MAKE LOVE YOUR AIM & THE REFORMATION
"Faith Hope & Love abide these three but the greatest of these is love."
The work of Jesus is all about connecting people with the love and provision of God our Loving Heavenly Father. The coming and death of Jesus opened up a superhighway of love between God and all men. It simply remains for all to jump aboard this highway by returning to Him and receiving His goodness, forgiveness and New Life. The act of returning is called 'REPENTANCE". The act of receiving is called "FAITH".
To receive and transmit God's love is the goal of all spiritual living. "Make love your aim," writes Paul. We were made to be loved and to love. The purpose of the work of Jesus is to connect us with that Living Vibrant Source of all love. Once connected we begin to experience the Love of God Our Heavenly Father for ourselves - His reconciling love, healing love, forgiving love, affirming love. It is literally poured into our hearts like spiritual liquid by the Holy Spirit once we approach God on the basis of sins paid for and guilt removed, because of the Blood of The Lamb. (Rom. 5.5)
The Reformation & The Distortion OF Christianity
Last month Christians throughout the world celebrated and commemorated the 500th anniversary of The Reformation, which began with Luther's protest against some clearly unchristian practices in the Catholic Church. He thus opened the way to examine and challenge all Christian doctrines and standards against the plumb line of the scriptures. The Reformation was an inevitable consequence of the development of the printing press and the availability of the Bible to the masses. The technology of printing produced a revolution in Christianity that still resonates today. But the Reformation was not only a revival - it was also a debacle, a fiasco and a tragedy.
It swept through Europe like a hurricane leaving the continent deeply divided, deeply intolerant, and deeply anti-Semitic. The forms of
Christianity that emerged from The Reformation were compromised by reliance on state patronage, intolerant of other forms of Christianity and repressive of minorities.
Most of the reformers were poor examples of Christian living and no role models for their followers. Nearly all who attained to any degree of power were murderously vicious against their opponents. They were coarse, rude, fanatical, intolerant of dissenters, unloving, unforgiving and persecutors of those who opposed them.
Having discovered forgiveness through faith in the fact of Jesus' atoning work, they were like the man in Jesus' parable who was forgiven much and refused to pass that forgiveness on to others and thereby brought back on himself all his former miseries. They saw themselves more often as agents of the wrath of God than of His love, and they passed this miserable heritage on to many of their followers.
Love Was Not The Aim
Though they were courageous champions of their views, they made the imposition of these views a higher priority than the command to live in love. The leaders of the Reformation definitely did not "make love their aim". Their aim was power. The triumph of their orthodoxy and the repression of views that they deemed unacceptable were more important to them than faithfully representing the love and the way of Jesus. They pulled at the "baby" of Christianity until the "baby" was nearly dead.
The European believer had a choice between being a supporter of state sponsored, coercive Catholicism or state sponsored coercive Protestantism. Actually he had NO choice - he could only be what the state told him he could be - a Catholic or a Protestant. What if he did not want to check either box? In that case he could risk execution, forfeit his property, emigrate to America, or live as an outcast in his own country. Is it any wonder that today Europe looks like the graveyard of Christianity
Catholics were brainwashed to believe that there was no salvation outside their church and Protestants were brainwashed to believe there was no salvation inside the Catholic Church! The reformers took over governments, duchies and principalities. To protect themselves from persecution they repressed other views and in the process they became persecutors. The freedom they sought for themselves they withheld from others and became bound by spirits of repression, intolerance and bigotry that are the opposite of the freedom that Christ brings.
Of course those were different times and most have moved on. In light of the sad legacy of this history the Ecumenical Movement deserves to be acknowledged for its work in restoring respect between churches - a value that was lost in the hot arguments and divisions that came from the reformation days. This respect on the basis of love, acceptance and forgiveness is now a bedrock value in Christianity.
However, because we owe each other respect should not mean that we give up our responsibility to examine views, and challenge doctrines and practices in the light of the scriptures. While all churches deserve our respect we should not use ecumenical politeness as a cover to suppress the prophetic voice or to ignore the call to repent because the kingdom of God is at hand. Because the ecumenical movement has gone a long way to heal the hatred between denominations it should not be abused to become a reactionary movement that permits only dialog and represses honest examination of our positions and practices. Ecumenism should not be taken to mean that we must stay bound to the old unscriptural, denominational expressions that emerged from the Reformation.
Today no one is a Christian because it is forced on him by government coercion or tradition. A true Christian is a Christian by choice. The recovery of this basic reality is reshaping the fabric of Christianity. As Christians by choice we don't define ourselves by the obsolete labels of the post Reformation era as "Catholic" or "Protestant" but as "followers of Jesus." We are not simply members of a particular religious tradition - we are Christians because we have deliberately received and accepted His forgiveness and love, accepted His care, chosen to live by His ways and to "make love our aim". We do not expect, or look for state support or sanction and are learning to operate without it.
As the spirit filled disciples of the last day our values don't come from the prevailing religion of our society but from heaven and the Heavenly man Jesus who revealed them to us.
It is unfair to burden the believers of this generation with the weight of tradition or bind them to the arguments of a bygone era. “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders." (Mt. 23.4) "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." (Acts 15.28)
Older Christian movements and older Christians should encourage the believers of this generation to build a Christianity unshackled from the traditions of rivalry that emerged after the Reformation but based on the standards of Jesus and the scriptures.
The Christianity of the last days will be without bigotry and the commandment that Jesus gave us to love one another will no longer be pushed to the side but will be front and center. We will be devoted to make love our aim. Our aim will not be the triumph of our denomination or church but to walk in the light of love and mercy which Jesus opened for us by His life, His atonement His example and the gift of His Spirit.
We are called to be focused on sharing the apostolic message rather than the confessions of faith of the Reformation. We will thus be devoted to humble service rather than a seeking to dominate one another. One day the believers will rule over the nations, but now is not the time for dominion over each other but in love to become servants of one anther.
The future expressions of Christianity will be focused on the three great virtues mentioned by Paul: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE and especially on receiving and transmitting the LOVE He so generously supplies