The more I think about this topic, this has to be a Part One. I could go so many ways on this subject alone. If you read my blog, you know I go usually don’t go the way you might think of going.
I am guilty of not showing God’s love. I am quite good at not doing so. Maybe I came by it honestly. I grew up in a home of “Tough Love.” From the time that I was in second grade, or about then, until after I graduated from college, my father worked at remote locations. There were a couple of short stays when he worked in the same town, but those lasted too briefly. Thus, I was raised by my mother. My mother was stern. It is untrue that she never smiled. We would watch sit-coms a lot. If the sit-com was silly, she would say, “Oh, dear.” She would frown, even more so when I laughed. She must have thought, “How could I find something like that funny?” Her stern look made me feel ashamed to laugh. Yet, when the humor was witty and indirect, she would smile. If that acceptable situation (after all, it’s a sit-com) was then exaggerated to the absurd, she might even laugh. I would look in her direction. She definitely had a smile, but it also looked like she was in a lot of pain, maybe heart attack worthy pain. Yes, she could smile, but it hurt.
As for my Dad, he was my mother’s enforcer. Each time he came home, usually once per month, he would be given a long list of all of my sins. When I got off the school bus, he had his belt ready and the whipping began before he ever said, “Hi, son, I’m home.” I’d ask what the spanking was for and he would always say, “You know why,” but I never did.
When I got sick, I would receive good news and bad news. My mother would give me an enema, the more painful the better. All of her remedies involved pain. That was the bad news. The good news was that if I had to miss school, I stayed with my mother’s mother, MawMaw. She would rub my tummy and somehow, I felt better. I might be throwing up an hour later, but it didn’t matter at that moment. When I think of God’s love, I gravitate to my relationship with MawMaw.
But let’s look at the major denominations today. Where is the love there? Some are fighting over birth control, while others are fighting over the gay rights issue. Some argue over abortion. Some argue over whether the first part of John 8 should be in the Bible, among other passages, but I’ll get to that later.
What is the one word that rings through in all of the previous characterizations of the modern denominations today? “Argue.” I took four philosophy classes one summer in college. Since I had a military commitment while Vietnam was going, I could not take an extra year to finish school. I had to squeeze engineering school, a full ROTC program, and required electives into four years. Yet, that summer, I had a lot of fun arguing with my fellow philosophers. The University of Mississippi has always been a conservative university. The arguments didn’t get too heated, except from viewpoints that were slightly liberal to the far right. Yet, we did raise opposing views. But that is in philosophy class.
Why should churches argue? It seems to be the nature of any church. Take a modern non-denominational evangelical church. They have no set doctrine. They just believe in the Bible. They have no set order of worship. Some don’t even have bulletins, or any sort of guide as to where they are going. When they spring up, people come from far and wide for the experience. Then, slowly but surely, they find out that this group interprets the Bible one way, and this other group interprets the Bible another way. Divisions start to form. The church is left with either having internal divisions or the groups divide into different churches.
I grew up Presbyterian. When I first moved to Pennsylvania, my son’s piano teacher was driving us around one day and showed us two churches that had been founded by the same man. The question of “Why?” arose. She didn’t know, but the man had started five churches, all within a few miles of each other. Knowing how Presbyterians love to argue, I figured that the man disagreed with the preacher or session and took his family to a new building five miles down the road. This must have happened at least three more times to have founded five churches.
Why should this be a problem? The reason we should learn to live with one another is that God is watching, but others are watching also. They see that the people that call themselves Christians can’t get along with each other. How does that show God’s love? When churches are split down the middle on a current hot topic, churches either fight it out, ignore it – while keeping their distance from the other side of the church, or they split to form two churches. If God is so powerful, why does He let this happen? Why does He let the church be a beacon of how sin can rip us apart instead of how love can keep us together?
I know “Love can keep us together” is a famous song. The Captain and Tennille won a Grammy for the song, but love couldn’t keep them together.
Thinking of “togetherness”, I went on a grand adventure down the Oregon coast with my work partner one day. We were team teaching a two-day course at a steel mill in McMinnville, OR. We had one class on Monday and Tuesday and a second class on Friday and Saturday. That gave us two days off in the middle of the week. One day we drove to the beach to touch our toes in the ice-cold Pacific Ocean and then we drove south to Newport. We’d driven through a lot of bottlenecks. I got out the map and chose an inland route back. Soon, my partner says, “Hey, I saw a sign. Let’s visit the ‘Coming Together Farm.’ It’s just up the road.” This started a ten-mile conversation on what the “Coming Together” meant. When we got to the turn-off, I wasn’t surprised. The sign at the turn-off was painted on the side of a VW bus with flowers painted all over the bus. We both had a good laugh, but he was a lot younger. I remember that the hippies were going to create a new world with free love.
Every attempt that man makes to create an atmosphere of love turns into something far from it. The Devil is really good at helping us find the flaw in someone else’s concept of what love is. Then the argument starts.
What is the problem? I’d like to go back to the scripture that I mentioned earlier, the first part of John 8. Let’s look at John 7:53 through John 8:11 to be exact. It’s the story about the woman caught in adultery. It’s a great story. Why do they argue about whether it should be in the Bible? People who study the ancient texts say that the earliest known texts do not include the story. It was probably added by a scribe at some point, as some think. If it were eliminated, a great story would be lost, but it would not change anything regarding the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Yet, the argument is also with the way we view the story itself.
The Pharisees bring an adulteress to Jesus and suggest that she should be put to death. Leviticus 20:10 states that the man and woman should both be put to death. I have heard sermons and suggestions related to the adulterous man, possibly a man of influence, maybe one of the Pharisees that was picking up a stone at that very moment. There should have been two people being condemned, not just the woman. All in attendance, with stones in their hands, were guilty of excusing the man of his sin. I have heard sermons on what Jesus wrote in the sand, the only time it is recorded that Jesus ever wrote anything. Were these the sins of the accusers that had stones at the ready? I have heard sermons on not casting the first stone. This parallels Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount not to judge people.
I don’t think that I’ve ever heard a sermon on what Jesus does and says to the woman after everyone leaves. Jesus did not condemn her and He declared, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Notice that. We are so ready to not judge’ the other person that we excuse the sinner. Jesus, who did not sin, could have condemned. He could have stood in judgment. But He let her go, and yet, He made sure that he knew that she should repent. That is Jesus showing God’s Love. He forgave the woman, but He made sure that the woman knew her sin and how it was hurting her. All of us have sinned, but some of us want to interpret the Bible as an ancient book that is out of date. We can have this sin and that sin. We can call those two sins and repent of those, but that other sin is out of date. We can keep doing that one, because you have to stay with the times.
When the Old and New Testament writers wrote about sin, they had the same temptations that we have today. We have modern drugs that they didn’t have, but they had ways of getting hallucinations and highs. Their wine had the same alcohol in it that modern wine has. Their ox cart could flip over, the same as our recklessly driven cars can today. We just get there faster. We can kill with a rifle or shotgun. They had arrows, swords and knives.
The times have not changed. The Devil has simply convinced us that we don’t have to repent of our sins.
And on goes the argument. What is a sin? What is not a sin? I read something by Billy Graham that he wrote about 60 years ago. He took a hard line on the subject of sin. He quoted the second half of the last verse in Romans 14 (verse 23), “and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” With that in mind, let’s look a little earlier in the same book. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the ultimate expression of Love.
Will the arguments continue in our churches? Of course, the Devil lives in every church on earth, but the churches that survive are those that look to the cross, repent of their sins (including the argued ones), and work toward being more like Jesus every day.