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We’re too smart for love

November 18, 2009

Has the Church in the West abandoned the love of Christ for recreational theology?

Last weekend I got to attend a conference with the students from [redefined]. It was a great time, as always, but one session in particular pierced my heart. The theme of the weekend was love. God’s love. Brotherly love. Romantic love. They covered love. It was sacrificial love on Saturday afternoon, though, that wounded me.

Joel started by painting a very detailed, rather graphic, picture of the society into which Jesus was born. Some of the prevailing ideas from the culture:

  • Infanticide was common.
  • Children would roam the streets in groups – like packs of wild dogs – after having been abandoned by their families.
  • “Sick people should be left to die.” -Plato
  • Emperor Tiberius once remarked that he loved to see tortured humans thrown into the sea.
  • Emperor Caligula commented that he loved seeing human beings dragged through the streets with their bowels hanging out.

Christians, of course, became great game. Tens of thousands died in the Coliseum – as bait for wild dogs or lions, or as human torches along the perimeter – but the gladiators had been featured “entertainment” for 300 years before Jesus ever showed up.

It was into that world, where human life amounted to about nothing, that Jesus came, commanding His followers to love their neighbors as themselves. He healed the sick instead of letting them die. He held wild children instead of ignoring them. He taught that we’re nothing without love, and His disciples got it.

Early believers were known to adopt those infants that had been left to die. They set up the first orphanages. When plague ravaged a town, people fled, but the first Christians quickly earned a reputation for entering those cities in order to care for the sick and dying – many times giving their lives to the same plague in the process.

Benignus of Dijon, for example, nursed and protected a number of deformed and crippled children that had been saved from death after failed abortions and exposures. His act of love was so contrary to the culture that he was put to death for it.

A soldier in Constantine’s army, Pachomius, reported giving his life to Christ after watching local Christians come and care for his soldiers who were wounded and/or hungry – the same soldiers who had been persecuting those believers.

The result was a complete change of the known world in less than 70 years. In 311 AD, Christianity was illegal. By 325 there was some sort of hospice service in every city with a church. In 374, abortion and abandoning a baby were outlawed, and in 378 the gladiator games were stopped.

The world turned over. The “impossible” cases met the Lord. The Church grew. Jesus was glorified, and it wasn’t because they could answer all the hard questions. It wasn’t because one particularly smart Christian wrote a good book in response to an antagonistic atheist. It wasn’t because of their Bible studies, or weekend experiences, or small groups, or potlucks. It was because of their love.

The world turned over because they went out and loved people – practically, effectively, and sacrificially.

We don’t love people sacrificially any more. Collectively, I wonder sometimes if we even love people conveniently. We strive to earn Christian Points by attending a mid-week service or small group in addition to Sunday mornings, by volunteering on a Sunday morning, or by reading an extra “Christian” book every month, but we’re commanded to love people. How can we even show up to an extra-credit meeting if we haven’t loved our neighbor? In 1 John, the disciple who really got “love,” tells us that if we don’t love our brothers we don’t really love God!

Theology is great. It’s fun. I enjoy it. (But why, really? Do I enjoy it because it deepens my love of God and people, or because I enjoy a good discussion/debate and like to be right?) We do need to assemble ourselves together. It is good and necessary to study scripture.

But not in place of love. “Be not a hearer of the Word only, but a …”

Because love without deep theology will turn nations. Deep theology without love will eventually cave in on itself.

I know we’re all terribly busy. And we’re all re-evaluating our financial situations. And we’ve all been raised with this predominantly Western/Athenian mindset that values philosophies and ideas and knowledge, left to right, over-analyze, reason over emotion, wisdom over feeling.

And I know most of us have grown up in, or been introduced to, local churches that don’t ask much, or expect much, or really hope for much. And we’re used to showing up 15 minutes late on Sunday, nodding our heads, sharing a cup of coffee, and going home to sleep it off.

But what if we practiced loving people again? What if we decided to love people in ways that made us uncomfortable, or took up some of our time, or cost us money? What if we got back to adopting the ones that other people abandon, and hugging the ones that other people forget, and feeding the ones that other people ignore, and running to the ones that other people run away from?

We’d probably never get that flat screen TV, or that iPhone. Probably never have the nicest yard on the block. We’d may never win a theological debate ever again, and the cerebral atheists would probably continue to call us simple, stupid, superstitious people. But maybe we’d turn the world up-side-down in the process.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather H. permalink
    November 19, 2009 2:40 pm

    This was awesome… nicely written too. However, don’t try this in organized religion. It will piss people off at worst, confuse them at best and eventually get you ostracized. Loving people is a dangerous business. I wish you the best of luck. =)

    • Lex permalink
      November 19, 2009 4:20 pm

      Thanks Heather. I’m never sure what people mean when they reference “organized religion” anymore, but I think I agree.

      A lot of “Christian” institutions are confused or hostile about practically loving the unlovable, but then again a lot of “Christians” who shun churches ignore the issue. Then I hear about or meet local Christian churches/congregations that really are loving people sacrificially – and at a level, Jesus calls His people to be a body, a temple, and a family, which require some organization/structure.

      But I don’t think I really care what we do or do not call organized religion. I’m with the people giving of themselves to love others in Jesus’ name. Let’s do this. :)

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