“Serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)
I am drawn to the gospel in part because it is filled with movement, action and activity of all sorts – all aimed at transformation. It promises the healing of wounds, the restoration of relationships and the birth of unquenchable hope in the face of despair. It offers a courageous reckoning with issues of sorrow, sickness and war. It challenges global economic injustice and systemic inequity between races and genders.
Our world is hungry for this sort of transformation. We read the headlines and feel the weight of despair – refugees, pervasive famines, corrupt governments, trucker blockades, battles about rights and freedoms. We need gospel transformation more than ever.
A broken fellowship
As a member of the Christian Reformed Church, I have learned about the gospel’s transformative power all my life. Today, however, I am deeply struck by our own denomination’s need for gospel transformation. Thorny conversations about power and its abuse arise regularly in our midst these days. Wise and equitable leadership structures seem elusive in the shadow of a flawed SALT report, renewing the earnest and long-suffering cries for a binational future in the CRCNA.
The impending Synod decision around the CRC’s Human Sexuality Report brings up anxiety too. The report writers prescribe authoritative positions regarding what it means to be faithful and true both as Christians and as the church. Meanwhile some readers of that same report believe that the research and methods used to generate the report are flawed in such a manner that the outcomes are questionable. This polarization significantly hinders the possibility of any substantive conversation about the far more mundane yet pervasive problems of church burnout, clergy disillusionment, declining numbers – all of which are stoking the fires of anxiety among even the most stalwart among us.
We, the church, need as much gospel transformation as anything or anyone else we might encounter.
A clanging gong
Given these realities, what actions should we take? I have observed in myself that when issues and challenges pile up the way they have, it becomes harder and harder for me to love well. This inability to love well, prevents gospel transformation. Conversely, it is as if the act of loving God and our neighbor is the engine for renewal. The apostle Paul speaks openly of the futility of even the most significant acts done without love in 1 Cor. 13:1–3 when he writes:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Concerning our relationships with our neighbors, the Heidelberg Catechism’s emphasis on loving action is unmistakable. In its repudiation of murder, the Catechism speaks about what it means in tangible terms to love others. Q&A 107 reads this way:
Loving others well
The deployment of this love ethic is nothing short of transformational, both for the one loving and the one being loved. Consider the tremendous Kingdom momentum of a global group of Christ-followers loving God and neighbor as the Catechism describes.
- Imagine a global church known for its patience, peace and gentleness in its dealings with everyone – regardless of belief, background, skin color or gender – because that’s what it looks like to love others well.
- Imagine parishes where every follower of Jesus drenches their neighborhood, workplace, small group, neighborhood association and mom’s group with acts of mercy and friendliness – because that’s what it looks like to love others well.
- Imagine a denomination grappling with internal disagreements about human sexuality, yet living well in relationship to LGTBQ+ folks, so steeped in love that each considers it of paramount importance to protect every “other” person from harm, particularly when they disagree with each other – because that’s what it looks like to love others well.
- Imagine a denomination intent on doing good to everyone, and then ensuring that this goodness is especially aimed in the direction of those we consider enemies – because that’s what it looks like to love others well.
The engine of the gospel
The magnitude of love that we are called to embody is staggering: we are called to mirror the magnitude of God’s love for us (Rom. 8:35, 37–39). This love will identify us as followers of Jesus (John 13:35), it will propel us to acts of self-sacrifice for others (1 John 3:17) and it will give reason to rejoice and suffer with others when fitting (1 Cor. 12:26). Love for God, expressed via horizontal relationships with others is central to gospel transformation, and remarkable in its redemptive momentum. Love is the transforming engine of the gospel.
Let’s not meet this next moment in our history together armed only with theological formulations, seemingly efficient solutions, and offerings to gods of order and mere correctness. Instead, perhaps it’s time to reimagine joining together and embracing this season as a God-authored invitation to lean into the discomfort of showing patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness toward others, engaging in actions that protect others from harm, and pursuing deliberate acts of goodness pointed in the direction of our enemies.
This is, in part at least, what it means to love others well.
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