Jul 21, 2008
The Absence of Love in Christianity
I am always amazed when I read Paul's letters to the Corinthian church. I have always felt the Corinthian church was the enemy's way of distracting Paul from spreading the truth. In fact, everything about the Corinthian church and their behavior was clearly (in my mind) a sign that they didn't know God from Adam.
Sometimes I feel like first and second Corinthians should be entitled "Letters to the unsaved," because there is no way in the world these people possessed the love of God. In many ways I see the mass exodus from the Institutional Church system as this generation's way of doing what Paul should have done to the Corinthian church two thousand years ago. People are finally opening their eyes and saying, "You guys clearly don't have it, so I think I'll move on."
The Corinthian church was a perfect picture of what happens in the midst of the absence of love. These people were boasting about how one of their own was sleeping with his fathers wife. They were getting drunk and partying during the Lord's Supper. They were suing each other, sleeping with prostitutes and following men instead of God. I'm not even sure why Paul continued on with them when they so clearly didn't get it.
I look at the modern day Church and I see a lot of the same kinds of behavior. I'm not talking about sinful conduct, but about clear evidence of the absence of love. When you have to teach someone how to love, they clearly don't have it. If you have to slowly walk through a list of symptoms of love and teach on each and every one of them, you are clearly talking to people who haven't even crossed the starting line in their Christianity. Such was the case in the Corinthian church and such is the case with thousands of institutional Christians today.
Years ago, I had this cat named Jaboah. She got pregnant from a neighborhood cat and before we knew it she was ready to pop. I can remember worrying that she wouldn't know what to do with the kitties once they were born. Who would teach her what to do? To my amazement, one by one, as they came out she sprang into action and cleaned them up, gathered them together in a safe place and started breast feeding them. How did she know to do that? It was instinct. Something inside of her rose up and told her what to do.
Love is exactly the same way. When we receive the Lord into our hearts, we are receiving LOVE. The instincts of love rise up from within us and ALL AT ONCE we know and understand right from wrong. It's not something we learn, it's something we receive at salvation. Though we may have to teach ourselves to live according to the love within us and not according to our flesh, we should at any time, be able to stop and focus in on that love and KNOW THE ANSWERS. I don't see this in the Corinthian Church and I don't see it in modern day Christianity.
I think the clearest evidence of the absence of love in modern day Christianity is the general attitude I see from people concerning the subject of love. It is no longer seen as the very heart beat of Christianity. Its position in our religion has been demoted from "Commander and Chief" to "Paper boy." People today talk about love as though it is "one of many things" within the Christian walk that we need to focus on. It doesn't stand out anymore as the central focal point through which all things derive. Instead it has been apathetically inserted somewhere randomly in the middle of a long list of religious practices we're supposed to follow.
I am always astonished by the widespread reactions of today's Christians to those of us who have set out to restore the kingship of love to our religion. We are seen as foolish and immature. They look at us as though we're lost in an idealistic fantasy world, much like the sex-crazed hippies of the 1960's. We're accused of being excessive, imbalanced and "Just a little off in our thinking." I can specifically recall no less than a hundred people giving me that "you're-a-stupid-simple-child" look, just before reminding me that, "There are so many other things in addition to love that we need to focus on as well."
It has become quite clear to me that the modern day Institutional Church is very much like the Corinthian Church in Paul's day. They flat out don't get it! This is precisely why a pastor can have something new to preach about every single week for fifty years. He's preaching about all those other things. The very fact alone that we have to preach about the things that should naturally be happening in the lives of people who love, is proof that love is absent from our religion. The actual truth of the Gospel doesn't take more than about an hour to explain to someone. When a person gets it deep in their heart, they get everything. They don't need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. It's in them already. I honestly believe that this is why there are only about two or three sermons by Jesus in Scripture. Inside of those sermons there exists EVERYTHING you need to know-IF YOU GET IT! If you don't get it however, you'll need teaching after teaching on every single point of life.
I have actually had people write comments of correction to me under my blog posts, informing me that "just preaching on love is imbalanced." They'll quote verses where Jesus says, "If you love me you'll keep my commandments," reminding me that I also need to preach on all the commandments of Jesus in addition to love. Could you imagine a marriage counselor telling me that it's not balanced for me to just focus on loving my wife with all my heart, but I need to also focus my attention on not beating her, not calling her names, not lying to her and not cheating on her. Do you hear how ridiculous that sounds? If you have love, everything else will follow! The very fact that people think this way is evidence that they have never seen or experienced love first hand.
My wife and I visited a local mega-church several years ago and we were blown away at how pathetically patronizing the teaching was. It was like attending Christian Kindergarten. I felt demeaned and belittled just having to sit there and endure stuff that was so basic to love that even a person who had the smallest drop of love in their heart would have known. Everything this church preached was basic common sense. I was surprised to find that this same teaching style has become the most popular and appreciated style among today's mega churches.
My wife and I love Joel Osteen with all of our hearts. I think he's probably one of the nicest and most sincere Pastors in the world. I have nothing but respect for him. I personally think he's a genius because he has rightfully determined the present state of American Christianity. He's figured out that almost no one knows God. Not even Christians. He reminds me of an inner city high school teacher who has discovered that his entire class cannot read or write their own names. Calculus, Geometry and Physics are tossed in the trash and the old pre-school alphabet poster with pictures of apples, bananas, and cats is pinned up. It's literally a matter of starting from square one because these kids will never be able to go one step further in life until they get the basics.
The first time I listened to one of Joel's sermons on television I was amazed at how ridiculously stupid it was. I'm talking, one plus one equals two kind of stupid. It was almost offensive. I just assumed he was speaking to a room full of five-year-olds. I fully expected Barney to come out and start dancing around the stage with a few Teletubbies. Then when the camera panned out across an audience of over thirty-thousand people, I was shocked and bewildered to find that he was actually talking to a room full of ADULTS! If that weren't enough to completely shake my faith in Christianity altogether, I was even more stunned to see that the majority of them were actually taking notes as though they were hearing something they wanted to make sure to study again later. Several times the entire audience broke out in applause as though what Joel was saying was one of the greatest revelations they had ever experienced. And I kid you not; in his sermon, he even said something like, "Don't give someone the finger on the freeway when they cut in front of you."
If a man has to be taught not to scream at his wife and call her names, if he has to be told to listen to her when she speaks and hold her hand when they walk together, if he has to be taught to tell her she's beautiful and give her kisses, if he has to be encouraged to communicate with her and make her feel pretty, and if he has to be encouraged to support her financially - THAT MAN DOES NOT LOVE HIS WIFE! When Christianity becomes a teaching series on how to treat people and how to live life practically, it's the first sign that love is absent. When modern day church sermons begin to take on the form of an episode of, "Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood", it's time to ask ourselves if we have missed the very heart of our religion.
Some pastors have taken on the daunting task of preaching a step-by-step series on how to perform the symptoms of love. This task could literally take a lifetime. In fact, this is precisely whey there were 613 laws in the Old Testament; it was pathetic. It was like God was talking to a bunch of little kids. Sadly, this is exactly what I see in churches today. It's as though no one has ever seen or heard of love in their entire life. They need a list of rules that literally forces them into acting out the very things that would come naturally if they loved.
When you have love in your heart, the Ten Commandments are offensive. You are so far above that measly list of rules that when you hear them, it makes you laugh. I would truly be offended if someone sat me down in all seriousness and told me not to kill my wife and kids, not to lie to them, cheat on them, or steal from them. That's not even stuff that crosses my mind - BECAUSE I LOVE THEM. This is precisely how modern day church sermons come across to a person who has love within them. Ironically I watch in dismay as people gasp and applaud as though they were hearing life changing revelation when a preacher tells them things they should have already known.
If you love people, living life works itself out beautifully and perfectly. Every single Christian principal there is, is fulfilled in love. This is why Jesus said that if you love God with all your heart, mind and soul and you love people, you will have fulfilled "all of the law and the prophets." The reason why people reject this teaching and insi st that we teach what they are teaching is because they have neither seen nor experienced love in their entire lives. It is beyond their comprehension. To them, love is just another teaching in a long list of other teachings. They don't see it as the heart of all Christianity. They give themselves away every time they try to downplay what we say and expose us as being ideological and imbalanced.
They have to read their Bibles daily or they'll become pagan inside of a few weeks. They must go to a building and listen to someone tell them what and what not to do or they'll fall off the deep end and destroy themselves and others. If any of them skip three Sunday services in a row, they fall so far from God that they forget He ever existed. They need rulers over them that they must submit to or they'll be totally lost in this world. They cannot trust themselves to have friendships with anyone outside of their church or they'll be led astray like blind dumb sheep. They cannot even walk through a night club or a cocktail lounge without being tempted to abandon their God and drink themselves into an oblivion. When they hear us talking and laughing about the freedom we now have, they fearfully and angrily attempt to warn us of the impending doom we are facing. They rebuke us. They correct us. They try to warn others about us because for the life of them, they do not believe that what we have exists. Their religion is about willpower, determination, discipline, commitment, memorization, obedience and every other thing that people who don't love must have in order to survive. They must force themselves to worship God and they must be given the words to do it. They have to set a specific time to pray and commit to it or they'll forget and all will be lost. They have to try with all their might not to sin against their neighbor. They despise their own hearts and pride themselves for their blind obedience to their teachers.
When they want to sin but don't, they call it victory and when they don't want to do good, but force themselves to do it anyway, they call it faithfulness. When they don't know what to do and someone gives them the answer and they follow it, they call it obedience. They list the things they cannot touch. They memorize the things they cannot taste. They take notes on the things they cannot feel and they meet together and review those things over and over and over and over and over and over for the rest of their lives. They strap on their WWJD bracelets and try their best to imitate the life of the historical Jesus. Their motivation is rooted in their ever growing fear of the fires of hell and they'll trample anyone in front of them to escape it. Those who do not share that fear are excluded from their circles and banned from their congregations.
In all this, I still believe that these people do not have far to go in order to have what we have. They need not learn a thousand new teachings. They don't have to listen to a hundred sermons or read along list of all the right books. All they have to do is open their hearts to love.
I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that all there is to the message of the Gospel is Love. If you have love, you have everything you need.
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