[January 20, 2023: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
What is the real evidence of faith? Well, consider the following passages and you tell me:
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 ESV)
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together….”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34, 36-40 ESV)
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 ESV)
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 ESV)
Is there any way we can read these words from Jesus and Paul and not realize that love is the defining characteristic of the Christian life? Can we show no love for anyone and still claim Christ? Of course not.
So here’s the question — where is our focus? If you read great debates on blogs, review the topics of conferences, or listen to the exaltations or condemnation of the latest Christian fad what do you see Doctrine — no question. If someone steps out of line on the smallest detail, suddenly everyone is up in arms to defend or burn the accused heretic. Our conferences are scared to death of anyone walking out with a wrong idea about any piece of theology, so we proclaim it loud and hard.
Now is all of this bad? No, I don’t think so. Doctrine is essential. We cannot love what we do not know, and doctrine at is all about knowing and understanding God. If you have the time, I will sit with you for hours and discuss the finer points of Reformed Theology, arguments for the existence if God, or the mystery of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. And I believe all of this shapes what my Christian life looks like. But if doctrine is all I have….I have nothing.
We give a pass to a mega-church pastor who can get bodies in the door and teach them to recite the five points of Calvinism, even if his manner is hurtful and abusive. We will not work with those outside of our tribe if they don’t have the same views on non-essential doctrines we think are important. And we’ve made the Gospel about mental assent to a particular form of soteriology ($5 word!) rather than a repentant heart desperate for Jesus. We view Christians in light of their ability to speak and write doctrine, not their ability to love.
This must stop. Of course understanding essential doctrine is critical — we ignore the essential creeds to our own detriment — but speaking doctrine is not what defines us. If our beliefs do not lead us to lives that are more loving, we are missing the point. Are we learning how to love? Are we going so deep into the love of God that the world knows we are Christians by how we love one another?
I think the prevailing attitudes and doctrines surrounding domestic violence that turn churches into co-abusers are largely derived from ignorance. Ignorance about the effects of abuse, and ignorance about how God calls us to respond. But ignorance is no excuse — we have earned this ignorance: we treat the Bible like a puzzle to be solved and our doctrines are the pieces. We should treat the Bible as a compass that guides us to love better and deeper every day. What person whose life is all about love will look at an abused woman and say the kinds of things that have been reported on this blog?
Make no mistake, I believe we must be about doctrine — we will not understand the heart of God without it. But we also must be about love. Love doesn’t just “happen” because we learn doctrine. Why are we not as intentional about love as we are about doctrine? Why are we not learning and teaching about how to bring justice for the oppressed? Why is love something we leave until the last minute and then expect it to work naturally?
Love is pervasive and love demands we do justice for the abused. I pray that the church can soon repent and show that we are about love for God and love for others. If we do not, whatever we are doing it isn’t worth it, because there is something better.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31 ESV)
He’s talking about love — love is the most excellent way.
[January 20, 2023: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to January 20, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to January 20, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to January 20, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (January 20, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
29 thoughts on “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our . . . Doctrine?”
Jeff C, this is a really good post, that drives at the core of what is too often wrong in today’s churches.
You might enjoy a similar post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago: Light of the World [Internet Archive link]
Thank you, for continuing to proclaim the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Jeff S – At every annual conference of our association of churches I have attended in the last 8 years or so, doctrine has been the theme. I get the distinct impression that practical (practiced) theology, such as an annual conference subject focused upon abuse in the church, or the trap of pornography, or the biblical teachings of forgiveness played out in life, is simply not on the menu. I did in fact suggest about 3 years ago that the association consider the theme of sexual abuse in the church, helping everyone understand it, deal with it, prevent it, and help victims of it. Zero. Nothing. Nada. The same thing would happen if I suggested a conference theme of domestic violence. And yet THESE are the arenas in which the enemy is winning victory after victory in our churches. We are like Ephesus —
Revelation 2:1-5 (ESV)
This and many other reasons is why I don’t attend “church”. The negatives for me far outweigh the positives for me and my son. Way too many un-Christ-like agendas.
Brian — I know it is difficult. My kids and I do not attend church, either. Not right now. We haven’t for 16 months. I am hoping that, in time, I can stomach going to church AND that I can find a church like Jeff Crippen’s in our area.
For me, there were periods when I couldn’t attend church. Over time, with healing, it became easier, and I returned to being active in church ministry.
My expectations of others has also changed….I now have a bit more grace for both myself and others….and fewer expectations of others. More reliant on Christ and less on fellow Christians….
Yes, Joe, part of all of this was learning that we don’t have to be so enmeshed with the church as to not have our own sense of self. We are allowed to draw boundaries, and when the church messes up1 it’s OK to acknowledge it and move on. I’m still the same person I was and God still is the same God he is.
1Obviously when I say “messes up” I’m not talking about the egregious stuff like telling an abused spouse she needs to repent, etc.
I haven’t attended church in 7 months. I am going to try a church next weekend and am nerves. I have been to the church pre-separation and have been in contact with the pastor post-separation. He is a friend of Jeff C’s and even though I am nerves I am confident it will go well.
I followed all of Jeff C’s advice about testing the church and pastor before hand and I am confident that I will not receive any further abuse from this place.
It’s a hard process, Bethany. I hope it goes well for you.
All we can do is do what we can and let God handle the rest.
Thanks, Jeff S. I will keep that in mind. I am only living in this area for about 6 more months so even if this church works out I will be in the same boat again when I move. I know that God is with me through the Holy Spirit wherever I go. I don’t hold to the “doctrine” that there is no salvation outside of the church in that you have to be in constant fellowship somewhere or you are sinning. I have had that “doctrine” beat over my head by churches in the past but I see it nowhere in Scripture and I am reminded of John exiled. Was he in sin because he wasn’t attending church on a regular basis??
What I would say about that is, I think it’s important to meet with other believers when we can. It’s part of the Christian life.
But sometimes we cannot, and it isn’t just physical boundaries that cause these situations. When you just can’t trust right now (and for very good reason), that’s as real as having no church around.
I never stopped going to church, but there were a whole host of important Christian activities I had to stop for a while. I was just in too much pain and the associations pulled me away from God rather than driving me to him. So I did what I could and waited.
Somewhere I read about this idea that when you are struggling with faith to put yourself in “the stream of God’s grace”. I don’t even know if I’m applying what this person said in the way it was intended, but that became a picture for me. In the desert of my lowest point I couldn’t “run” the Christian life — all I could do was find a stream of grace and stand in it. For me that meant every Sunday I got up and went to church just to be around His people. I couldn’t do Bible study or listen to worship music, or anything else. But I could do that much, so I did.
Other people have different situations and triggers. Perhaps they can devour the Psalms even if they can’t stand in a church service. Maybe they can put on praise music. But we each walk in the light we are given, abide in Christ in that way, and He will let His life flow through us in time. He is the vine and we are the branches. We are not dead branches, but we need His life to flow through us, not life of our own.
Great advice once again, Jeff S. Thank you. The picture of the stream was perfect! I have found my strength somewhat renewed and that is why I what to try going to church again but before that I know that there were months where all I could do was find a stream of grace and lay in it. I didn’t even have the strength to stand. I see my church attendance next week as starting to stand in the stream that I have been laying in. Before now I was carefully choosing books and sermons to read and listen to and I couldn’t even do that at times. Thanks again for the word-picture it really makes me feel better about what I am able to do and not be so hard on my self about what I am not able to do right now. You are a real blessing to me. 🙂
Bethany, I’m glad to help. Just a fellow traveler on this painful road.
This whole concept led to a song that I am recording (lyrics might still change slightly):
Beautiful. I would love to hear it sung.
Lord willing, you will – it’s in the works right now!
I just wish it wasn’t such a long process, but all things in God’s timing.
The words of your song, Jeff S, are beautiful.
So, reflecting on this post as I drove to work this morning, I started singing the praise song, They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love [Internet Archive link]1.
As I sang, I realized how well this song portrays the theme of this post. It starts with praise and doctrinal statements of the Holy Trinity and roles of each Individual within the Trinity [lyrics redacted]. Then it goes into the refrain [lyrics redacted].
Yes, doctrine is important. But, LOVE is the mark by which a Christian is to be known!
1[January 20, 2023: To protect against copyright infringement, we deleted the lyrics to Peter Scholtes’ hymn They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love that Joepote01 quoted and added the link to a page with the lyrics to the hymn. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]
You know, I hadn’t heard the verse with the Trinitarian doctrine – what a great observation.
I saw a post this morning on a friend’s blog that reminded me of this one. She makes some good points: Are Christians really Christian? [Internet Archive link]
I agree that good doctrine is important. But, how many of our doctrines actually are good? If our doctrines don’t jive with all of Scripture, then they just are not “good doctrines”. If we cannot make our doctrine “fit” with all of Scripture, then there is something wrong with it.
I watched a movie last evening. It was a tragic movie and one on which a review had been done and I wanted to evaluate it for myself. After viewing the movie, I cried and wondered to myself how far we have fallen from the love and mercy Christ intended us to have toward one another. The “reviewer” of the movie, demonstrated no mercy, no compassion, no actual Christian love toward the victim in this movie or the story. The “reviewer” just listed all the “things” that were not done in the movie, for it to be able to be called “Christian” in theme. For instance, the “reviewer” said there were not enough Scriptures used in the movie, not enough discipline of the young lady, not enough Bible reading, not enough praying, well, not enough of any of the works that obviously define being a Christian to the “reviewer”. The “reviewer” did however, go on and on about the dress in the movie and the sinfulness of the immodesty.
Yes, it is true, we definitely need to be modest in our attire. But, this is what happens, when we place the “works” above the “grace”, or in place of the “grace” altogether. Why do we think that lost people in Hollywood should know how to make a Christian movie? Why do we judge them that are outside the church, but don’t judge those inside the church, like we are supposed to do? We are to judge others who claim Christ by their fruit, and when we judge by whether they are baptized and dress right, etc., we end up with nothing but pews full of Pharisees and hypocrites, who do not love anyone but themselves and who do not know God themselves.
God hates all sin, even the sin of the Pharisee and hypocrites, who cannot love other Christians unless they fit their model of it. These so-called Christians, judge others who have the love of Christ, but because they do not fit the mold of “modesty” or their “doctrines” they think they should hold to, they label them as “worldly Christians” or “baby” or “immature” Christians or maybe not Christian at all. They ignore the “love” aspect of those people’s lives and go straight to what they believe are the “works” that save an individual. They get so focused on the doctrines of men, that they end up acting without love or mercy.
It reminds me of John 9, where the healed blind man is thrown out by the Pharisees (and immediately into the arms of Jesus!), because he does not give the right answers to suit their demands. The Pharisees are so set in their ways, that when God Himself, in the form of Jesus, comes down to them, they completely miss Him. The Pharisees of today, are still missing Him. I don’t want to be that person. If we believe that we are saved and that somehow now, our hands are too pristine to touch those dirty, sinful unbelieving people, which we once were, or even those who are believing but are still touched with the ugliness of abuse and neglect through no fault of their own, then the chances are my hands are not so pristine after all, and perhaps I have never really ever been touched by the hands of Jesus.
[Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]
Neither do I. This has been the burden for me, recently. I don’t EVER want to treat another person the way I was treated. I sincerely hope that I would have never reacted to my situation the way my church did. There was such a lack of empathy.
Yes, and for me the number one thing is “Is this doctrine leading us to love?” If it isn’t, then we are missing the point (because Paul and Jesus were both pretty clear on this point). I think there are a lot of good doctrines, but there’s a lot that has been added that isn’t even “doctrine” but is treated like it: deification of the family, authoritarian rule by pastors, boundaries seen as “unloving”, words like “gossip” being defined in such a way as to silence people; this list goes on.
The doctrines in the historical creeds such as the deity of Christ or God as Creator — this is important stuff that declares essential truths about the object of our worship. It does matter which name we call upon for salvation. But there’s so much that has been added it seems the good doctrine is buried under the weight of it all. And you know, there’s a lot of doctrine that I think is good but I don’t divide over. If any doctrine would cause me to be unloving, then I think it is either not good doctrine, or I am misusing it.
Great summation, Jeff S. I love it and will be using it in the future for sure. 🙂
Jeff S – no, I don’t ever want to treat anyone the way I have been treated either. I am noticing as I comb through the Gospels how Jesus treated the Pharisees and those at that time, who thought their word was above God’s. Jesus was not of the mindset that He must “win them”, or that He must be very careful to bury His own beliefs in order to “love them” or make them happy and accept Him. These responses of His are very interesting to me and are teaching me some great things. I love it when He overturns the moneychangers’ tables. He did this, not because they were selling — that was commonplace, but rather because they were making the prices so high that the people could not purchase what they needed to make the sacrifice. They were keeping the people from God in doing this and that is why Jesus was so angry. The Pharisees of today and our abusers wish to keep us from Jesus, because they know He is our only source of true freedom. I struggle with knowing “who” to love because I have been so surrounded with abusive “Christian” people. I am seeing clearer now though, that my call to “love” is to love those who are loving God, though imperfectly, but I am not commanded to sacrifice myself in order to win those who want to lord it over or abuse or believe that their commands and lifestyle (deification of the family / marriage) are above what the Lord has commanded and expects from me.
The Bible defines loving as not doing harm. I am too wounded and beaten to take on too much right now, so this is refreshing to me, that I am really loving simply by not causing harm. Of course, doing what is needed may be seen by others as “doing harm”, but protecting oneself and allowing others to face the consequences of their own sin is never seen by God as unloving.
Thanks for this post! Makes us all have to think — and realize that we have probably all been victims at some point of the Pharisees and their practices. We are never safe in the presence of the Pharisees of today, even if we can identify what is happening and who they are because their goal is to convert you to make you one of them! I just need to remember not to give humility away, but to hold to it, almost as much, but never more, than I hold close to Jesus.
Anonymous, I don’t know if you saw my other post last week – it’s related to this one but very much in the stream of what you are talking about. Specifically I was recounting how I went through the Gospels looking a situations where Christ spoke truth and where He empathized.
Jesus: The Great Empathizer
This post is good, Jeff S. It really does bring up the fact that real love is missing in many of the congregations. The pseudo-love of “hug your neighbor and tell them you love them” that is practiced in church services puts forth an image of a loving environment, but is not the same as being a loving environment. One of the themes in 1 John is also love.
Knowing God’s love and what that is encompasses so much more than a hug and empty words.
And your sentence —
—reminded me of Luke 11:42:
Thank you for writing this post.
This is so excellent:
The quote from 1 John 4 that Song gave is very apt to this thread:
Sadly that exact verse is what my first husband quoted to me in our second last (post-separation) counselling session. I arranged the counseling not to consider reconciliation, but to try to discuss post-separation arrangements like what would happen with our daughter and our car. When he pulled his Bible out and read that verse, I nearly fell off my chair. I was speechless. I couldn’t think what to say in answer to him. Fortunately I think the counsellor steered the conversation back to where I wanted it to go. But that memory jarred, and took months to process. How dare he guilt me with that verse?! I think the Elders he was staying with (“poor homeless man”) had put him on to that verse. They might have been using it to try to admonish him, but he saw it as a bullet to fire at me.
Amen to this post and comments! The question is, how can we help change this pattern of church abuse topping off abuse? Empathy, education in the form of personal stories, re-assessment and promotion of harmful interpretations? I hear my own pain, loss of faith, and disgust with churchianity in the comments to this post. Argh! Blessings!
Diane, welcome to the blog!
How can we help change the way the church is mishandling domestic abuse? I believe all the things you said are part of it and our goal for this blog is to be part of this change movement. Supporting victims and survivors, networking together to build momentum and empowerment, challenging and educating the church, reassessing wrong, distorted and unbalanced interpretations of Scripture that have helped keep victims in bondage, calling out and denouncing the Pharisaic spirit wherever it manifests in the church, and putting on pressure to make it harder for the church to sweep this issue under the carpet.
Speaking personally, I found the ACFJ community lit the light bulbs in more than one area of faulty thinking, both secular and Christian. Lights were switched on in rooms I didn’t know were dark.
We are God’s remnant.