Years ago I was with a friend driving through some rural parts of West Virginia and we passed a church that advertised themselves on their sign: “We are the church that doesn’t use a common cup.” Seriously?!?! That’s the message we want to send to the world?!?! I have never seen a kiddie pool that shallow. And yet many of us want to belong to “the church of not.” What does that mean? It refers to the churches and people who define themselves by what they don’t believe or what they are “not” in favor of or what they are against. You know what I mean? “We are the church that is not in favor of: drinking, smoking, dancing, playing cards, premarital sex, homosexuals, abortion, pro lifers, divorce, any Bible but the KJV, guns, anyone opposed to guns, democrats, republicans, nuclear arms, welfare, liberals, conservatives, birth control, Priests, seminary education, unions, adult baptism exclusively, infant baptism, and of course using a common cup.” I’m sure I could go on.
There are many things to “believe” in “the church of not.” Maybe it’s not “the church of not” that you resonate with… maybe you espouse the “faith of not,” i.e., “I believe that we should not __________.” You fill in the blank. Again, nothing wrong with having a clear theology. It’s troublesome however if “the faith of not” is the “sign” we hang on ourselves. And I should add, the sign we show the rest of the world.
Do not misunderstand me. Do not misunderstand me. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we shouldn’t have clearly defined standards based on good theology and the scriptures! I would never say that, encourage that, or personally believe that. I am simply talking about how we “portray” ourselves and what kind of things we choose to focus on or prioritized in our faith.
Allow me to give an example. For those with children… if you were asked what sort of parents you are, or what your philosophy of parenting is, what might you say? You could say, “We are strict. We believe that children ought to be disciplined when they do things that are opposed to our family values.” Frankly, for the most part I have no problem with that. (Depending on how we might define “strict” and “discipline.”) But I would wonder about anyone who would portray themselves that way from the outset. Might it be possible to say, “We are parents who love our children unconditionally. We believe in Christian values. We believe families are best served with a mother (female) and a father (male)…” We can say all of that while still valuing discipline. Get it? Would you leave your children in the care of those first parents? I wouldn’t. Not because I don’t agree with discipline but because I’m concerned about how they prioritize their parenting.
So when we think about a church… or even our own faith, do we focus on the “nots,” or do we focus on the “yeas.” Yes, I believe in and practice the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe in, and receive and give Grace. Yes, I believe in and strive to practice the unconditional love of God. Yes, I believe in expressing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – Galatians 5: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I would encourage you to do a study on the things Jesus talked about. How often did he express the “not” sentiment? Surely he did on occasion, so I am not denying that. Clearly he talked about things that people ought to eschew. But what were those things? Primarily the things that really got Jesus riled up were when religious leaders led people away from the faith for their own ends. Or when the Law was used to oppress people rather than to show forgiveness, mercy and love. Or maybe do a study on the things Jesus NEVER mentioned like slavery or oppression of women. He actually did address these things, but not directly… not in a “not” kind of way. What he did was talk a lot about “love” and “forgiveness.” Self sacrificial love, IF PRACTICED, sort of takes the ammunition away from oppression and slavery as we knew it in this country.
I would say that the way we behave and the way we choose to describe ourselves and our priorities has much to say about our hearts, i.e., do we begin with our anger, or do we begin with God’s love?
One of the great lies in our culture these days is worthy of combating. We are told in any number of ways that we cannot possibly love someone and disagree with their values or life style. THAT IS A LIE!!! We can surely do that… we just don’t. The accusation that it can’t be done is wrong. The accusation that we can but we don’t (if that accusation is ever made) is right on.
We as “Christians” have spent enough time giving lip service to our belief in expressing the love of God. Maybe it’s time that we stopped talking about it and actually started doing it.
Here is a practical exercise. Begin by thinking of 3 persons or types of people that you have a really hard time loving. You know who I mean… at least for you, you know. And then pray this prayer, “God, how do I express Your love to ________________________.” If the answer to your prayer comes back, “Condemn them.” Or “do not forgive them.” I think you are not hearing from God.
What are the two greatest commands according to Jesus? 1. Love God. 2. Love everybody else. If we can’t show that then we are not walking with Jesus.