Recently I have been blessed with the expansion of relationship with brothers and sisters outside my direct church family. Like the gospel will do, and like Jesus will do, those lines become blurred and the family just becomes, well, more family: still the church–still the body–just more connected. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that doctrine can be a relational stumbling block in the “extended” family.
I have also recently been given the grace to walk through some doors in ministry to reach young people at a local high school. This in turn has young people loving one another, which in turn has teachers asking, “How?” and allows us to once again say– “Jesus.” Awesome grace and utterly without merit by us.
Perhaps as significantly for me in this recent journey, I have been walked and hand-held by Christ and His Holy Spirit through some things: how I am made and who I am in my family and in my greater community. This growth has resulted in new freedom. Through hiccups to be sure, my family and I have gotten better at loving people and being loved by them. That is freedom. Looking at the title of this essay side by side with the truly wonderful season we are in, it wouldn’t be a reach to say, “What is the conundrum then? Love is abounding! Seems pretty simple to me. Enjoy it!”
“God is Love” is a Doctrinal Statement
In all of these recent experiences one theme has been prevalent in discussions and in the hearts of people who have shared time with me: doctrine is bad and we just need to love one another. The more I pray about this, the more I see that love sometimes just really isn’t simple. Because love isn’t an accident.
For example, “God is love.” Where did I get that from? From scripture–the Bible. That statement is part of a larger statement that also tells us what love looks like played out on the planet. Scripture says, “. . . and this is how we know what love is, that we lay down our lives for our people.” We have to admit that those two statements are both awesome and life changing if we comprehend them. If God is love, and love is laying down our lives, then it makes sense that Jesus would be our Messiah. So you see, the Bible points to Jesus always, but that is a doctrinal statement. It is not simply a feeling.
One of the many theological issues I have had a chance to discuss recently with peers is the afterlife. I couldn’t help but notice that this is an area that has an array of beliefs within any given church community. I see many churches who teach a doctrine on the subject and flat-out misinterpret scripture and its context. Yet it is in scripture that while addressing the Pharisees and their faulty views on judgment that Jesus said, “Is this not why you are wrong? Because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Jesus argued doctrine more than once. Paul made a career of doing it and Peter wasn’t a slouch. James loved arguing doctrine it seems. It seems that for all the people we revere in our faith, doctrine was both important and a way of knowing God and repenting.
Last Sunday our pastor tore it up. He spoke about we believe as Christians: that Christ is the Son of God, that He lived perfectly, died sinless, rose again, and put His Spirit into His believers, thus bringing us our salvation. I have never heard so many amens in our church. Ever. It was awesome.
Love is . . . Anything But Simple!
Those are doctrinal statements of faith. They aren’t simply our pastor loving us. They were our pastor, in The Spirit, loving us with graciousness and truth. In the same way, scripture says we are to worship in Spirit and in Truth. You see, I can worship in Spirit and freely feel however I want. However, when I worship in TRUTH, when I pray in TRUTH, when I let go of the supposition that love must be free for ME to define and I allow Jesus to tell me WHO HE IS, I am torn asunder – broken down-revealed for what I am: dependent upon God to define me. I’m no longer able to legalize love and call it freedom of expression. I am dust with His life the only life in me, simply the clay. I do not get to define what love is – make it simple or complex – for LOVE IS HIM. Love is a lion. Love is a sword. Love is a shield. Love is a baby crying in a manger. Love is a covenant God made with himself. Love is a man-God/god-Man we can never comprehend. Love is a rebel. Love is a rascal! Love is . . . anything but simple.
I know we like to say it is simple, that we have made too many things, too complex in Christianity. How could we not look at the American church or the Christian machine and not agree with that (unless we are an avid part of it)? It can truly feel simple when love is at its most complete in us–-when we abide–-it can feel effortless. After all, it is freely offered to us, His precious grace is, and it is equally available to all of us in equal measure.
But what if the feeling of simplicity is also grace? That we can rest in Jesus and feel rest is awesome, but is feeling love and rest synonymous with being simple?
Jesus IS the doctrine!
Is it possible we have become so weary of bad doctrine that we have swung so far as to reject doctrine as a notion in its entirety? We lose sight of the fact that JESUS IS THE DOCTRINE, and He is anything but simple.
We must always reject the idea that our Lord can be put in a box. But we must also never forget that the Cross is not simple. He just makes it simple for us to be accepted. He makes it simple for us to relate to Him. All that is true. However, the places He may ask us to go are not simple. The person He made YOU to be isn’t simple.
Ultimately we need doctrine as much as we need love because it is the same thing. We do not advance in our love so far that we stop needing scripture unless we believe it is not the revelation of Jesus, the word that is alive. We do not advance in our spirituality to a point where we can afford to forget doctrine leads others to Christ as well. Therefore, we should know what we believe and why. There may be but one thing we should stand firm on: Christ and Christ crucified. But that is doctrine.
So let us reject the doctrines and fads of men–always, even if it seems freeing to make our own rules and doctrines. Let the Spirit lead some of us in ministry to limit the damage false doctrine can do. Yes, let’s throw out the bells and whistles! Let us also follow the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ when He said: “Today the scriptures are fulfilled in me.” Let us love in complex simplicity of the doctrine: God is love.
Aaron and his wife, Bindi, reside in Spokane, WA and minister at, in, and among the family of God at The Bridge in Spokane.
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