This is addressed to those who, like me, identify themselves most closely with the evangelical movement. While I feel there is much here that can be applied to other denominations, movements and churches, I am drawing from my 40 years experience as a Christian within evangelicalism.
Dear Fellow Evangelical,
I have shared ideas in the past three weeks on how we can save, or renew, evangelicalism. I’m not interested in just painting the walls a different color. Yet I also don’t want to put up a For Sale sign and move to a different neighborhood. What we need is to clear out the clutter that has accumulated over the past generation, clutter that comes with too much attention focused on me me me and what God wants me me me to have. The message has been that he wants me me me to prosper, so I had better start getting more more more stuff so I don’t miss out on any of his blessings.
There has been too much attention focused on what we are against. The world knows evangelicalism based on those things we fight against. We are against gay rights, gay marriage, gays in the military, gays in the Boy Scouts, and, apparently, gay dogs. We are against government bailouts, handouts, and copouts. We are against big government, unless it can be led by our party of choice. We are against religion (meaning any church but our church). We are against liberal theology (defined as someone who believes differently than we do). We are against Catholics and their candidate for antichrist status, the pope.
There has been too much attention focused on our own clubs, also known as churches. We build bigger and better clubhouses in order to attract more club members, knowing full well that these new members will be leaving their current club to join ours, and also knowing that if we don’t keep adding new and shiny programs and fun things to do in our club these people will move on to the next club that builds bigger and better. And we need lots of dues-paying club members to maintain our clubhouse. In our weekly gatherings, we never say anything that might challenge or offend a club member. We want to make them feel good about themselves so they keep coming (and keep paying their dues, of course).
So we have a lot of clutter to clear away if we are to make our house livable once again. Some have said it would be better to just tear down the whole thing and move on. I disagree. I think there is much good in evangelicalism still. A missionary zeal for the lost. Passionate worship. A willingness to try new ideas and methods of reaching the sick and hurting and dying. A reverence for Scripture. A willingness to let it be known outside of the church that we are, indeed, Christians.
It is this last point that needs to be where we begin and end in our quest to save evangelicalism. This is the one mark that Jesus said would identify us as Christians. It is the way he said those outside of our tribe will know we are his followers. It is what we are most in need of today. It is the area where we are least competent. John records Jesus’ words on this most vital of all tasks we should be about.
I give you a new Law. You are to love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. If you love each other, all men will know you are My followers. (John 13:34, 35, NLV)
Love each other. The one thing Jesus told us to do in order to be recognized as his followers is the one thing we are most inept at doing. Instead of loving each other, we have causes and programs and plans and agendas that must be attended to or our young people will be swept away by the evil culture that surrounds them. Instead of loving one another we argue homeschool vs. public school vs. Christian school. Rather than love each other we protest our government by promoting political candidates from the pulpit. Love one another like Jesus loves us? Not when we have our careers to consider or movies to watch or …
Francis Schaeffer put it this way in his classic little book, Mark Of The Christian:
Jesus turns to the world and says, “I’ve something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.” In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them. And we must not get angry. If people say, “You don’t love other Christians,” then we must go home, get down on our knees and ask God whether or not they are right. And if they are, then they have a right to have said what they said.
I want to tell you a story. As many of you know, I have been struggling with depression, very strong depression that has felt like darkness that is crushing me. I am on doctor-prescribed medication. I see a counselor. But what I really need are a few friends—or even just one—who will tell me they love me just as I am, and who will stand with me no matter what comes. I shared this need with ten men at my church, all either on the pastoral staff or elders. I told them all that the depression was so strong I despaired of living any longer. This is a church where I have been a faithful attender for more than 14 years now. Of the ten, a couple invited me to coffee or a meal, and one sent me a text once to ask how my day was going. None told me he loved me. None has made an effort to walk with me through my days.
Now, at my work, I shared the story of my depression with a couple of young women who work for me. One of these women, I’ll call her Smokey (since that is what we all call her), has told me she doesn’t believe in God. She lives a lifestyle that would make most evangelicals shudder. But Smokey now goes out of her way each time we are working together to ask how I am doing, to ask what she can do to make my day better, and to tell me she loves me. She has even called the store on her days off to see how I’m doing.
If I am the man who was beat up by robbers and left for dead in the ditch, which of these is my neighbor?
What would happen if we all practiced the kind of love shown to me by Smokey? Would people be healed of depression? Would the world notice we are more than a “voting block”? Would we have to build bigger churches to hold all of the lonely, abused, hurting, sick and dying people who want nothing more than to be loved as they are?
Jesus loved by preferring us to himself. Who can you prefer over yourself today? Jesus loved by touching the diseased in order to heal them, thus making himself unclean. Who can you love today that will require you to get dirty? Jesus loved by feeding the hungry and giving wine to a thirsty wedding party. Who can you feed and give drink to today?
I am writing to you today to urge you to love. Stop telling us all what you are against, and love. Turn off Rush Limbaugh, and instead love. Practice not caring what someone’s sexual orientation is, and love. Today, love. Find one person whom you can love, and love them well.
Let me conclude with words written many, many years ago by a Jesus follower named John. Listen to his words. Soak in these words. Live according to these words. Love according to these words.
It is not hard to figure out who are the children of God and who are the children of the diabolical one: those who lack right standing and those who don’t show love for one another do not belong to God. The central truth—the one you have heard since the beginning of your faith—is that we must love one another.
If a person owns the kinds of things we need to make it in the world but refuses to share with those in need, is it even possible that God’s love lives in him? My little children, don’t just talk about love as an idea or a theory. Make it your true way of life, and live in the pattern of gracious love.
My loved ones, let us devote ourselves to loving one another. Love comes straight from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and truly knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. So my loved ones, if God loved us so sacrificially, surely we should love one another.
We love because He has first loved us. If someone claims, “I love God,” but hates his brother or sister, then he is a liar. Anyone who does not love a brother or a sister, whom he has seen, cannot possibly love God, whom he has never seen. He gave us a clear command, that all who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.
(All passages taken from 1 John, The Voice)