In my previous post, I touched on the importance of love, and how it should be a foundational part of everything we do. That description was focused on individual actions, but it seems that the same principles can be applied to organizations. Although organizations don’t really love, perhaps they can be constructed so that they at least reinforce the love that should be occurring. Consider again the following verses:
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. 1 John 3:14a
The first states that the world will know we are Christians by our love for each other. The second states that we can know ourselves that we have been saved, by our love for each other. Other verses tell that this is how God will tell who is saved.*
All these passages point out that the singular hallmark of the Christian community is to be our love for each other. While no organization can compel people to love, it is possible for processes to stifle it. So the first step when considering an organization’s role in building a loving community, might be to do no harm — make sure that nothing is put in place that dampens love.
Beyond that, it’s important that people are deliberately taught the importance of loving each other. If brotherly love is actually that foundational, then the Biblical basis for it needs to be consistently taught as part of the mandate to make disciples. In the Great Commission, Jesus told us to teach “all that He commanded”, and our love for each other was one of His most clear commands (John 13:34 and John 15:12). As the Word works in people’s hearts, then individual love should blossom.
Finally, it should be possible to provide organizational principles that encourage expressions of this love within the Body, to put into practice what is taught. To fan the flame and encourage it to sweep through the entire community of believers. For example, a group of people within a church could deliberately identify needs, as well as other people who can meet those needs. By bringing them together, not only are needs met, but loving connections are made. I think of this sort of thing as “coordinating the love within the church”. There are many ways such connections can be made and fostered.
The early church seemed to reflect love for each other, as they spent time together, shared their resources, opened their homes, helped each other during the famine, and so on. Not just doing stuff, but sharing lives, knowing each other.
You would think such a foundational truth would be reflected in our definition of church and religious practices, the way we manifest our faith in the world. Yet a look at the major denominational statements of belief doesn’t really reflect that. Lots of discussion of doctrine, including some of what a community of Christians includes. Love of God is commonly mentioned, and sometimes love for the lost. But little mention of love of the Brethren. (Check for yourself; links are provided below.)
To make explicit, strong statements about religious doctrines and practices, and yet not say anything about brotherly love, suggests secular organizations more than a community of faith. Consider what Paul wrote:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If we build organized religious activities without deliberately supporting the brotherly love of those involved, then what should we expect? God is love, and “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain”. (Psalm 127:1) We can end up giving away everything, with no spiritual fruit, creating religious organizations that are spiritually dead. Vain effort, uselessness. We might as well stay home and watch TV.
Love is supposed to be a foundational element on which we build, and yet it sometimes seems absent in much of organized religion today. The fact that love of the Brethren is not mentioned in most denominational creeds, probably goes a long way towards explaining why we have so many different denominations. We may look organized and busy, but consider what Jesus said to Sardis:
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”‘” Revelation 3:1
Here again, they were doing a lot of good stuff, but missing the point. They were doing the building, rather than God Who is Love. Ultimately, how can we claim to love Christ, if we don’t love Christians? How can we claim to love the Lord, if we don’t love those in whom He dwells? By His command, this needs to be a top priority.
If the world looks at your church, do they see people loving each other? Of course, this needs to start with the individual, for these were commands to individuals. Therefore, we need to start by looking inwards. If you look at your life, is love of the Brethren manifest such that others can see it? Are your motives pure before God? We need to examine ourselves individually and corporately, to make sure to love the way Jesus commanded.
Even when looking at communities, it all comes down to the individual. So again: “Lord, help me to love!”
Here are links to various statements of belief for major denominations:
Southern Baptist. Look especially article VI The Church.
Assemblies of God. Look at Fundamental Truth #10. The Church and its Mission. Note the mentions of love seem to be focused at those outside the church, God’s love for the world, not the love of the Brethren for each other (note the verses used).
Lutheran. Various pages. Couldn’t really find a description of “church”, no mention of brotherly love.
Presbyterian. See especially the second paragraph of section VI The Church.
Nazarene. See especially article XI The Church.
Calvary Chapel. This page doesn’t say much, but the Distinctives document actually talks about this very thing in chapter 10.
* The final judgement in Matthew 25:31-46 is often given as a description of the importance of loving people who are in need. This is certainly an aspect of God’s heart, but most careful commentators point out that it really is talking about the Brethren: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me”. Brothers used this way elsewhere always refers to believers, and Jesus elsewhere always identifies Himself with those who are saved. Nowhere else is Jesus identified with lost souls, no matter their physical need. So while this gives a great picture of God’s love for those who need help, the real lesson is that people will be sorted by their love for the Brethren. Note that this is completely consistent with the verses above. Our love for each other is how we know we are saved, how the world knows we are saved, and how God will “determine” we are saved.