[David Heyward, The NakedPastor]
There are many dirty little secrets within Christianity. Some would say the whole things is dirty little secrets, start to finish, and nothing else. That view comes down to “does God exist or not?” If God does not, then yes, it’s all dirty secrets and manipulation and facade. I understand that if you believe no God exists, the church becomes a nightmare of self-deception and a greenhouse for abuse.
But why does that perspective matter, if God is real? Aren’t those the people trying to destroy our culture by rejecting all the values God teaches us? Isn’t part of our motive for keeping our dirty laundry hidden the fear that these secular atheists will just use it as more ammunition to attack us and pass laws to restrict our freedom to follow Jesus?
I’ve just described where the battle lines have been drawn in the U.S. Those are generalized groups, but trust me, both are well represented: people who think Christianity is a fraud that harms our culture and people who think that those attacking the church are our enemy who hope to criminalize being Christian.
God’s love says “no.”
“No” to these battle lines. “No” to this battle.
People who hate Christianity are not God’s enemies.
Let me say that again louder: People who hate Christianity are not God’s enemies.
This is an old mistake, but we keep getting fooled by it. “Master, shall we call down lightning from heaven on them?” Why no, let’s not do that.
God doesn’t hate the people who hate God. God is real, God is love, and God loves enemies.
I mean, us.
Read Romans 5 again. We were God’s enemies. We got to be Jesus’ followers because Jesus refused to hate his enemies; Jesus refused to have enemies.
We aren’t fighting some culture war. No, let me put that differently: We aren’t following Jesus faithfully by fighting some culture war.
I know a few things about Jesus and this is one: Jesus did not send us to fight a war against the people who don’t believe in Him.
We put ourselves in a different category of “enemies” than these enemies. We acknowledge that we were enemies but somehow think we’re supposed to treat these enemies differently than we were treated because they’re more enemy-ish. “Yes, I was God’s enemy, yes I was a sinner, yes I believe Romans 5, but this is different…”
No, it’s not. It’s really not.
God loves enemies. You can’t be God’s enemies because God won’t let you be. That’s what God’s love means.
And if you are reading this thinking, “Dang, Mike, you had it with that whole manipulation facade thing,” I respect your right to believe that and not to believe in God. Unfortunately, we who follow Jesus have given you ample reason to think that we’re conning everyone. I believe in Jesus because I have experienced God’s love for me and, I’m convinced, I would be dead or a nightmare of a human being, had I not. I hope you can respect my belief.
The more we Jesus followers buy into this “Circle the wagons! Man the walls! Defend the Alamo!” perspective, the more we will twist the Gospel into something God never intended. A person rejecting–or refusing to do business with–those who believe differently does not resemble Jesus in this action. In fact, that’s the antithesis of the Jesus I know. Jesus doesn’t reject people who believe differently or live differently. God’s love transforms us by first breaking down the walls between us and Jesus, then showing us how we need to love ourselves, then starting with us the hard work of loving others as we love ourselves. Those are the two most important commandments, the ones into which everything else is rolled up. Which others? Well, Jesus, who is my neighbor?
Oh, Dang. Them? All of them?
Now, I am pissed off at people who do not, who will not see how following Jesus has become sickeningly mixed with U.S. cultural values that have nothing to do with what Jesus taught or lived. I’ve made no secret of that. But those people (or you people) cannot be my enemies, or else I have parted company with Jesus. I can’t let that happen and Jesus won’t stand by and let that happen in me. For me to hate them and make them my enemies, I have to keep rejecting and silencing the voice in my head and heart that calls me to love them. I literally have to distance myself from Jesus to do that (metaphysically not possible but experientially it can be done, and therein lies the great mystery of an omnipresent yet ineffable God).
I recently received this comment on (that hellscape known as) Twitter, in response to God’s Love, part 3.
“Thanks for your candor and Christlike compassion directed at gently rebuking an erring church. I’m at a loss for a way to engage with the people of God who have been hijacked into loving a church so much that people become dispensable.”
These words won’t leave my mind. I devoutly yearn to have Christlike compassion. I hope and pray I “resemble this remark,” as my father loved to say. My thoughts don’t feel gentle much of the time. But it turns out we don’t have to voice all of our thoughts (I know, right?) and when we’re telling people about God’s love, it helps not to beat them with a pipe. Think of it as a consistency thing. The delivery of the message should corroborate the message.
So here it is: God loves people and makes people a church. There is no church other than people, and the word “church” doesn’t mean building, it means people who follow Jesus. If you can’t go to church because you love Jesus and find going into that building and hearing what they say about Jesus contradicts with your experience…we are called to love them. If you feel attacked by people who seem to hate the Jesus you know and want to undercut everything decent and moral in our society…we are called to love them. If you have someone telling you that Trump is God’s man in the White House and who won’t stop asking, “Do you believe that God is sovereign and therefore ordained Trump to be President?”…we are called to love them.
God’s love for enemies means our enemies. Because it first meant us. Now we know God’s love for us and therefore we cannot decide that anyone falls outside God’s circle. God’s love seeks to embrace everyone.
If we understand “love,” we understand this doesn’t mean we suddenly agree, or pretend to agree, about fundamental differences. BUT–and I truly pray you will hear this–we have to care more about loving people with Jesus’ love than we care about fighting for our (culturally-compromised version of) Christianity. We can’t “love a church so much that people become dispensable,” because people are the only church and that is not God’s love. Uncircle the wagons. Open the fort doors and come outside. Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility between us, not build it higher.
Following Jesus means loving others as God has loved us.
If we aren’t attempting to love as God loves us, then we aren’t following Jesus. That doesn’t mean God stops loving us; it means we have chosen our own direction, away from where Jesus wants to lead us.