I was speaking to a group of men recently and looking at Paul’s word to the church in Rome where he tells them to “owe no one anything except to love one another, for love is the fulfillment of the law … And do this, knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Roman 13:8-11).
As I shared with them, I felt compelled to exhort them in the area of love among themselves, for other Christians and churches, and for those outside the body of Christ, reminding them that Jesus said the great distinguishing mark of His disciples would be their love for one another. This is what I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to today. The single greatest failure of the church throughout its long history is the failure to love.
I’ve been reminded of that again in looking at the past, and I still see it all too often in the present. Reading once again some of the church’s history, it’s unbelievable what Christians have done to one another over the centuries. We’ve not only failed to love one another, we’ve even killed each other in the name of Christ and the gospel.
The English Civil War (1642-1646) and the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) are both examples of this colossal failure of Christians to love one another. According to Alister McGrath, theologian and church historian, “Whatever else it may have been, the English Civil War was fundamentally a battle for the soul of English Protestantism. Both sides (Anglican and Puritan) regarded themselves as embodying the true ideals of Protestantism. Their soldiers found passages in the Bible that seemed to support their cause … The Thirty Years’ War was both an international religious conflict and a German civil war, involving Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic regions and nations. The populations of many regions were decimated by this war of attrition, and their economies brought to the brink of total collapse.”
We look back on those and similar tragic events in the church’s history and assure ourselves that we would never have behaved like that. Yet we dislike fellow Christians sitting right next to us in church, criticize other ministries for not doing things to our liking, get mad because some other church had the audacity to move into our territory, and refuse to fellowship with those who don’t hold to our exact theological view.
These attitudes are killing the witness of the church and it’s time that we stop all this childishness and take seriously the command of Jesus to love one another, regardless of denomination or affiliation.
I have to say that I’m encouraged by some of what I see happening today. There are several Evangelical leaders who are “reaching across the aisle,” so to speak, in an effort to build relationships and establish fellowship with those who hold different views on non-essential doctrinal issues; and this is one of the healthiest things that I’ve seen happen in a long time. But sadly, there are still those who insist on majoring in the minors and refuse to recognize that the body of Christ extends beyond the walls of their own churches or the boundaries of their own denomination or movement.
I firmly believe that the Spirit is moving to bring a greater unity to the body of Christ. But those who insist on isolating themselves in the belief that they are “unique” in the body of Christ, or in other words, a notch above other believers, churches, or movements, will be left out in the cold while the rest enjoy the warmth of the love, joy, and peace that is found when brothers dwell together in unity.