‘A conviction ungirded by love will make the possessor . . . obnoxious and the dogma he possesses repulsive. That’s why the cohesive factor in the ministry of the early Church resulted in the comment: “Behold how they love each other!” (Ravi Zacharias)
“How they love one another!” It wasn’t just something someone said only once. According to Tertullian, “See how they love one another!” was a common statement in Rome when new Christians painted a bright contrast to the darkness of the empire’s decadence and brutality.
We live in a decadent and brutal society today. We can barely drive down a highway, walk through a shopping center, or turn on our televisions or computers without noticing some element of our culture that reflects the debauchery of Rome.
We may soon rival Rome, but we aren’t quite there yet. We don’t have the gladiatorial arenas where we go to watch other humans die. Sexual slavery, including that of children, is not commonplace. We don’t accept it as a norm. Abortion is common. Infanticide isn’t yet.
Yet in the darkness around us, love still would surely stand out. But love among Christians is sometimes hard to find. To be sure, mass media, more often than not, distorts the love that Christians share. But sometimes we are the obnoxious ones who make our faith seem repulsive.
Unfortunately, many hold this picture as the reality of Christianity, people yelling at each other. We get emotionally charged over the moral issues of our day, same sex marriage and abortion, for example. We also invest our passions in politics, such as gun control and public education. We can beat each other over the head with arguments over baptism and communion. We are passionate people, and we fight our verbal battles passionately.
But sometimes the passion isn’t love. Rather it is a love of being right. Pursuing principles passionately means speaking truth in love. We don’t have to be silent. And if we love, we won’t always receive love in return.
Renowned author Dorothy Sayers writes that “It is a lie to say dogma does not matter; it matters enormously.” Sayers points to nominal Christians who fail to consider whether “religion without theology has any meaning.”
But she strikes a balance between essential doctrines–interpretations that “will find support both in Rome and in Geneva” and the idea that Christianity is something that can be “charming and popular with no offense in it.”
Some people will always find offense in Christian doctrine and Christian love–even if we accurately present one in discourse and live out the other in action.
But others stand in between. They don’t know doctrine. It is our job to love each other and them in order to show them who God is. To give them reason to say, “Look how they love each other!”
The early Church was known by their love and trampled in persecution because they spoke truth without compromise. But they turned the world upside down.
How would we act if we found ourselves in the throes of persecution? What if our world suddenly became dangerous for us and for those we argue with–over culture, over politics, over faith?
Who would we be willing to hide? Who would we love enough to help? Even if it cost us everything.
We are the only ones with a light to shine in the darkness. His love lights our way to a changed world.
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