“Love Jesus. Love others.” I first remember hearing those words about fifteen years ago. My uncle called me and said the church his family had been attending wanted to do away with heavy theological language, membership vows, bylaws and governance, creeds and confessions, etc. The motive was to sidestep general confusion and ignorance about “churchy” things by rallying together under the simple saying, “Love Jesus. Love others.” As you can imagine, he and I felt more than a little uncomfortable about such a change.
This well-known paraphrase of the greatest commandment (cf. Mark 12:28-34) has become a rallying cry for simplistic Christianity. Certainly these words are true in principle, but practically speaking, they are quite unhelpful for individual Christian living, much less for church life. The first questions that come to mind are, “What is love, and who determines that definition?” Additionally, when considering any Christian catchphrase, I like to ask the adverb questions – who? what? when? where? why? under what conditions? to what extent? For Christians to obey the greatest commandment, more information is needed than, “Love Jesus. Love others.”
Simple sayings are often good and helpful, but being simplistic about complex matters is altogether unprofitable. The widespread adoption of, “Love Jesus. Love others,” betrays a much larger problem in modern evangelicalism – a low view of the Church. Rather than viewing the Church’s hierarchy and structure(s) as an integrated, organic whole (truly, a new creation!), many (most?) modern evangelicals minimize or discard the need for membership, flatten or confuse church offices, treat sacraments lightly (e.g., cheap, easy, convenient baptism; failing to fence the table at the Lord’s Supper), and cast off longstanding ecclesiastical norms for “feel-good” freedom. Ironically, this low view of the Church, this simplistic approach to Christianity, has caused ever-increasing chaos in modern American churches.
Yet again I recommend to you the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast for its helpful insight into American Christianity and its trends over the last 20-30 years.
As we move into the next portion of our teaching series, the “Inward” portion, I encourage you to develop a high view of the Church. I am not advocating for “high church” (formality, organs, choirs, robes, etc.) but am advocating for greater love and appreciation for the church’s “ecosystem.” Much like the laws that God created to ensure harmonious interaction in nature – the water cycle, the gravitational complexity of our solar system, chemical reactions, molecular structure, food chains within different biomes, etc. – God established certain laws to ensure harmony in his Church. Far from being a boring “how-to” of organizational structure and operational efficiency, studying the Church’s “Inward” aspects should amaze and excite us just as much as studying creation. If God structured the old creation according to his perfect plan, how much more will he do so in the Church (his new creation)!!!
Perhaps the following examples will help… A good mechanic does not say, “Fill with gas. Change oil.” He has a high view of internal combustion engines and integrated electronics. A good farmer does not say, “Plant seeds. Pray for rain.” He has a high view of agriculture, weather, patience, and diligent care. A good shepherd does not say, “Feed sheep. Watch from a distance.” He has a high view of the animals under his care – knowing, nurturing, and tending them, both individually and as a flock. A good salesman does not say, “Sell stuff. Make money.” He has a high view of product value, customer service, relationship management, and profitability. In the previous examples, those who have a high view of their professions possess a full-orbed, ever-growing, humble, and responsible understanding of the subject matter. It is not, first and foremost, ability or giftedness that sets a person apart in his or her calling / profession. Rather, a person’s love for the subject matter produces a high view of the calling / profession, which in turn fosters attentiveness, diligence, and perseverance. Are not those the type of people we seek out in this world?
Why, then, are we surprised when the world wants nothing to do with a version of Christianity that possesses such a low view of the Church? If we do not take seriously our spiritual calling / profession – which is not to be a spiritual superhero, but is to be a humble servant in the larger body of Christ – is it any surprise that our churches have become increasingly irrelevant and undesirable to the world around us?
Brothers and sisters, let us rediscover what it means to have a high view of the Church so we might always be ready to tell others of the hope within us, that Christ Jesus loved and gave himself not (only) for me but, more importantly, for his bride, the Church.
Here are a couple articles to prepare you for our next meeting: