Thursday, August 3, 2006

The greatest of these is LOVE

Ok, so, get ready to go deep. I've been thinking a lot about I Timothy 1:5 lately. I started studying I Timothy recently because I've read a couple of books that critique the church, and I Timothy seemed to be a good way to get a Biblical perspective.

But first, the background: There are a couple of "movements" so to speak, in the Church today that need to be acknowledged. There's the Church Growth movement, which creates seeker friendly churches that are relevant to society, using the latest technology in worship services, and downplaying hard preaching and talk of sin and hell in effort to reach people who need Christ but would reject our teaching if it's all "hell, fire and brimstone." They rely as much on worldly wisdom (psychology) as they do God's Word. Prime examples would be some mega churches, such as Willow Creek and Saddleback. The main purpose is to reach out to those who don't know Jesus, and show them what they're missing, and led them in...

The second is in reaction to the Church growth movement, where people just want to return to the roots of Christianity, feeling that the church is watering down the Truth, so forget evangelical protestantism, these people want to go back to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. At least there, there aren't tons of divisions and the history is rich and the church is unchanging. This would be much safer than protestantism, right?

Both of these movements have points where they are right. Both have good things that are changes that would be good for the Church. They're almost polar opposites, though. So where should we stand?

I think both have a different opinion on God's Word. Church growth movement practically assimilates itself into our culture, making it hard to tell how God's Word makes them different. Studying God's Word isn't emphasized as much as it needs to be, and it produces a bunch of nondiscerning, baby Christians who don't desire the meat of God's Word. The second movement gives the Church leaders/traditions as much authority as God's Word.

What about studying God's Word for yourself? Sure, it's not easy. It takes time, research, and thought. (It's especially hard when you have small children!) And doesn't it just produce factions in the church? Just look at all the denominations of protestantism! Can we really get it right, when so many scholars disagree? Can it really produce unity among Christians, and can it really bring people to Christ without offending them? You probably already know where I'm going with this...Just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples. "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth." (John 17:17) And what else did he pray for? Unity. Among His disciples, and among the ones to come (that'd be us). And as far as offending people, that just comes with the territory: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18). Offending people, as much as we'd like to avoid it, comes with the territory.

So the truth is, we're sinners. There's no denying it, even if people don't want to hear it. God is just, and should we not accept His gift of salvation, Hell is the consequence. It's not His desire, He gets no joy out of it, but that's the truth. Does that give me the right to judge other sinners (such as homosexuals) for their sin? They are sometimes treated as unloved by God and beyond His mercy by Christians, which is grievous to me (sorry, tangent...). But the Good news isn't Good until you know the bad. We're all doomed apart from Christ. To deny that would be to misunderstand how great His sacrifice really was. Then the Good News: By coming as we are, and asking God to forgive us, and acknowledging that Jesus was His Son, who took our penalty on Himself on the cross, and then rose again to show His divinity, we receive salvation. We relinquish control of our lives and ask God to teach us how to be like Him, thru the study of His Word.

But what does all this have to do with I Timothy 1:5? "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith." Here is the end of the matter to me. If God's Word is being correctly applied to one's life, that person will be able to love unconditionally, with the same (agape) self -sacrificing love that Jesus showed. That's what distinguishes us from the world. That's what shows if the teaching is false or true. Does the church growth movement produce agape-lovers? Does the traditions of men produce agape-lovers? Do you want your church to grow? Preach the Word, and agape love people. Do you want the Truth to be preserved, without faction? Preach the Word and agape love people.

That's all I have to say about that. (LOL)

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