So I just recently finished reading 1st John, that little letter tucked away at the end of the New Testament, and if you were going to summarize that book in one sentence it’s easy…God is love, so love each other.
It’s not even a long sentence.
John repeats this simple idea over and over again in different ways. For John (someone who spent some years with Jesus) you could boil down what it meant to follow Jesus into the simple call to love your neighbor because God is love.
But he’s not the only one who thinks that. Paul gives love an entire chapter, Jesus says all the law and the prophets (or the entire Hebrew Scriptures) hang or revolve around this simple idea to love God, and love others.
In his great book the Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight describes the process of coming to this simple, but profound realization. That love really was what following Jesus was all about. And so he would just repeat this mantra everytime he thought of it. Love God, and love others.
He found himself doing praying this prayer about 50 and 60 times a day. And in doing so he said he discovers something that I think is interesting. McKnight said that he knows now why we tend to gravitate toward the rules of the Bible, because the commandments are easier to follow than that simple creed.
The rules help us keep a safe distance from you and God, or you and others. But if you are called to love God and others, that’s a whole different story.
Jesus connected the love of God to love of neighbor. In Jesus, God answers the question of Cain “Yes. You are your brother’s keeper.”
Richard Beck, in his recent book on Spiritual Warfare talks about how, in his experience, there are 2 different types of Christians. There are 1 Love Christians and 2 love Christians.
One love Christians are those that care deeply about loving God. Which is obviously a good thing, but when their love of God is divorced from how they treat people it leads to places like “The Westboro Baptist Church” and their dogmatic certainty that God hates all the same people they do.
Two love Christians are those who take the Jesus Creed seriously. They have come to believe that you can only love God as much as you love the people around you…even your enemies.
During the whole Reformation period, the church was battling different points of doctrinal disagreements. Protestants had just broken with the Roman Catholic church and were trying to navigate what it meant to be a follower of Jesus without the structures of authority defining that for them.
And all kinds of different ideas were emerging that were slightly…out there.
One guy named Michael Servetus had this idea that Jesus as the Son of God, wasn’t eternal. It wasn’t an idea that was looked kindly upon by the emerging leaders of the Protestant faith, and so eventually John Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.
That’s John Calvin. The guy that Calvinism is named after (also Calvin and Hobbes…no joke).
So here’s a man who knows the Scriptures extremely well, brilliant thinker, deeply devoted to the Lord and to the church. And he had a man burned at the stake for heresy.
Greg Boyd makes a great point on this issue. He asks:
“If we are thinking Biblically, how can we not conclude that Calvin was the greater heretic? Burning someone alive is not loving them, doing good to them or blessing them (Lk 6:27-28, 35). And without love, whatever other truth Calvin may have been defending becomes worthless. If we’re thinking biblically, how can we avoid concluding that Calvin was not only a worse heretic than Servetus, but that he committed the greatest heresy imaginable?”
Which is a bit of a touchy question.
I don’t want to throw Calvin under the bus, it was a different time and there are lots of ways our 21st century hubris uses stories like this to make us feel superior. Calvin lived in a different world where Servetus would been seen more like a Bin Laden threatening all of society, not just the religious bits of it.
But I also don’t want to single out Calvin, because he is just one of many examples of what happens when we forget the most basic part of following Jesus.
Augustine was the first Christian to justify persecution in the name of Jesus, and since then millions of people were tortured or killed for their heretical beliefs, whether it was their beliefs on communion, baptism, or the nature of Jesus. But not one person in church history was persecuted because they lacked love.
I think that the Church that carried out these acts in the name of Jesus was much more heretical than all the heretics it persecuted. They bought into the lie that as long as you don’t mess with what we put our faith and hope in, then we don’t care about the heresy of not loving.
There are all kinds of heresy’s that are out there right now. Some people believe that Jesus is going to build a spaceship and take us to another galaxy (a relatively new heresy) some say that Jesus is their homeboy, or that you can earn forgiveness.
The world is filled with heresy.
But the greatest of these is love.
Image from Buffer with Author Modification