The purpose of Reasoning Together is to promote the unity of the PCA. It is no secret that this unity is fragile, threatened by differences among us and the way our handling of those differences frequently damages our relationships with each other. General Assembly Moderator Mike Ross opened the recent meeting of the Cooperative Ministries Committee with a devotional from Mark 12:28-34, “The Law of Love,” in which he contended that only the love of God can heal the wounds we in the PCA inflict on each other and on our common life, and he closed the devotional with ten concrete steps toward a more loving PCA. We have reprinted his devotional here. As you read it, we encourage you to consider how you personally might apply his ten steps, and if you think it would be appropriate and helpful, record your personal application as a comment.
There is a story from late Judaism. It seems a Greek philosopher visited the conservative rabbi, Shammai, and presented to him this challenge: “Good sir, if you can explain to me what being a Jew is like – while standing on one leg – I will convert to Judaism.” Rabbi Shammai thought long and hard. He finally answered, “Good friend, that would be impossible. To be a Jew would mean knowing the Torah (law), understanding the prophets, reading the Hagiographa (sacred writings), being well-versed with the Mishnah, and studying the academics of the Talmud. All this would take a lifetime to learn and almost as long for me to explain.” The Greek thanked Shammai and departed.
He then tracked down the liberal rabbi, Hillel, and put to him the same question and challenge. Hillel grinned widely and replied, “This is easy!” He then stood on one leg as he said, “Whatever you do not want others to do to you, don’t do that to them. This is all the Torah.” The Greek was circumcised the next day!
Of course, the story is fictitious, but the point is well known. Hillel’s “silver rule,” stated in the negative, was changed by Christ into the “golden rule”: “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Apparently, Jesus was familiar with Hillel’s thinking.
What would you say if I asked the Greek’s questions in a slightly different manner: Could you tell me what it means to be a Christian in fifty words or less? Lest you think the question silly or merely theoretical, I would remind you that Jesus was, in substance, asked a very similar question. Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the story to us. Here is Mark’s version:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)
Christ answered the lawyer in 49 English words (in the EnglishStandard Version), a mere 46 words in the Greek text. As each evangelist tells this story, he emphasizes a different postscript, supplied by Jesus. Matthew recounts Jesus’ words: “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Interestingly, this was Shammai’s concern. Luke adds this: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28) This was Hillel’s concern. And Mark provides this summary: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:54) This, obviously, was the great preoccupation of Rabbi Jesus – the Kingdom of God. (Mark 1:15)
What strikes me so profoundly in these parallel accounts of Christ’s summary of Judaism, is that Jesus defines the essence of faith in terms of love, not doctrine, not mission, not liturgy or methodology, but love! A careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount might conclude that loving others is the “narrow way” of salvation that Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:12-14…
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:12-14)
It’s hard to miss the connection: “For this is the law and the prophets;” i.e., a summary of the scriptures – love for God, love for neighbor, the Golden Rule, the narrow way.
We conservative, reformed, PCA types may well be terribly uncomfortable with this emphasis. First, for good reason, we distrust this “love ethic.” After all, liberals have somewhat ruined the word love for us, justifying everything from abortion to same-sex marriages under the banner of love – even “justice love.” (whatever that means!) Second, within our own evangelical house love and truth have been bifurcated. The doctrinalists are often referred to as “unloving” (although it appears to me that they are trying to love God and His Word), and the culturalists are called “sentimentalists” (although it appears to me that they are trying to love their neighbors and reach them for Christ). Thirdly, the love card can be played (and is) whenever it serves our convenient purposes: We blog viciously about another brother because we’re committed to truth, and when he strikes back, in kind, we accuse him of being “unloving,” and the PCA of being “unsafe.”
But perhaps our deepest reservation about all this love talk is simply this: It is more difficult to love than to be confessional; it costs more to love them to be missional; and love calls for more humility and self-denial than piety. Jesus’ demand that we love God and others is really quite transformational. It calls us to what one theologian called “the Copernican revolution.”
Joseph Ratzinger is the chief theologian of the Roman Catholic Church. We know him better as Pope Benedict XVI, the current pontiff of Rome. In his book Credo For Today: What It Means to be a Christian (his explanation of the Apostles’ Creed), Ratzinger interacts with Christ’s answer to the rabbinical lawyer about loving God and neighbors. Please permit me to quote the Pope in detail:
That, then, is the whole of Jesus Christ’s demand. Anyone who does this—who has love—is a Christian; he has everything. He is not asking about a confession of dogma, solely about love. That is enough, and it saves a man. Whoever loves is a Christian. However great the temptation may be for theologians to quibble about this statement, to provide it with ifs and buts, notwithstanding: we may and should accept it in all its sublimity and simplicity, quite unconditionally—just as the Lord posited it. That does not mean, of course, that we should overlook the fact that these words represent a not inconsiderable proposition and make no small demand on someone.
For love, as it is here portrayed as the content of being a Christian, demands that we try to live as God lives. He loves us, not because we are especially good, particularly virtuous, or of any great merit, not because we are useful or even necessary to him; he loves us, not because we are good, but because he is good. He loves us, although we have nothing to offer him; he loves us even in the ragged raiment of the prodigal son, who is no longer wearing anything lovable. Practicing Christian love in the same way as Christ means that we are good to someone who needs our kindness, even if we do not like him. It means committing ourselves to the way of Jesus Christ and thus bringing about something like a Copernican revolution in our own lives. Becoming a Christian, according to what we have just said, is something quite simple and yet completely revolutionary. It is just this: achieving the Copernican revolution and no longer seeing ourselves as the center of the universe, around which everyone else must turn, because instead of that we have begun to accept quite seriously that we are one of many among God’s creatures, all of whom turn around God as their center.
As I read this, I immediately said, “Well, isn’t that Catholic; no mention of faith! (by the way, I was reared a Roman Catholic and studied for the priesthood for four years. I am not “anti-Catholic.”) But the Pope does address faith. He writes:
It is at this point that faith begins. For what faith basically means is just that this shortfall that we all have in our love is made up by the surplus of Jesus Christ’s love, acting on our behalf. He simply tells us that God himself has poured out among us a superabundance of his love and has thus made good in advance all our deficiency. Ultimately, faith means nothing other than admitting that we have this kind of short fall; it means opening our hand and accepting a gift.
Some will ask, “What about grace? Are you saying that love (a work of man) saves us instead of grace?” Of course not. Nevertheless, it is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6) that is the measure of our justification, as James says, love’s work proves faith.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Joseph Ratzinger will not allow us to use grace to explain away the demands of love. Grace and love are not to be pitted against one another. The Pope makes this clear:
Yet, on the other hand, an interpretation merely in terms of grace is likewise inadequate, an interpretation asserting that all that is being shown here is how worthless all our human actions and activity are; that this merely makes clear that we can achieve nothing and that all is grace. Certainly, this passage makes us conscious, with appalling clarity, of our need for forgiveness; it shows how little reason any man has for boasting and for setting himself apart from sinners as a righteous man. But the point of it is something different. It is not just intended to set us all against a background of judgment and forgiveness, which would then make all human activity a matter of indifference. It has another aim as well, which is to give directions for our life: it is intended to point us toward that “extra,” that “superabundance” and generosity, which does not mean that we suddenly become faultless and “perfect” people, but it does mean that we try to adopt the attitude of the lover, who does not calculate but simply—loves.
There are not a few who might dismiss this article because I have quoted a Catholic Pope so extensively. I am not endorsing Catholic Theology, Papal exegesis, or Rome’s Ecclesiology. I simply want to illustrate, with another’s words, how central love is to the Christian life and faith.
Of course, I don’t need a Pope to do so. I can point to the clear teaching of the Head of the Church and His apostles, to illustrate the primacy of love for the Christian:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12-17)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:11, 14, 16-18, 23)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:1-3)
Recently, as the current moderator of the PCA, I chaired a meeting of the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) in Atlanta. Candidly, we did not have much on our docket to justify a meeting. I suggested we not meet, but there was a strong consensus that we convene to discuss “The Present Status and Future of the PCA” – that’s CMC code for “the tensions in the PCA.” Of the twenty-six members, twenty-three attended the meeting. I opened the meeting with a devotional message from Mark 12:28-34, “The Law of Love.” I suggested that tinkering with the General Assembly docket, round-table discussions on what unites/divides us, conferences on doctrine and ethics, and “gatherings” of like-minded souls in weekend conferences will not cut to the core of the spiritual cancer infecting the PCA. We live in a litigious, over-opinionated, intolerant, blog-congested, talk-show influenced, censorious society of anger, intolerance and contempt. And our church has inculcated much of Babylon in our spiritual DNA. Only the love of God will change us and heal us.
I do not mean to suggest that we should be passive. In this one point, I agree with the Pope: faith fueled by grace results in love…“faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6) So, may I suggest ten steps toward a more loving PCA?
- Civility: The manner in which we speak to one another and about one another is the first step toward love. Contempt is the opposite of love. Piety (love for God) always leads to Civility (love for our neighbors)
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
- Kindness: Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit and a result of both mercy and loyalty. God’s “steadfast love” is His chesed (Hebrew): His covenant love and loyalty. We are expected to be kind (loyal) to those in covenant with us.
What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar. (Proverbs 19:22)
- Patience: As another fruit of the Spirit, patience enables us to wait on God and suffer long, as the Spirit does His refining work in us and in others. Our salvation is rooted in the patience of God.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
- Forgiveness: The ultimate act of love is forgiveness. In truth, I would rather be forgiven than loved. Without forgiveness we cannot live with God, with others, or go to heaven. We live in a most unforgiving culture, but we should live in a forgiving church.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
- Encouragement and Compliment: Humility has two lovely twin daughters, encouragement and compliment (praise). These two lovelies possess the sole power to break the bondage of pride. When we praise God, compliment others, and encourage the saints, we both do the work of the Paraclete (Encourager) and crush the power of the Devil (pride). Too much of ministry is rooted in reputation-protection, empire-building, and self-promoting behavior.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Peter 5:5-6)
- Guarding our tongues and fingers: The PCA’s wounds are generally self-inflected: gossip, slander, tale-telling, blog attacks, cheap shots in sermons, and injudicious insults in books and articles. Before we log off or press the “send” button, we need to check our language. Do we really want to name the brother a legalist or a moralist? Should we honestly call him antinomian or licentious? Do remember: These sorts of people “do not inherit the Kingdom of God”!
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)
- Greeting one another: Thirty-eight times in the New Testament someone is commanded to “greet” a brother or sister in Christ, or portrayed as doing so. Greeting the brethren is the affirmation grace demands. There is no more subtle, painful or mean-spirited act of contempt than refusing to even acknowledge another person’s presence. Greeting others is a godly act of love.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. (2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
- Investment: Love demands that we engage with other people and give ourselves to them, in some truly costly manner. Love without sacrifice is not love at all, but mere sentimentality. This is what makes loving others so tough – we must lose ourselves for their sake. Love can’t be scheduled, planned or portioned out in safe measures. It costs us ourselves:
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:8)
- Effort: Loving others is seldom spontaneous. When it is we are loving those like us and whom we like. God’s love is for the unlovable and the unloving. It calls us to love people who are not like us and whom we don’t like. If we only love those in our circle of friends, our generation or our “camp” we haven’t loved at all. Love calls us to the work of reaching out and bridging over to those with whom we find little affinity.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
- The Judgment of Charity: People sin. When they do, they deserve the “Judgment of Charity.” When we know people we know their heart. We all are better than we preach, better than we blog, even better than we live. Giving the brother the benefit of the doubt and extending the grace of forbearance is called “the judgment of charity.” If and when a brother sins, we do not throw him under the bus, but we restore him to fellowship, grace, and community.
To do so is the “law of Christ”
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
When we add together these ten steps toward loving others, they amount to what William W. Harrel calls “The Cushion of Grace”
Think how much more peace we would experience if we treated each other less judicially and more graciously. Think how sweet our relationships will be, and how. greatly friction amongst ourselves will diminish when we recognize and respect the fact that our Lord would have us to be zealous not only for the truth, which we can and do twist, but especially for holy, sacrificial love, that is impossible to counterfeit. Let us then, reckon ourselves to be blinded by logs in all of our dealings with our brethren, and then, to our ultimate surprise and delight, we shall come to see the saints more truly and relate to them more lovingly, sweetly, and satisfyingly through the cushion of grace. (banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_print.php?598)
I, for one, do not think the “present status and future of the PCA” is very bright without the powerful operative of the Law of Love. With such love in action, I truly believe our best days are ahead of us. I am hopeful, even optimistic, about our future. “Let the love of the brothers continue” (Hebrews 13:1), is a great reminder of how our Christian faith, life and Church were formed.
I realize that many of my PCA brethren will say, “This article is not very profound, deep or insightful.” They are correct. I will not be invited to the next national conference on Reformed Theology or Missional Churches to speak about the Law of Love. But I would challenge my brothers in Christ with the Copernican Revolution, and ask them, pointedly, “Who is at the center of our lives, ministry and Church?” The Law of Love is not profound; it’s simply life-changing. It calls us to the charity that is the “greatest” of all things. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
You and I have received the ultimate “Judgment of Charity.” In our worst moment when we were at our most evil, Jesus prayed for us, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And, of course, we did! We know exactly what we were doing when we sinned. But now we know better. So, let us follow what Paul calls, “a more excellent way.” The way of love.