Hidden Messages of American Christianity: Correctness Before Love

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This is the third in a series of posts covering the hidden messages that sneak into American churches' proclamation of the Gospel. For more background, please refer to this post.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" —Luke 10:25-29 ESV

We all know about love. Those of us who came of age in the Seventies heard "God is Love" so many times it must have been drilled into us via some clever ad campaign. Remember, the crying Indian? Somebody must've had a "God is Love" public service ad just as catchy.

For all the talk of love, you would think our churches would have that message down pat by now. And even if we don't love perfectly, we should at least understand the priority the Lord gave to love. No need to pull out 1st Corinthians 13 and 2nd Peter 1: 5-8, right? The love message percolates in everything we do.

Well, supposedly.

Somehow, we Christians in the West have this affinity for misprioritizing love below faith, hope, and everything else. Nobody expects the Spanish InquisitionThe very people of a God who is characterized by His Fatherly Love talk a good game about love, but the message we send out rarely starts with love. And when we end with it, that love's usually in the form of "Sorry about ripping your still-beating heart from your chest, but I did it in love."

Listen, our interaction with the brethren and with the lost shouldn't always take on the form of an intervention. It doesn't have to be a bare lightbulb, a hard wooden chair, and a cult deprogrammer we hired out of the Yellow Pages.

Too often our attitude is that of the lawyer who confronted Jesus. A master of splitting hairs, he swiftly noted how well he'd followed the love rules of the Law, but showed his true colors by adding his final element of personal correctness: "And who is my neighbor?" You can almost see the smirk.

Having been on a blogout last week, I evidently missed an enormous brouhaha that erupted over something Michael Spencer said over at BHT. At this point, I don't even want to know the specifics. All I know is that a lot of normally sane people forgot that love comes before correctness. The idea of leading with love first before tactfully addressing a fault got buried in a rush to judgment.

Can we see why the lost have no deep desire to join our little temples of pettiness? "Oh, shocking statement, Dan! 'Temples of pettiness'? Isn't that being a tad harsh?" All I can say is that our message of the love of Christ is being trumped by our desire to be correct. Love must come before correction. Love must come before EVERYTHING, folks. The mature Christian leads with love first and follows with everything else.

And yes, I know that love must be tough sometimes. My argument here is that it doesn't have to be tough all the time, nor does it have to be tactless. Our sense of proportion is out of whack when a few comments on a blog cause the strongest voices in the Godblogosphere to turn shrill and unloving.

Here's a little "Count to 10" anger management idea when we stumble across some inflated comment: Let's ask ourselves, How can I be a true example of love to my brother before I confront him?

I know a couple who were driven out of their church by folks who were more concerned about being correct than being loving. That couple's crime? They thought it was okay to read the Harry Potter books. When this opinion was expressed in a group of believers who did not share that belief, things turned ugly. To make matters worse, the couple was fairly young in the Lord and were new to that church. Now those final two elements aren't generally in themselves a reason to let things slide, but love should still have come first, then the acknowledgment that perhaps it is best to remark and let the Lord work it out in the lives of this couple. The result, however, was a bludgeoning, tears, anger, despair, and two fine people leaving the church.

It breaks my heart that we are too often concerned with being correct than being loving. And for all those who would accuse me of being soft on doctrinal stances for thinking that way, I would ask if the spirit in which anyone corrects another truly flows out of love and not self-justification. I would also ask that any of us who correct consider our own faults first, then consider if we are functioning more like the lawyer in the passage above than in the Spirit of Christ. Even in those passages where Jesus corrects sinners, he starts off by letting them know they are loved before He adds, "Now go and sin no more."

Which message do we lead with when we encounter others? Correctness or love? Only one is the way of Christ.

13 thoughts on “Hidden Messages of American Christianity: Correctness Before Love

  1. Jim from OldTruth.com

    Dan:

    Perhaps you could give some guidelines as to when love and unity should take precedence over truth and doctrine, and visa-versa. For example, Im sure that if you were an elder in your church, and one of the people in the church was denying the deity of Christ, your priority would be towards doctrinal truth rather than maintaining unity with that person at all costs. Of course, there’s a sense in which we can be loving in everything we do, but I think you understand what Im driving at.

  2. Jim,

    There’s a right way and wrong way to do things. We both know that. Too often the way we deal with people isn’t with love leading, it’s with a desire to prove ourselves right. It’s Jesus’s “The Sabbath for Man vs. Man for the Sabbath.” We have to try to keep that in mind.

    Personally, I’ve been on the receiving end of loving correction and correction done for correction’s sake. You probably have, too. Which do you prefer? I know which one I appreciate more; it’s the same one that leads to the desired change.

    He makes all things beautiful in His time. Sometimes we have to warn someone lovingly and let God work on them in His time. Yes, sometimes it calls for handing someone over for chastisement by the Enemy, but must we resort to that or to browbeating people all the time? I know many people who held to bad doctrine, but God corrected that over time—me included.

    When I correct the wayward, I let the Spirit guide me and lead with a loving reponse that values people, even sinners. Yes, we can’t sacrifice good doctrine for unity, but at the same time, why do we have such a low view of unity anymore. Can’t we have both unity and solid doctrine? If we can, shouldn’t that be what we aim for?

  3. Jim from OldTruth.com

    Insofar as you are talking about being correct out of pride or hyper-correctness in every minor thing in order to show-off our knowledge, I agree with you. Our love should cover-up many doctrinal inaccuracies in our brothers; allowing them to grow over time. I also agree that we should not go around correcting unbelievers so that they will conform to our standards.

    My concern is, related to the fact that we live in a time when firmness of doctrine is considered bigotry, and love and unity are considered greater things than doctrine and truth. This is the idea of a posting from earlier this morning.

    So in my opinion, I think it’s really important to be careful not to beat-down truth and doctrine in order to strengthen love and unity. I agree with you, we should be able to have a church where there is both. The churches that spell-out their doctrinal expectations in detail, out front, have the best chance of this kind of harmony occuring. It is afterall, in the local church that this kind of harmony is so very important.

  4. Helen

    The Lord has been speaking to me lately about being a light, so I went to the Scriptures to shed some light (pun intended!) on where He was leading me. The thing that stuck out to me was that light exposes the darkness—Ephesians 5:13. Eph. 5:2 also says to live a life of love.

    I always try to speak the truth in love when God opens a door to do so. And I do respond MUCH better when dealt with this way. I am about as non-confrontational as they come, so this is not easy for me to learn.

  5. If I never hear someone say, “I had to give a hard word to that brother/sister” it will be to soon.
    Imagine if people actually took up these perceived misdeeds in prayer with faith that the Holy Spirit would convict the heart. We could actually spend our fellowship time edifying one another!
    Oh but that brother/sister may fall away if we don’t act now. No time for God in these circumstances. We have to act now! (sarcasm intended)

    carl

  6. Coffee and a Muffin

    Thank you! This is what has been running through my head and prayers in the last couple of weeks. There has been much straining at gnats and swallowing of camels in the blogosphere of late. Great post.

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