This material accompanied the sermon CHARITY CHURCH from the sermon series: Be the Body – Seeing the Church as the Body in the Bible and Making the Body a Priority in the Present by Pastor Howard Lawler on 1/21/18.

“We assume not that that God is love but that love is God. In other words, we don’t go before the real creator of the universe and say to him, ‘Please tell us what you are like and therefore how you define love.’ Rather, we begin with our own self-defined concept of love and allow this self-defined concept to play god. When I say it ‘plays god’, I mean we let it define right and wrong, good and bad, glory-worthy and glory-less, even though such valuations belong to God alone. Love becomes the ultimate idol.”

“It’s not difficult to see what happens to a culture’s understanding of love when skepticism toward all truth becomes the one moral absolute: love becomes fluid, protean, malleable. Love becomes ‘anything goes’, or at least ‘whatever works for you’. Love becomes unconditional acceptance. If you love me with conditions, you don’t love me. The opposite of love, according to our thinking today, is judgmentalism, intolerance, or exclusivism, like racists, homophobes, and boundary-drawing churches. On the other hand, I know that you love me if you accept me as I am, and tolerate whatever I say or think without condemning it. In fact, loving me means more than just accepting me; it means accepting and affirming my lifestyle decisions as legitimate and good.”

“We claim to find comfort in the fact that God is love, as the apostle John put it. We pine after him. We talk of him incessantly. We spend centuries waiting for him. We prepare for his coming by building grand religious edifices. But when this God who is love comes, we, like the grand inquisitor, imprison, interrogate, and then kill him. That’s why Christ’s compassionate acts could draw great crowds that in the next moment would turn and lunge at him with bared fangs, like a startled dog or provoked bear (Matt. 21:9; 27:20; Prov. 17:12). Every one of us does this, including the author of the “The Grand Inquisitor.” The story is powerful because it points to something deep in all of our hearts – a hatred not just for God but for his love! What people fail to realize is that true love – God’s love – simultaneously attracts and repels all of us. It’s a thing of beauty and a thing of gross offense to the fallen heart. That’s why Jesus is the bad guy, at least in our minds. Gaze upon the love of God from one angle, and it will appear as the most resplendent thing in all the universe. But walk a few yards and look up again, and you will find that your lip snarls, your fists clench, and your heart becomes morally offended. It’s the same thing you’re looking at – God’s love. You’re just seeing it from a different angle.”

“In our individualistic, skeptical, anti-authority, God-despising age, we are instinctively repulsed by the idea of being bound by anything. So we have redefined God and the expectations of his love in such a way that we are not required to do so. We have erected an idol and called it ‘love’. And this idol called love has two great commands: ‘Know that God loves you by not permanently binding you to anything (especially if you really don’t want to be)’ and, following from it, ‘Know that your neighbor loves you best by letting you express yourself entirely and without judgment. What individualistic humans need are not just relationships, even relationships of mutual love and concern. Rather, humans need relationships that move them toward the worship and honor and prizing of God and his glory.”

“When pastors fail to teach Christians that the problem of love begins with the faculty to love rather than with the various objects of love, the critical faculties that Christians develop in the shopping mall transfer to their church lives. They come, listen to the music, listen to the preaching, look around at the other people – ‘Do they like me? Will I be comfortable with them?’ – and then offer an evaluation of everything they saw on the drive home: ‘I liked the music, except

that one song. The preacher wasn’t very funny. Did you see any programs for teenagers?’ They evaluate their experience rather than their hearts. They judge the church rather than letting God’s Word judge them. In all this they utterly fail to recognize that they are not loving their neighbor as themselves.”

“When the idea of a binding commitment is removed from the definition of love, churches become places where personal sacrifices are seldom made, so the gospel is seldom pictured. (Fulfilling covenants with sinners always requires a self-sacrifice.) Instead, individuals will come and go – ‘church hop’ – with little care. They join churches lightly and they exit lightly, since doing so does not violate their sense of love and its obligations. They don’t stop to weigh the consequences of their departure on others. They don’t feel the weight of their responsibility to others. They don’t discuss the reasons for leaving with the pastors. They just go. They take their purchase back to the checkout counter. It’s nothing personal. All in all, they ask little of others and give little in return. What’s tragic is that Christians who come and go from churches are merely mimicking so many pastors. A man comes for several years, hears of another opportunity, leaves, and thinks nothing of it. His understanding of love is devoid of any sense of long-term obligation to a flock. In all of this, the connection between doctrine and practice attenuates. Christians profess belief in the gospel. Their symbolic burial and resurrection from the waters of baptism indicate that they meant to take up their crosses and follow their Lord, but the very ethic of their commitment-less love does not provide them with the opportunity to fulfill these professions with their actions. These sheep are so poorly taught and so imbued by the secular culture’s commitment-less conceptions of love that a man’s conscience is barely triggered (if at all) when he turns to his wife and says, ‘Honey, I’m tired of this church. Let’s look elsewhere.’ As she quickly agrees and they lightly depart, they fail to recognize their breach of the new commandment Christ gave to his church – ‘love one another as I have loved you’ – even though they may affirm this commandment in their minds. The world at large then looks to the Christian church and hears about ‘Christ’s love,’ but it sees nothing different from what it’s already known, because our commitments to one another are cheap and easy. So why would the non-Christian bother (unless he’s entertained)?”

“If the root problem in our culture and in our churches is anti-authority-ism and the despising of God’s glory, then the solution is not simply joining community and making relationships; the solution is repentance. It’s a changing of heart and direction. This repentance includes joining a community and making relationships, but it’s joining a particular kind of community where self is no longer sovereign and where one is called to obedience to others as an expression of obedience to God. It’s the joining of a community where the worship of God is supreme in everything.”

“It’s comparatively easy to talk about God’s grace, unconditional love, and faith. It’s harder to talk about God’s holiness, Christ’s lordship, a Spirit-given repentance, and the new covenant reality of the church. All of these things make demands on a person. They produce the need for accountability. And when you build a church on a gospel that makes few demands and offers little accountability, church discipline just doesn’t make sense.”

“When we get down to it, I think church discipline is hard to do, because we treat God’s final judgment so lightly. We go for days, even months, never thinking of it. We even secretly wonder if it will be so bad after all. The evil one has never stopped whispering in our ear, ‘You will not surely die.’ What’s more, we love ourselves too much, and the dissonance between God’s God-centered conception of love and our own man-centered conception screeches loudest in the face of church discipline.”

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