"For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results."
-- Abbé Monchanin

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Part 4

The Fundamental Mark of the Christian - Love For One Another

By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.
John 13:35 (NIV)

Love for one another is the only biblical mark of the Christian. Orthodoxy does not identify the true disciple of Jesus. Orthopraxis does not identify the true disciple of Jesus. Love for one another is the only way the Christian is distinguishable from those who are not Jesus’ disciples.

Love is the dominant theme in the New Testament. It is the most explicitly enunciated commandment of Jesus for his disciples. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 NIV) “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17)

The epistle of 1 John is accurately described as a “love letter:”

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
(I John 3:11 NIV)

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (I John 3:14 NIV)

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:8 NIV)

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11 NIV)

“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (I John 4:21NIV)

Dorothy Day echoes I John 4:20 when she says, “I really only love God as much as I love this person I love least.”

The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear in I Corinthians 13 that apart from love, nothing in the Christian life really matters. If we fail to love, all of our right belief and right action amount to nothing.

In the messages to the churches in Revelation, the angel praises the church at Ephesus for their orthodoxy and orthopraxis. However, they are reprimanded for having “forsaken your first love.” (Rev. 2:1-6) They had lost the defining mark that distinguished them from those who were not true disciples of Jesus.

Madeline L’Engle recounts the story of a child in Sunday School who was asked, “Who are the pagans?” The child replied, “The pagans are the people who don’t quarrel about God.” L’Engle raises the question, “Why are Christians no longer known by how they love one another, but rather by how they vilify and sometimes hate each other?”

Unfortunately, lack of love largely characterizes the so-called “fundamentalist” wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. Public pronouncements regarding those who differ with them on convention governance often evidence more venom than love. Statements regarding those outside their fold are more often than not vicious and hateful. This also holds true for the “Religious Right.”

Philip Yancey has observed that “Grace dies when it becomes us versus them.” We may substitute “love” for “grace.” We cannot love one another while segregating ourselves on the basis of peripherals.

Loss of love for one another is a result of preoccupation with the “peripherals” rather than the “fundamentals” of the faith. Lack of love for one another is a denial of the lordship of Jesus, for it is a refusal to obey his direct command. Lack of love for one another is a denial of the resurrection of Jesus because it rejects his life as the standard by which his disciples live. Regardless of the words that come from our mouths, where there is no love, there is no Christian profession of faith or affirmation of the unical Christian creed of the Bible.

Love for one another is a non-negotiable fundamental of the Christian faith.

(to be continued)

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