Some time ago, I was sitting in a room filled with pastors, priests, and even a few politicians. Represented was a large cross-section of the Church. Liberals. Conservatives. Pro-life. Pro-everything and anything.
At the time, it was both fascinating and disturbing to me. In my right-thinking-sound-doctrine-I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out position of superiority, I thought, the Church is messed up!
And instantly, I heard the Holy Spirit say in my heart, “This is my Church. She is broken, but beautiful.”
Of course, I knew I was a part of the Church, but I wasn’t so sure about the liberal woman minister with the priest’s collar. And I had severe doubts about the guy with his new-age-looking Bible. (Is that a rainbow on his leather Bible cover?)
But those words keep ringing louder and louder in my head, “This is my Church.”
Okay, God. I guess if they love and believe in You, then they belong to You, but there’s a right and wrong. Surely somebody has got to take a stand for sound doctrine. Maybe they are going to make it to heaven (even if they don’t believe in hell), but they’re embarrassing the Church (and me).
God was relentless: “This is my Church.”
Yeah, but Jesus, didn’t Paul warn us against heretics and those who abandon sound doctrine? Aren’t we supposed to caution those who “gather around them a great number of teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear?”
“Kurt, this is my Church.”
Have you ever tried to have a theological argument with God? It’s frustrating. He lands on facts but refuses to forsake love. He cares about truth, but He keeps wrapping it up in grace.
My problem: I often use truth (at least my perception and understanding of truth) to beat up people God apparently loves.
Beets! Could I be a modern-day Pharisee who makes being right more important than being relational?
Truthfully, I’m never going to be a progressive liberal Christian. But have I built my faith on a “solid foundation of doctrine” while ignoring what Jesus said was most important?
While addressing the “hyper-religious” of His day, Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This directive is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Everything hangs on love for God and love for others.
Everything that’s been taught to us and all the sound doctrine in the world hinges on one thing: love. Love wins.
In another place, Jesus spoke these words that haunt me when I think about my occasionally self-righteous, theologically angry heart, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).
Question: How will the world know we belong to a good, merciful, and gracious God? How will they know that Jesus lives?
Answer: If we love one another.
Could it be that simple?
Does sound doctrine matter? Of course, it does. I’m not suggesting Christians embrace atheists as brothers or Buddhism as another way to God.
Shouldn’t we be aware of false teachers? Yes.
Do the orthodox tenets of our faith matter? Absolutely. We must proclaim one God revealed in three. One Savior crucified, yet alive. One way to the Father and one Church.
But maybe I’m not as theologically sound as I think I am. Perhaps I’m going to get to heaven and find out that some of the distinctions I held onto so dearly are not so important in the end. Maybe there will be some folks standing next to me that I judged unworthy, but Jesus embraced as His.
For my ultra-conservative friends, relax. I know the phrase “love wins” probably pushes your buttons. I’m not suggesting you embrace some willy-nilly free-for-all belief system based on tolerance or compromise. Teach and stand on truth, but please do so in love. Is it possible you don’t have it all figured out?
For my ultra-liberal progressive friends, please practice what you preach. Be tolerant of those who you think judge you (guys like me), and please do so in love rather than disgust. Maybe you don’t have it all figured out either.
I had a conversation with an author and a young woman who wrote about her spiritual journey. I read her book, and her pain and pursuit of God moved me. I identified with her questions and struggles in many ways because I once wrestled with them in my life.
However, I was bothered a bit by her theology. It seemed she was an Omnist (one who believes all religions and all faiths are equal in value and all lead to God). After reading the final chapter, I wondered if she knew and loved the Jesus I know and love. Unfortunately, I was ready to write her off as another confused thirty-something who wanted to define God in her terms rather than His.
Then we spoke on the phone.
And to my surprise and delight, she loves Jesus. She’s a Christian, and I have no doubt we will spend eternity together. Her book is simply a story of her yet unfinished journey of faith. (By the way, aren’t we all unfinished and in process?)
After we hung up, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart again, “It’s my Church, and it’s filled with broken yet beautiful people who haven’t figured it all out yet . . . people just like you, Kurt. Will you love my Bride?”
With eyes filled with tears, I whispered, Yes, Father, I will.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one—
I in them and you in me—
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:22-23 (NIV)