When Love Does Not Exist

I wrote yesterday about how merely loving other Christians isn't a substantial enough basis for partnership with them. Today I want to make the converse case, namely that there are loads of Christians who doctrinally can work together and should work together but who don't work together because of a lack of love.

I have lost count of the number of times I have met Christians who have stopped talking to each other. Maybe for reasons of past hurts ("they did us over 10 years ago"), because of second hand gossip ("did you hear what they believe?"), maybe because of guilt by association ("can you believe that they are friends with them?"), sometimes because of constituency pressure ("you can't make friends with them without losing your credibility with us"), sometimes just out of pettiness ("we simply don't like your style") or inability to cope with difference ("you can work with us if you become like us a prior condition of doing so"), or assuming the worst possible interpretation of someone's actions without checking the facts. 

For all of these reasons I am a fan of making doctrinal statements on primary issues as flexible and inclusive as we possibly can, without ditching core biblical truths. They should be used as tools of inclusion, not minutely detailed mechanisms for exclusion. I believe that we are called to be generous to other Christians, start with an assumption of innocence, not guilt, believe that it may be possible to work together until there is proof to the contrary. The burden of proof should always be on providing reasons why we can't rather than reasons why we should (and we should be slow to look for reasons why we can't).

And if there are occasions when we discover that we can't, it should always be accompanied by tears and deep regret. Satisfaction is an emotion that may never legitimately accompany such a discovery for a Christian. Worse, delighting in broken relationships is extremely ungodly. It is critical to consider what happens after such an event. Key questions to ask might be "if we can't work together how can we nevertheless remain close personal friends?" and "How can we bless and encourage you?"

In a slightly difference situation (ie not one of serious, partnership-ending doctrinal disagreement), my wife and I turned down an offer to minister in a well-known church that really wanted us to go. They were deeply disappointed and there was no little distress, but their response was awesome: "please come and preach for us one last time so we can throw you a party!" When we asked why, one of the main leaders said "well we wouldn't want to walk by on the other side of the road after this because we parted company without blessing you." To this day that church remains an absolute delight to me and I love every opportunity to meet with them.

I suggest that many or most partings of the ways ought to happen like this. Maybe I am just a hopelessly naive optimist, but two things I really hate: when Christians and churches who could  be together for the gospel, decline; and when those who, for good reasons can't, decline in an ungracious and unkind way leaving unnecessary casualties in their wake. Some people leave far too many casualties, using a concern for truth to justify unkindness.

God is astonishingly, remarkably, overwhelmingly kind. He justified the wicked (Romans 4) because he is so kind. He shows immense common grace to non-Christians. For love to be non-existent between Christians (and with non-Christians), regardless of disagreements, demonstrates a serious disconnect with what God is like.