• heart shape fireOne of my friends from all the way back to my fundamentalist years recently categorized my present church as a “Joel Osteen” church. She—nor any of similar others from my spiritual past—have attended Blue Ridge Community Church; so, she’s limited to assumptions. Several years ago, I held the same assumptions; so, I extend grace to those who question my current spiritual environment.

    Basically, the assumption is this: a church can’t be primarily focused on both accepting love and flammable truth at the same time. The church, thus categorized, lives as a dichotomy. You can have brimstone screamers or mellow hippies, revival weeks or love ins, holy self condemners or unseparated self esteemers. You can’t draw and push at the same time.

    Some with whom I’ve talked have conceded that both love and fear are equal, biblically-documented motivations to salvation; but they are drawn to the fear side of the pendulum arc in an attempt to balance all the “lovey-dovey” churches. “Seeker” and other culturally-relevant churches don’t hold to their definition of the right balance of “in the world but not of the world.” From their vantage point, it makes sense to them—as it once did to me—that the whole truth (particularly the uncomfortable) of the bible isn’t being preached or even taught in those assemblies.

    The New Testament presents a symbiotic symmetry.
    It commands us to speak the truth in love. So, God does not consider these methods mutually exclusive.

    Why should we?

    We accept ideas about ourselves from a variety of sources, even people we despise. We’ll accept truth from lots of different people who prove, at least to us, to be experts. We can be guilted into action by even television commercials and secular voices, let alone spiritual leaders.

    But lasting, positive, personal change comes from the relationships where someone invests in us—from the people who are allowed to ask authentically into our intrinsic souls. People flocked to Jesus, because they felt their souls exposed. They saw his compassion; the gospel writers documented it multiple times.

    God sent an inanimate law in the Old Testament, and it blistered its way to inadequacy. In Jesus, God brought his eternal, saving Truth to the world through personal relationship. Jesus presented some drastic commands, some hard-core challenges. Yet, from my memory, he flashes angry or harsh toward only the religious, the comfortable, the exterior-focused caste—the same folks who criticized Immanuel for not separating himself from the sinner caste.

    Love makes truth more palatable. Grace-backed acceptance births a receptive audience. Personal investment earns credence for what you have to say. Vulnerable, practical conversations happen in friendships that have been built on personal contribution. Real, authentic shepherds break down barriers and inhibitions—not through force of volume or fear mongering—but through connecting to the universal ache in the human soul, speaking to a heart that feels comfortable with all but the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

    It takes balance. All love and no truth tends toward sentimentalism and an unchecked tolerance of sin. All guilt and no grace leads to exclusivity and Pharisaical legalism. My pastor illustrates the needed balance with an analogous question, “Which leg do you need more, your right or your left?”

    The New Testament church requires both. When you have both, each half works more effectively; and the combined halves equal more than their sum. That shouldn’t surprise us: that’s how God designed it to work.

    So, if your long-drawn, guilt-riddled altar calls only draw those willing to approach the flame thrower’s stage, try some gentle love. If your church illustrates community but not significant life change, mix in some biblical truth. If you’d like to try a church that operates somewhere in the middle, I’ll save a parking spot for you next Sunday.

    Stock image(s) used with permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008
    This entry was posted on Monday, July 21st, 2008 at 11:00 pm and is filed under Ponderlust. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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