I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13: 34-35
Enter a Christian church building on any given Sunday morning. What do you see?
Do you see Jesus' statement in action?
Attend a church conference meeting or synod assembly. What do you hear?
Do you hear people asking, "How can we more effectively follow Jesus' command?"
Read about the interactions between church denominations. What jumps out at you?
Do you see them saying, "We love you even though we disagree with you." or "You are wrong and we will not fellowship with you?"
In the U.S., our church bodies love to announce to the world what it should or should be doing. The following list is not exhaustive, but certainly covers an across the board rendering of the things certain denominations have lobbied or advocated governments and individuals to do in society:
Ban gay marriage.
Institute gay marriage.
Feed the hungry.
Provide health care.
Redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.
Increase government giving to poorer nations.
Stop raising taxes.
Decrease government welfare.
Force people to take responsibility for themselves.
Hopefully, you can see that some of these are polar opposites, yet they are advocated for by well intentioned Christians and church denominations in the U.S. And God help us, if two Christians from either end of these spectrum's come into contact with each other.
Before you know it, a doctrinal battle begins. Bible verses are thrown back and forth. Jesus' name is invoked. Perhaps even a word or two is spoken about another's final, eternal resting place. And both sides separate convinced even more that they hold the truth in the matter and the other is dead wrong.
Such is the state of much of which passes for Christianity in our nation. Such is the state of relationships between believers. For some reason, we are more enamored with lines in the sand than we are with reconciliation and discovering where another raises truth the weakness of our own position. We engage another person believing in the moral superiority of our own position instead of realizing our position may just be warped with the same sin that has pervaded humankind since the forbidden fruit was tasted. Humility is replaced by hubris. And one of the most foundational commands of Jesus is ignored.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
But how does such love play out? How does this take place in a church where human sin is prevalent and pervasive? How does this love manifest itself? For until it does, I am convinced our denominations will continue their slow spiral towards oblivion. And I believe it is much more than superficial hugging and smiles thrown each other's way on a Sunday morning. I am convinced people can tell superficiality from genuine care and concern for one another.
Before giving this command to His disciples, Jesus washed their feet. He humiliated Himself and did something no respected rabbi or person in authority would do. Interestingly enough, one of His disciples, didn't want his feet washed (Peter). I believe these two characters raise significant issues for us in the church. At times we are like Peter in that we don't want to subject ourselves to having our feet washed. We are too proud to allow anyone to do such a thing. And yet, we are also too proud to kneel at the feet of others and wash their feet. Both positions require some amount of humility on our parts--a willingness to serve and be served.
But, in my estimation, humility is subject to power in our nation. And the church likes power. Sure, it believes it is wielding its power for good--to increase morality or to increase justice. But the One who instituted the Church took quite the opposite route. When pushed came to shove, He gave up power. He embraced powerlessness and humility. Through that route, He showed amazing love.
Truly loving one another requires giving up power.
What does a group of people look like who gives up power? Who gives up pride? Who is willing to serve each other and be served?
Apparently, Jesus says it will be obvious to others when they see it: by this everyone will know that you are my disciples.
May our hearts and minds be changed to enact such communities, and may they be obvious to those who are seeking them out.