Love at Work
Written By: Chris Mace
Country churches with their white spires poking into the sky stir up some wistful childhood memories of growing up in a small Maine town. Their edifices are historical icons. For the most part they are reminders of the long history of Christianity in New England and the central role it has played in the social and spiritual health of local communities. If they could speak, they would tell about generations of villagers who regularly attended, socialized, and worshiped within their sanctuaries. Some former parishioners are buried just outside the stained glass windows behind which their descendants still worship and squirm in well worn, uncomfortable pews Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Pump organs wheeze out hymns of the faith. Sanctuaries echo with messages extracted from ancient pulpit Bibles.
Catholicism and mainline protestant denominations are struggling today with issues of relevance while still preserving the important, foundational doctrines of the Church. In an increasingly humanistic society which has no need for God and asserts that ethics and morality are situational and arise from accepted societal norms and the goodness of man, there is conflict with Christian doctrine which holds that God is the source of morality and that mankind is so spiritually broken and morally impure that it needs restoration which is attained by faith. These are divergent views that can never conjoin. Difficulties arise when either or both parties behave with arrogance and disrespect, refuse to civilly engage, and intolerantly oppress the other.
Preserving the undiluted message of the Gospel and the authority of Scripture is the responsibility of the Church. Condemnation is not the work of the Church. The Word of God will discern the heart. Christ said that he did not come into the world to condemn it. He came as God’s grace and said that people would be judged by what they did with his teachings because what he spoke was the will of his Father. (John 3:47; 5:30; 12:19)
The tension we may sense between God’s amazing love and His holiness are major themes of Scripture! His love is all encompassing. He “loved the world” in an amazingly participatory way. (John 3:16) Because we all fall short of moral purity, Jesus came to redeem us, take the judgment for our sins, and give us his righteousness. (1John 4:9) Love and holiness are gifted to us through Christ. As images of God we have been created to be loving and holy. Because we obviously fail in both categories, we need God’s gracious redemption and the righteousness Christ gives us. Neither salvation nor holiness are achieved by our works, our efforts to be good enough.
Although current buzz words like tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion are wonderful concepts and hold an aura of love, they dilute love’s essence when substituted for or given equal status with love. Their use is limited, undiscerning, and potentially deceitful and harmful if not placed within the context of God’s holiness. Divine love is actually the remedy for our unholiness. It sets attitudinal and behavioral boundaries because it desires only the best for its recipient. God has set and shown us the guidelines for healthy moral choices because not every action or idea is good. Love from a biblical view point does not tolerate what is scripturally defined as unholy because immorality, lousy attitudes, and bad behaviors destroy the spirit.
If churches wish to be relevant in a society which is devolving into confusion and violence, then concern for souls has to be a priority. Although Christ’s heart was with the poor, sick, and disenfranchised, he came primarily to “seek and to save the lost”, to reveal truth about our lostness and God’s redemption. (Luke 19:10) (John 18:37) That is the Gospel, which is the life changing “power of God unto salvation to those who will believe.” (Romans 1:16) (1 Corinthians 1:18)(1 Corinthians 1:30) Grace, mercy, love and justice will spring from a faith which reorients love of self to love for God and others.
Churches will not “fail” if they adhere to God’s Word. Neither will societies that know and practice it.