Written by Sam Logan
Monday, 18 June 2012 06:30
Stan Duncan, a pastor and columnist for the Huffington Post, recently cited the following story with approval:
I've been encouraged by the words of a Baptist preacher friend from Dallas who once told me that when he dies and stands before St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he hears a list of his lifetime's sins, he expects to hear a long list. But when all is said and done, he said he would much rather be judged for being too open minded than too closed. "If I'm going to make a mistake," he said, "I suspect God would rather it be a mistake of loving too many people into the kingdom than too few."
Frankly, I suspect that, if anything, Duncan fails to state strongly enough the Scriptural mandate of love. There is no biblical warrant whatsoever for simply loving “many!”
This is the first of three posts in which I will share some thoughts on the why, the how, and the “how not” of Christian love . . . as I understand these things from Scripture.
I start with the why.
I have titled this blog “Three Reasons Why I Should LOVE Those With Whom I Disagree.” Part of the reason why I did this is because I often find it harder to love those with whom I agree than those with whom I disagree. It seems that the fiercest battles in the Christian world are often fought among those who would seem to have the most in common. I am a Presbyterian and there is good reason why the world often looks at us and just calls us “the split P’s!” That is tragic and because I have been and am complicit in this, I must repent and seek the help of the Spirit to change. In a sense, therefore, loving those with whom I largely AGREE is the harder task. So, admittedly, I am starting with the easier of the tasks.
But another reason for entitling my blog what I have is suggested in Duncan’s blog above – in the story he cites, there seems to be a clear connection between loving and being open or closed minded. And that is a common concern, both inside and outside the church.
So why should I love those with whom I disagree? Let’s make it even stronger – why should I love those whom I think are sinning?
Three reasons (out of many):
1. What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.
I remember growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Until my late teens, I was absolutely convinced that those who promoted racial equality were wrong. I’m not sure if I would have called their advocacy of integration “sin,” but, even if I did not, I was convinced that they were acting contrary to numerous biblical passages such as Genesis 9: 18 – 25. I know, I know! How could I ever be so stupid/blind as to think that the curse which was laid upon Ham meant that white and blacks must be kept separate? I now have no idea . . . and more than I have any idea why, for most of the history of the church in the West, similar stupidity/blindness prevailed.
So I must humbly remember my earlier stupidity/blindness when I make decisions about what is right and wrong today – abortion, genetic manipulation, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc. I certainly COULD be wrong again. But more on this in my third blog of this series.
2. What really is CLEARLY commanded throughout Scripture.
Paul wasn’t just constructing a neat linguistic structure when he said, “So now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” He was speaking the absolute and inerrant word of God.
Someday, I would like to hear the following questions asked in a presbytery ordination exam or in a local church membership application interview: “Tell us exactly how your life shows that ‘the greatest of these is love.’” This is a bit like many discussions I have heard about the teaching of Genesis 1 – 3. Of course, it is important to know and to believe what Scripture teaches on the difficult subject of the details of Creation. But isn’t it at least as important to ask this question – “Exactly how does your life demonstrate that God is your Creator?”
There are lots of important biblical doctrines (doctrines which we MUST believe) which Jesus Himself did not directly teach. But there is no question about this doctrine – “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44); “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another” (John 13:34); etc. And there is no question about the pervasive presence of this commandment throughout all of Scripture – you can check out your concordance as well as I can.
3. What brings the greatest honor and glory to the Triune God.
Man was created in the image of God and it is a full return to that perfect “imageness” in which we were created that is one of the central goals of God’s work of redemption. This is because God Himself, not you or I, is the ultimately central figure in that work. Not only is He the central figure in doing that work; He is the central figure in where that work is going – as wonderful as it will be to have all of our tears wiped away, the REALLY wonderful thing is that God will receive the honor which He should receive.
And the greatest honor of all will be given to God when we, His creatures, mirror back to Him His own nature.
What is His nature?
But God shows His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).
Talk about “those with whom we disagree.” Talk about the One who REALLY knows what is “godly” or “ungodly.” Talk about living out what is clearly commanded in Scripture.
And what Jesus did is to be the model for how we act –
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
This is actually the problem with the story which I quoted at the beginning of this blog – that story makes it sound like there is some kind of pre-set limit to the size of the group which I am supposed to love (broad or narrow). Wouldn’t most of us be in a mess if that was how God loved in Christ? I know that, no matter how “broad-minded” God might have been, I would never have been included in that love if it were based on anything other than His gracious, sovereign will. Whoever that Baptist pastor was, my response to him would be, “Think and live bigger!”
That’s the theory.
That’s, in some ways, the easy part.
Words are one thing.
But what does such love look like in practice? What does it look like when applied in concrete detail to those with whom I really do disagree?
And what does such love NOT look like?
These will be the subjects of my next two blogs.
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan