Posted in discipleship, reflections

Radical love and the church

We holiness folks sometimes have looked askance at love. It seems too simple. There must be more to it; it has to be more complex than that.

One of my seminary professors in the 1980s derided love as “too soft.” Notably, his book on entire sanctification hardly contained the word.

But what Mildred Wynkoop in her A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism (Beacon Hill Press, 1972) did was make it safe for holiness preachers to talk about love again. For too long, the emphasis had been on the negative side of the equation, of how sin is cleansed away and how a holy person should behave. Legalism was always lurking at the door. But Wynkoop portrayed a positive holiness, a holiness that cannot be understood apart from love.

What would happen if love became the lens through which we saw everything?

The epistle of 1 John does exactly that. Again and again, John returns to love as the glue that holds it all together. For all the verses that touch on love, 1 John 4:7 (NRSV) is the most striking:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

In junior high, when we played basketball or soccer, Mr. Davis would break out his box of red and blue jerseys. It was the easiest way to know who was on your team. If you were on the blue team, you’d look for players wearing a blue jersey before you pass them the ball.

John is saying: Do you want to know who’s on your team? Look for the “jersey” of love. If they’re clothed in love, you’re playing on the same side.

So what does love look like?

First, love places the interests of others above our own. Jesus modeled this when he went to the cross, putting our well-being above his own. The same self-sacrificial nature of love showed up on August 3, 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Jordan Anchondo covered her baby boy with her body, cradling him protectively while a gunman’s bullets rained down on her. She died, but her boy lived, escaping with only broken bones.

Besides placing the interest of others above our own, secondly, love includes. Jesus spoke of this in his Parable of the Great Dinner (Luke 14:15-24). When those whom the master had invited to the feast started making flimsy excuses for not coming, the master said to his servants:

“Go out at once into the streets and the lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (v. 21).

These were the supposed “undesirables,” those who were not included in the original invitation, yet here they are, invited and offered a place at the table. In the Kingdom of God, the norm is radical inclusion.

Edwin Markham (1852-1940) captured the sentiment brilliantly in a few lines:

He drew a circle that shut me out,

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

I drew a circle and took him in!

The first time I heard that poem, it was read by one of my lecturers at college. He criticized it roundly. But my fifty-something ears hear the poem differently than the ears of an 18-year-old.

I’ve heard many criticisms of others:

“He is so selfish.”

“She just doesn’t care.”

“I can’t believe how hateful he is towards everyone.”

One critique I’ve never heard is this: “She is just too loving toward others.”

Let’s face it: Love is radical. Love, when practiced the Jesus way, puts the interest of others first. Love, the kind that looks like Jesus, includes the so-called “undesirables,” inviting them to the party.

What would churches look like if we practiced this kind of love? What about our polity would need to change? Watch out! Love – the radical, Jesus kind of love – may just lead to revival.


Image credits

Woman and baby: Beardobot, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Circle of friends: Isabel.Yate, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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I'm a health care chaplain.

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