting of Paul’s love chapter in I Corinthians. Jesus’ first commandment to love God is given a great deal of emphasis. Loving interactions do occur, at times, between Christians, and the poor are given to here and there. We are told God and Jesus love us, and that we are to love God and Jesus.
But, the emphasis that Jesus put on loving one another is just not there! I have never seen it there! Not like it should be! It is “glossed over.’
Jesus said the admonishment to love one another is the second greatest commandment, and both the first and second together fulfill all the law and the prophets. In other words, if we could love God and one another perfectly, we would be perfectly holy. We would have done all that is required, because every other law is be contained in those two. Seems to me, that means TOP PRIORITY, CENTRAL FOCUS, etc. I have not seen that, have you? No in-depth sermons, no seminars, no conferences, no Bible courses, little or no concern by Christians as a whole on what such love actually means and how to live love in day-to-day life. What I mean is that the need to love fellow creatures, and how to love in practical life are not elaborated upon or taught in any detailed, descriptive manner that people can really learn from. Perhaps it is assumed that people already know what behaviors are loving ones, and what behaviors violate or destroy loving relationships. Perhaps it is assumed that, once a person has been saved, the Holy Spirit will automatically give them the gift to love. Take a look at society, and even at many church-related relationships, and it is obvious that people’s insights, skills, and emotional/spiritual capacities in the area of love are woefully inadequate, even among the “saved.” Moreover, the fact that we can and do influence one another every day, for better or worse, is hardly acknowledged by the church, much less elaborated upon.
I recall, years ago, a certain church’s announcing a coming seminar to help parishioners handle church-participation stress. I thought to myself, “Why don’t they teach the parishioners how to be nice to each other instead? I have asked many different pastors, over the years, why the church does not teach people how to love one another, with the huge focus Jesus put on the topic. I did not get a satisfactory answer from any of them. One, a very popular, older pastor, said my question was valid, and was at the center of life itself. He said he would pray about it and get together with me and we would talk about it. Well, after several postponements, he finally did not call back at all. I finally realized that I was really putting pastors on the spot - they just didn’t know what to say. I asked one person why the church doesn’t teach people to love, in practical terms, and the person replied, “Because they don’t know what love really is, either.” I have thought that love is such a sticky subject, and demands so much good change from us, the church leaders are afraid to emphasize the topic for fear of criticism and rejection. Then, there are those serious thinkers that maintain that the church is really about power and money. According to church history, Jesus’ emphasis on loving one another has NEVER been within the central circle of focus. I have found that “the church” frowns on someone “questioning things,” and will ostracize if one persists! Individual reasoning is not encouraged, or even tolerated, if such reasoning leads to conclusions outside the mainstream.
Inevitably, the paucity of wholesome love has allowed the presence of evil and hurtfulness on a massive scale, over the thousands of years, and to the whole earth. The harm is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual to all of God’s creatures. Moreover, the environment is exploited and ruined.
Spiritually, there is no truly neutral ground.. Perfect love “casts out” sin. Love covers a multitude of sins, or “fills the space” so sin can’t be present. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of true, Godly love. Christ died to bring love into the world. If Christ-like love is not there, Satan and sin are, which is an awesomely important matter. When we move from the darkness of sin into the light, we are moving into the light of love. We move from being in sin, where we are hurtful influences, to becoming more like Christ, where we are helpful influences. What could be more important to ourselves and to those that we affect?
In human terms, lack of healthy love really aids the sins of the fathers to be visited upon the third and fourth generations. Children grow up with all sorts of emotional and behavioral problems. Criminal and drug behaviors abound. People being hurt one way or another is routine. Innocent, beautiful, precious animals suffer on and on. Cruelty, hatred, insensitivity, apathy, exploitation, sociopathy, psychopathy, murder, etc - the list of suffering and death is infinitely long.
Christians are supposed to be “for real.” They are supposed to be more sincere, to have greater integrity, to be more responsible, and more caring, because they are following Jesus. We are supposed to be able to trust Christians. To what extent is this true?
If we were to do an in-depth analysis of the “track record” of the Christian church, as a whole, throughout the ages and today, we would find an innumerable number of sermons preached, prayers uttered, good works done, Bible classes taught, and etc. We would notice so many sincere,, God-fearing priests, pastors, and lay Christians striving to live out what they believe in, as best they know it. But, as St. Paul states in I Corinthians 13, if the vital ingredient, love, is missing, our efforts are as nothing, and, worse yet, probably result in some kind of hurtfulness.
A person traveling on the road to holiness - into the light of love - will be changing his or her motives and interests as he or she goes, learning better communication skills, developing kinder, warmer feelings, responding differently to situations and fellow creatures, and so forth. Yes, the Holy Spirit is there to guide us, but we need all the help we can get to learn the many aspects of communicating lovingness. For example, why couldn’t a church teach good manners, at least, or good communication skills in a culture that suffers lacks in both of those areas in these times? Sunday school classes could include sections on empathy and compassion, with the teacher modeling such behaviors, of course. There are excellent teaching materials in relevant areas in the secular world, if the church didn’t have too much pride to make use of them or consider them possibly “humanistic.”
As theologians of the past have pointed out, we need to become “new beings” – loving, transformed beings who not only love God, but who love his whole creation. To love all of creation means to actively care about all of creation and to live in harmony and stewardship of it, including the planet, the animals, one another, and ourselves. Truly loving individuals don’t hurt anything or anybody if they can possibly help it, On the contrary, they are there to sensitively and kindly help and nurture.
As one marvelous elderly Christian lady told me, “You’ve got to be clean! And that means more than soap ‘n water!!
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