emember the song from the 60s, “We Are One In the Spirit”? I remember singing this song with full-on lack of attention to the lyrics, even at a time when I was urging everyone to pay attention to lyrics instead of to musical styles. My ulterior motives of wanting to enjoy rock music notwithstanding, I have always had a problem following my own advice.
We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love
So there we were, at the apex of the “Love” movement, the era of the hippies, joining with our culture in crying out for peace, kindness, and calling on everyone to make love, not war! What a sad and total failure we have produced.
When I sang that song with my well-intentioned friends, we saw the Christian community split into a few groups that didn’t mix well. At a high level there was the split between Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics had declared at Vatican I that non-Catholics were “anethema”cursed. I was brought up in yet another factiona subdivision of the Protestant collective known as Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are known outside the Christian community as angry and bitter peoplesort of the current iteration of the Puritan witch-hunters. That’s a much kinder view of Fundamentalist Christians than the view most Christians hold of Fundamentalists. In the Christian community Fundamentalism is most known for its total rejection of any person or group who behaves in a slightly different manner than they tell their own people to behave. It is known for its total rejection of any person or group who differs in the slightest regard (including semantically) from the doctrines they proclaim, in the manner they proclaim them, using the grammar, spelling, and syntax they use to proclaim them, or defending the exact same doctrines using a different bible version or hymnal than they would use. Not a pretty sight.
The Fundamentalists I knew growing up explained to us that Catholics were not to be called “anethema,” because that means that they are cursed and only God can curse someone. But they are definitely unsaved and headed straight to hell unless they repent of their Catholicism, make a profession of faith in the Baptist Faith & Message, and get full-body dunked before a crowd of onlookers. As for the rest of Evangelicalism/Protestantism, most of them are not truly Protestants because they still hold onto vestiges of Roman Catholicism. After all, the line went, Presbyterians talk of “sacraments” rather than “ordinances.” And some so-called Protestant churches actually observe more than two of those ordinances/sacraments. Clearly these people are more Roman Catholic than Protestant, and therefore will eventually end up in hell along with the Catholics.
I’m stating this a bit more strongly than the way it was presented to me as a child, but the message I heard was most definitely what I have just written.
Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.
So, we young’uns sat around and sang in a minor key about how great the world would be when “all unity will one day be restored and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It was our version of “What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love.”
How are we doing now?
Perhaps I was unaware of the number of factions within Christianity back in those days, but it seems to me that we young idealistic Christians have become older, angrier, and less unified than our forebears. I remember the various Protestant denominations that seemed, quite clearly, to show a lack of unity. So our generation left the denominationalism of our parents and began our ministries under the monikers “Bible Church,” or “Community Church.” We told ourselves that we rejected the denominational groupings because that only divided people. When we couldn’t defend our theological position against someone well-armed with scripture, we belittled their understanding of scripture by saying, “well, I believe what I believe because I’m a Biblicist; I don’t follow a man-made systematic theology!”
Jump forward about 25 years to today. I see many people who proclaim themselves Biblicists who are not associating with many other people who proclaim themselves to be Biblicists. One of the primary leaders who decried the Fundamentalist movement of yesteryear has a blog that regularly pounces on perceived enemies in our midst. In any given month this blog will likely attack Peadobaptists, Amillennialists, New Paulists, Rob Bell, the Emergent Church, Preterists, Calvary Chapel, Franklin Graham, Dispensationalists, Pentacostals, those who believe in a continuation of all spiritual gifts, John Piper, Douglas Wilson, R.C. Sproul, Jr., and on and on. I hear the same things from almost every corner of the Christian world (at least the part of the Christian world I am familiar with).
Christianity demands a level of caring that transcends human inclinations.
I don’t think we’re doing a better job than those who raised us and taught the faith to us. I think we have thrown out many of the good things we were taught and kept the same vices. And then we have developed those vices in our own way. We have turned our guns to fire at different perceived sins, but we’re still firing away at the people who commit those sins rather than firing away at the sins or at the attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to commit those sins. We no longer say, “those people are terrible because they drink alcohol” (or go to movies, or dance, or dye their hair, or swim with people of the opposite sex); now we say, “those people are terrible because they vote Democrat” (or read books written by Norman Geisler, or graduated from Liberty University, or send their kids to public school, or associate with homosexuals). We did hold onto the stated defensive position of prior generations: We hate the sin but love the sinner, but we don’t demonstrate that love to people other than ourselves any better than did previous generations.
If I had known what trouble you were bearing;
What griefs were in the silence of your face;
I would have been more gentle and more caring,
And tried to give you gladness for a space.
I am as guilty of this as we all are. My rambling thoughts today are not directed at anyone other than myself. But I hope that we all can turn this around and begin to be known by our love instead of by our hatred of others.
And not everyone demonstrates this problem in the obvious ways I have stated here. God recently led our family to join together with a local body of believers that strives to demonstrate the love of Christ to everyone. New Hope Bible Church is a very unique church. Our pastor often comments that he is “living his dream as a pastor” because this church is filled with such wonderful people and God is doing such an obvious work among us. He’s right. And I praise God for directing our path to this church. Now I pray that I will become one of those wonderful people our pastor is talking about that have made his job such a pleasure. Not because our pastor wants it, but because Christ demands it.