the weblog of Alan Knox

All people will know that you are my disciples…

Posted by on Apr 30, 2007 in love | 34 comments

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)

According to David Kinnaman, from the Barna Group, 16-29 year olds have a very poor perception of the church. During a recent conference, Kinnaman presented some information that will be released in an upcoming book: unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters. (HT: Marty Duren) So, how do 16-29 years olds perceive Christians and the church?

antihomosexual-91%
judgemental-87%
hypocritical-85%
old-fashioned-78%
too involved in politics-75%
out of touch with reality-72%
insensitive to others-70%

Now, I have heard many people explain away these perceptions. Some say that we should not expect unbelievers to understand Christians or the church. Others suggest that the church and the world have different priorities and concerns. There are probably many other explanations as to why the world would see Christians and the church as judgmental, hypocritical, and insensitive to others.

Regardless of how we try to explain away these perceptions, the fact remains that Jesus seemed to indicate that the world would be able to recognize Christians as disciples of Christ by their love for one another. Granted, this verse does not talk about our interaction with those who are not Christians, but I think the case could be made that believers are also called to serve and love and care for those who are unbelievers. If those who are unbelievers are supposed to be able to recognize us by our love, why is “love” not mentioned as one of their perceptions?< Why do those in this generation see Christians and the church as judgmental, hypocritical, and insensitive to others? Could it be that they hear our talk, but they do not see our walk? Could it be that our sermons condemn their actions, but our actions do not demonstrate the love of Christ? Do you think that they hear the Christian celebrities denouncing culture on CNN, but they do not see Christ's love from their neighbor? As I think through these questions, another verse keeps going through my mind: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)

Could this be the same kind of love that God expects us to show to unbelievers? Does God expect us to love unbelievers (and demonstrate that love to them) even while they are sinners? From the perceptions listed above, it seems that unbelievers are not experiencing that kind of love from believers.


34 Comments

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  1. 4-30-2007

    I guess it goes without saying that we will be misunderstood. Jesus was misunderstood and so we will be as well. Of course, he was misunderstood as being a drunkard and one who hung out with sinners. He was accused of being soft on sin, not nearly condemning enough for the religious leaders or for much of the crowd I would think. Hmmmm. Funny how in the first century they mistook Jesus exactly the oposite of the way we are being misunderstood today. Do you think that means that we are doing/being exactly the opposite of Christ? I hope not but those statistics of yours are pretty overwhelming.

  2. 4-30-2007

    Absolutely we must love unbelievers as well as believers. What did Christ do and what are we to imitate? We are to love those who curse us. We are to love. We are never commanded to judge or to hate with respect to persons at all. We must love. We have been suckered into making ourselves gods by the great deceiver. The Holy Spirit is really good at convicting of sin; we need to be really good at laying down our rights for others, even our right to be right.

    Strider makes a great point with his observation of the fact we are being taken in the opposite way that Jesus was taken in the 1st century.

  3. 4-30-2007

    Alan,

    Yeah, that’s what I was asking…

  4. 4-30-2007

    Strider,

    You said: “Funny how in the first century they mistook Jesus exactly the oposite of the way we are being misunderstood today.” I’ve noticed that as well. I think your observation that we may not be doing what Christ would do is probably true.

    Bryan,

    It is hard to lay down our rights when we’re only concerned with being right. (And, I’m talking to myself here.) Thank you for this reminder.

    Isabel,

    Your post had a lot to do with mine. Thank you.

    -Alan

  5. 4-30-2007

    Alan, Part of our class here at CDTS is reading a couple of Loren Cunningham’s books. One of them is all about laying down our rights and is called Making Jesus Lord.

    In a chapter entitled “I Am What I Am,” Loren writes: “Did Jesus say, ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, becuase you have the same statement of doctrine’? No, He said they would know we belonged to Him because of our love for one another.”

    He then gives this conclusion: “If your doctrinal statement is separating you from other followers of Jesus, I would go so far as to say it has become an idol that must fall.”

    Strong, powerful statement… I agree..

  6. 4-30-2007

    Alan,

    This post is right on and very thought provoking. These comments are also very thought provoking. I am loving the interaction going on here.

    I think the majority of these perceptions are our own doing. I also think there is a problem with the word Christian. I blame Constantine for this :).

    I’m not trying to “explain away these perceptions” or anything… Just wanted to make that observation.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  7. 4-30-2007

    Alan,

    You hit the proverbial nail on the head again.

    The eyes of this world are blinded to our doctrine. They just cannot see it as true. Our words must seem really empty to the lost world.

    They can, however, see our love. I’m sure the woman you all helped move this weekend saw that love. Actions like that are what will cause the lost to listen to the truth.

  8. 4-30-2007

    Strider is on the mark! Christ loved the “unlovable” – the leper, the handicap, the poor, the prostitute, the outcast. What I see in churches today, believers interacting with other believers, is that we tend to love on, fellowship with and disciple our friends during the week. Churches are divided, similar to high school cliques. Those that don’t fit In, are left Out, and eventually may leave the church. It may be due to differences in age (younger/older), marital status (single or widowed), personality (shy?), doctrinal statements (thank you Bryan!), etc. Telling the “outcast” to form their own “care group” only further divides the church. If we have trouble loving the believers in our own church family, how are we going to be able to love the nonbelievers outside of church.

  9. 4-30-2007

    Bryan,

    I agree, that is a strong, powerful statement. I hope that people will think seriously about that statement before they dismiss it.

    Lew,

    The interaction has been great. I have learned from everyone here. To me, this is what blogging is all about – meaning the comments, not my posts.

    Eric,

    That is a good thought: unbelievers cannot see our doctrine, but they can see our love in action. Thank you.

    Mary,

    I’ve been convicted and challenged recently concerning our own fellowship. I pray that God will teach me how to love those who are different from me. I’ve had some good examples in this area recently.

    -Alan

  10. 4-30-2007

    Bryan Riley,

    In your last comment, you left the following:

    ‘He then gives this conclusion: “If your doctrinal statement is separating you from other followers of Jesus, I would go so far as to say it has become an idol that must fall.”

    Strong, powerful statement… I agree..’

    My question to you is this: What if another follower of Jesus holds to an unbiblical doctrine such as infant baptism? Should we ignore this difference and try to be part of the same local church body? (I’m not sure how that would be possible). Or, should we fellowship with them, but still hold on to our doctrine enough to say that we cannot be part of the same church?

  11. 4-30-2007

    Alan,

    I am like a horse at the starting gate, trembling with anticipation at plunging in to this conversation. John 13:34-35 is probably my most quoted Scripture. I certainly agree with your post, and with everyone who has commented, but we need to have a firm definition of “love”, as the N.T.understands it, not as Plato understood it. The latter is what I’ve found to be far too common amongst the brethren of my acquaintance.

  12. 4-30-2007

    Eric,
    Good point. Interpretation of scripture is one that I struggle with. My granddaughter was baptized in a Catholic church. I nearly had a falling out with the inlaws. I agree with Southern Baptists that one should be of an age of understanding of sin, repentance, and salvation. I do not find mention of infants being saved and baptized in the NT, however in Acts whole families were saved and baptized (any infants?).
    One that I am currently challenged by is whether a particular family member is saved, as some in the family believe. Simply praying a pray of salvation does not make one saved, Mt7:21. There is no fruit. No desire to read scripture or attend church and be with other believers, and says “Why do good people go to hell? They don’t deserve it.” (Mt13:19, 22) Another family member says they just need to be discipled, Lk13:1-8. I agreed, discipled to repentance, salvation and sanctification.
    Mary

  13. 4-30-2007

    Eric, does your church or any church you find to be more doctrinally sound ever do infant dedications (not baptisms)? Could you view infant baptism as similar to such a practice? While there is nothing in the bible pre- or proscribing infant baptism, can it not be an acceptable part of one’s culture, like an infant dedication or observance of Ash Wednesday or a certain way of taking the Lord’s Supper? And, yes, are there those who believe they are “saved” because they have been infant baptized? Sure, just like I know people who believe they are saved because they’ve been baptized later in life or because they prayed a prayer.

    I see nothing in the bible that tells us how to baptize (with precision). I agree with believer’s baptism personally and think it is a significant step, particularly in cultures where doing so definitely carries meaning. But, just as there is no strong biblical foundation for infant baptism (although one can point to circumcision), there also is no foundation for the exact methods many churches use for baptizing (dunking backwards, dunking forwards, dunking three times, pouring, dipping, etc. and etc.). All such methods are extra-biblical.

    At the end of the day is this worth breaking apart a fellowship God has put together? Should this disagreement prevent you from going with someone to do mission work in another country when God is telling you to go? Should we separate when scripture after scripture talks about unity and how we are one body and how the world will know the Truth?

  14. 4-30-2007

    Eric,

    You know that I agree with believer’s baptism by immersion. I’m trying to determine how I hold to certain beliefs while still loving believers who disagree with me. More to the point of this post though, how do I love those who are unbelievers?

    Aussie John,

    I would love to hear how you distinguish between NT love and Plato’s love.

    Mary,

    Discipleship is very important. We should help one another grow to maturity in Christ. I think part of that maturity is learning to live in unity with believers who disagree with us, and learning to love unbelievers.

    Bryan,

    What is worth breaking fellowship over? That is the HUGE question that we all must answer… not from our human nature, but from the new Spirit nature. I think I have been answering too much from my own human nature. I love those who are like me. I put up with others, at best.

    -Alan

  15. 4-30-2007

    Bryan,

    Thank you for your thoughtful answer to my questions.

    Let me first state that I do think it is important for all believers to love and serve anyone they come in contact with.

    My point was not to get into a debate over baptism. I just used that as an example of an important doctrinal issue. I certainly believe that we can serve and evangelize with other believers with whom we do not see eye-to-eye on some issues.

    However, even though we are called to love others, does that mean that we give up doctrinal distinctives that we believe are biblical? What if someone else has a very different definition of what being a follower of Jesus is? What if someone else has a very different view of what church is? There must be some issues that are worth standing up for.

    I am called to love everyone (as we all are), but I don’t think I am called to be part of the same church body with someone who holds to significantly different positions on important issues.

    Unity is important, but at what cost?

    Love, however, is not an option.

  16. 5-1-2007

    Alan did gently remind us of the point of the post… but I do want to explore one thing a bit further…and then i’ll bring it back to the point of the post..

    Love isn’t an option but is unity in Jesus an option? Look carefully at the scriptures and note the object of unity I describe… “in Jesus.” Clearly if an individual has a “different” Jesus then they aren’t a follower of Jesus and we are not able to have unity with them, but we are able to love them.

    But as to doctrines that we “think” are biblical… well, we are human, aren’t we? Do any of us have it all together 100% with regard to “doctrine”? And, what really is “doctrine” as discussed in the scripture? (I just posted on this question a day or so ago.)

    To the point of Alan’s post: Is it loving to break fellowship over a belief about a matter of theological factual knowledge? It could be if the matter involves someone teaching a false god/idolatry (one could say examples of this include teaching a health and wealth gospel or a business model of church). God calls us to know HIM, not know facts about theology. Just because we build a systematic contstruct of what biblical baptism is, does that mean we know God better? It might mean that, but as soon as we start to “legalize” the construct, I think we begin to miss the mark. Baptism teaches us principles about God’s character, not about baptism itself. As soon as we aren’t focused on Him and Who He Is, we have begun to focus on something, not Someone.

    We often try to box God in only to find out that He isn’t a tame lion.

  17. 5-1-2007

    This has been a great discussion, with some really good points raised.

    I do believe that the world sees us as divided over all kinds of issues, and it harms our testimony as a whole.

    I’m often accused of being idealistic, but I do not believe our representation of Christ should, nor has to be this way.

    When we start talking about “doctrinal distinctives”, we immediately start looking for points of separation, and I think this is a grave mistake.

    To use the point about infant baptism that was brought up here as an example, I have come to realize that I should be able to fellowship with and love those who differ with me on this issue.

    While I do not embrace infant baptism, could I not rejoice alongside one who wants to baptize their infant in this way, knowing that they are seeking to be faithful to the same Jesus that I worship?

    And could we not discuss those types of issues in our gatherings without it leading to separation?

    Imagine if the world could see that kind of love for one another in our fellowship as believers. Would that not be a testimony consistent with what we see in Scripture?

    As much as it depends on us, we should seek to live at peace with others.

    Keep “in house” debates as in house debates without separating over them. And strive for unity.

    (Nothing in this comment is meant to imply that anyone in this conversation thread has been handling these topics wrong. Quite the contrary, actually. It’s been a great discussion with humility and unity. I’m just furthering some of the thoughts that have been given here.)

  18. 5-1-2007

    I agree that this has been a great discussion. In fact, the comments here have inspired another post from tomorrow that is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    I do believe that doctrine is important. However, love is also very important. I do not think we can put one above the other.

    There is a group of believers near us that have decided to try to love and accept one another desipte some doctrinal differences. For example, this is their statement on baptism. It is interesting how they recognize the importance of baptism, and also recognize the important of not separating over this issue.

    I did not post this example because I agree with everything they are doing. Instead, I posted this as an example of how believers are attempting to live together and love each other in spite of differences. Perhaps it is possible to maintain the unity that we have in Christ. But, it will take much humility and gentleness from all of us.

    Now… can we also love unbelievers?

    -Alan

  19. 5-1-2007

    Eric,

    That is a good thought: unbelievers cannot see our doctrine, but they can see our love in action. Thank you.

    Alan

    Actually, I would think they could see our doctrine as well:

    “What I say I believe is not what I believe; what I believe is what I do.” –Donald Miller

  20. 5-1-2007

    Isabel, with your comment you have taken us back to one of my original points! Good quote and good summation (if i don’t say so myself) :)

  21. 5-1-2007

    Oh! I did that?

    And thank you…

  22. 5-1-2007

    Isabel,

    Yes, you did that! And thank you for reminding me of that Donald Miller quote. I’m going to use it in my next post.

    You are correct of course. I believe that unbelievers DO see our doctrine very well. In fact, I believe they sometimes see our doctrine better than we do. We base our understanding of “doctrine” on what we say we believe. Of course, they know our doctrine based on what we do. From the statistics given earlier, what we say we believe does not generally match what we do. Thus, we have a doctrine problem.

    I truly hope people will think about this, instead of dismissing it.

    -Alan

  23. 5-1-2007

    Amen, amen, and amen.

    When speaking with a homosexual student over at UNC, I was asked the question, “So, shouldn’t you hate me or something?” I’m not an emotional person, but that has always cut me deep.

    I think there are several culprits at work when it comes to this thinking in the church. For one, democracy. I think it would be interesting to see how democracy has effected Christian theology. We’re told from the get-go in America that we have these “inalienable rights” and we better use them! Don’t you dare let someone take away your right to do something! Thus, we’re told we have “every right” to be mean for Jesus. I disagree.

    Secondly, and linked to the above thought, the idea that America is somehow a Christian nation. I know I will have people disagree with me here, but, from my standpoint…America is not, by any means, a Christian nation, nor do I think it was ever intended to be. The idea that we can legislate Biblical morality is repugnant. Unfortunately, Evangelicals (more so than other denominations) have been so preoccupied with homosexuality and abortion that we’ve let the culture slip away. Instead of loving people to show them Christ, we’ve tried to legislate their lives…with horrible results. I’m a big fan of Hauerwas in this respect as he seems to get the idea that to evangelize the culture, we need to be loving, not “mean for Jesus.”

  24. 5-1-2007

    Josh,

    Those words (from the student at UNC) cut me as well. Isn’t it completely backwards that unbelievers think we hate them?

    I’ve always disagreed that we as believers should press for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It seems that Christ was us to seek death to self, being servants to all, and the pursuit to holiness and unity. But, then, this is all for another blog post…

    -Alan

  25. 5-3-2007

    Alan,

    I am happy to write briefly, the emphasis is on “briefly”, on my understanding of the difference between Platonic love and Christian (Biblical) love.

    Plato’s understanding of love, as Wikepedia says, “…. from its origin was that of a chaste but passionate love, based not on lack of interest but on spiritual transmutation of the sex force, opening up vast expanses of subtler enjoyments than sex. In its original Platonic form, this love was meant to bring the lovers closer to wisdom and the Platonic Form of Beauty. It is described in depth in Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium. In the Phaedrus, it is said to be a form of divine madness that is a gift from the gods, and that its proper expression is rewarded by the gods in the afterlife; in the Symposium, the method by which love takes one to the form of beauty and wisdom is detailed.”

    Plato’s understanding of love is his own philosophy, which did not proceed from his understanding of the creator, whom he understood as one of the lesser gods, who was, according to Wikepedia: “The Demiurge, The Craftsman or Creator, in some belief systems, is the deity responsible for the creation of the physical universe.
    The word derives from the ancient Greek δημιουργός (dÄ“miourgós, Latinized demiurgus). In Classical Greek, the word means “artisan” or “craftsman” (literally “worker in the service of the people”: δήμιος (dÄ“mios) “the people”(deriv. of dêmos the people) + ργον (ergon) “ worker”). It is used to mean a creator (of the laws or the heaven) or the creator (of the World) in Timaeus by Plato.”

    Plato’s philosophy of love, “…. from its origin was that of a chaste but passionate love, based not on lack of interest but on spiritual transmutation of the sex force, opening up vast expanses of subtler enjoyments than sex. In its original Platonic form, this love was meant to bring the lovers closer to wisdom and the Platonic Form of Beauty. It is described in depth in Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium. In the Phaedrus, it is said to be a form of divine madness that is a gift from the gods, and that its proper expression is rewarded by the gods in the afterlife; in the Symposium, the method by which love takes one to the form of beauty and wisdom is detailed.”(Wikepedia)

    The Christian understanding of love is firmly based on the Scriptures, which is the very word of God, who is God Almighty, who alone is God.

    Christian love in its best, and fullest expression, ought to be an reflection of God in His called out ones ( John 13:34-35), who alone are empowered to express His love through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    Christian love as demonstrated by God,in His dealings with mankind, and especially through the life, teachings and finished work of Jesus Christ, and defined, in the Scriptures, is the outworking of a Father/child relationship expressed in the many “one anothers” of the New Testament.

    Those who aren’t Christian, Plato included, cannot understand love in the above sense, but can only express a glimmer of what is a reflection of their Creator.

    Sadly, much of what is understood as love in churches, and many of the new “Christian” movements, is an all embracing Platonic version of love, hence my previous comment.

  26. 5-3-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for the explanation! I still don’t know if I understand Plato’s view of love, but I do understand the world’s view of love.

    I think you explained God’s love (which should be the love that characterizes believers) very well!

    -Alan

  27. 5-4-2007

    Alan,

    Isn’t it reasonable, from the fact that Plato wasn’t a Christian, to draw the conclusion that, however he developed his philosophy of love, that it was essentially worldly, or as you say “the world’s view of love”?

    Plato valued the love of objects and wisdom above love towards human beings. His idea of love was that it emanated from within, the person is the source.

    The source of Christian love is God, we love because He first loved us.

    Any hybrid of the Platonic and Christian understanding of love, denigrates Christian love.

  28. 5-4-2007

    Aussie John,

    Yes, our love for God and love for others flows from God himself. We only know what love is because he demonstrated his love to us. Similarly, love is a creation (fruit) of the Spirit. We cannot make ourselves love, but he can create his own love within us.

    -Alan

  29. 6-6-2007

    Sure, you can read our blog! It started as a way for me to discuss Christianity with some friends I used to work with and still talk to. I’m a PC technician and they were other Technology folks, so that’s where I got the name. Basically it’s kind of a discussion between us about things in the Bible, about Christianity, or whatever that interest us.

    Btw, you mentioned the Barna group, so have you read Barna’s Revolution yet? What did you think?

  30. 6-6-2007

    Nate,

    Thank you for the invitation.

    For those who may be wondering, Nate is talking about this blog.

    -Alan

  31. 5-31-2010

    This study of the younger generations thought on the church brought out many thoughts down a different trail. I hope you will tolerate this thought?

    I think that the reason these stats are so high is that the “so called church” aren’t really “the true church”.

    In other words there is a lot of deception in church organizations. Just a thought.

    Mat 7:13-20 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

  32. 9-20-2011

    Very insightful post. Are we “friends of sinners” or do we judge and look down on them. Personally, I sometimes prefer the company of the gays at my job to the believers. There’s more joy in experiencing the Father’s compassion for sinners, than the scorn of the self-righteous. Jesus must have felt that way too.

  33. 9-23-2011

    This is very interesting. I would like to know what in the opinion of the youngsters who were polled made them say this about all christians. Or at least the “general population.” I think the non-Christian community will always have some perception of the church as insensitive in general. Tolerance is one of the most highly valued qualities in our society today.

  34. 8-20-2012

    I can understand this, since this is now also my view of the church. No wonder the kids see it this way.