Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What is Love? The Supremacy of Doctrine

"What is love?  Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more."
I know I'm dating myself quite a bit here, but honestly, was there a movie with more buffoonery than "Night at the Roxbury"?  In almost 20 years since Roxbury's debut in theaters, there have been rivals but not many surpass the degree of over-the-top clown-like behavior portrayed by the Butabi brothers originally of Saturday Night Live fame.  For all of us who lost brain cells watching it, the memory of synchronized head bobbing to the tune of Haddaway's "What is Love?" still warrants a slight chuckle.  Yes, the movie was dumb, but at least it was intentionally dumb.  The film lacked any depth, but at least the song asked a worthwhile question.

At last week's ACBC Conference, I attended a standing room only (I literally stood for 55 minutes) breakout session called, "Homosexuality and Counseling".  In the session, we were introduced via video to a young man who I will simply call "Jay".  Jay identified himself as a Christian who was struggling to overcome what he considered to be a sinful condition: same-sex attraction.  He relayed various details of his life in what appeared to be his attempt to trace his steps into a homosexual lifestyle.  I won't go into any of those details because I was more concerned with his understanding on how his struggle with sexual orientation affected his view of God and His love.

Jay explained that the pastor of his childhood church was harsh and hostile when talking about gays and lesbians.  Aware of his own growing attraction to other men, Jay understood that "coming out" in the context of that particular church would bring condemnation and not counsel; hurt and not healing.  Understandably, he drifted away from that congregation and in later years joined another.  At his new church, he heard what he called "the message of God's love" consistently.  "I knew that God had made me and wanted me to be happy", Jay said.  He then concluded with this thought, "That's when I became excited and soon came to understand that God must have made me to love other males and enjoy my sexuality with them."

Before going into the remainder of Jay's testimony, I want to highlight this critical juncture.  Jay's perspective on faith and life with God has drastically changed based on the new emphasis on an old idea: God's love for humankind.  Undoubtedly, the pastor from Jay's first church also believed in and taught/preached on God's love.  We don't have all the details, but clearly, that pastor had a category for persons who are under God's wrath (good) while simultaneously maintaining a deficient view of God's grace (not good).  The second pastor spotlighted the "wideness" in God's mercy (good) but did not exalt God's goodness in calling men to repentance (not good).

In both cases--assuming Jay's description of their messages is accurate--both pastors are at fault.  In short, their tendency to present a simple, unidimensional "god" is an unbiblical reduction of the true God that the Holy Scriptures bear witness to.  The Bible explains that God is both kind and stern (Romans 11:22); He is angry at the wicked (Psalm 7:10-12) but also justifies them (Romans 4:4-5) without compromising His holiness in the least.  The person who merely wants God on their own terms finds such distinctions tedious and is easily annoyed at persons who painstakingly insist on pointing them out.  But the person who has experienced God's grace is in awe at the mind-boggling provision of Christ on the Cross for their sake.  No wonder the psalmist exclaimed, "Great are the works of the Lord, they are studied by all those who delight in them!" (Psalm 111:2).

Due to the cultural climate in both society and in the church, we have to state what should be obvious but will be missed by many:  Jay's view of God has no bearing on who God really is.  Jay came up with the wrong picture of God twice.  He connected the dots incorrectly in both cases largely because the preachers misnumbered them.   The first preacher's definition of God's love didn't capture the depth of forgiveness purchased for the ungodly by Christ's substitutionary offering on Calvary's Cross.  The second preacher, while apparently holding up the diamond of God's unfailing love, failed to present it against the black velvet of God's righteous wrath against sin (which would have magnified God's love rather than obscure it as preachers of this stripe fear).

Herein lies the predicament for the preacher: if you fail to faithfully draw the doctrinal lines, your hearers will draw them for you--biblically or unbiblically.  Jay figured what a lot of people figure: God made me and loves me... God knows I'm this way... So God must be okay with me as I am... God loves me... Love means 'acceptance'... Acceptance cancels out repentance... I'll keep doing me.  Please note that acceptance really does cancel out repentance because for so many, acceptance of the person includes accepting all that the person does.  This is spiritual suicide because it implies that God accepts sin just as He loves and accepts sinners.  But if this is the case, why would Christ die for sins (Romans 4:25; 1st Peter 3:18)?

Every preacher and teacher who won't draw the lines biblically, trusting that the Holy Spirit will paint the picture plainly for the hearers will be accountable to God.  But everyone who maintains the biblical distinctions will be commended by God even when condemned by men.  All preachers and teachers ought to take Paul's Holy Spirit inspired counsel to Timothy to heart: Watch your life and doctrine carefully (1st Timothy 4:16).  Life and doctrine are not the same--we make distinctions between them--but woe to the man who tries to separate them from one another.  Doctrine informs life in the way that thoughts influence and determine actions.  Until a man understands this, he isn't fit to teach/preach the gospel to others.

Sunday morning among God's people shouldn't be like a night at the Roxbury.  The idea that love means never being hurt is a lie.  What is love?

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.-- 1st John 4:10

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"-- Romans 5:8