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Churches as models of real love and forgiveness

July 8, 2016

I am feeling quite subdued and flat today after last night’s shooting of police officers and civilians at the Black Lives Matter march next door in Dallas, a feeling enhanced by having been involved in a lengthy conversation on racism and racist charges on Facebook with friends just before the assault happened. This is how I respond emotionally when my thinking is that all is lost. Before we can get a good start on dealing with one problem another arises. What can we make of all this? There is sin on all sides, and distinguishing between the justifiable and non-justifiable (and the non-justifiable that is still somewhat understandable) can be difficult to do. There are no simple explanations and solutions. All of us, of all colors, must look to ourselves and our own sins and failings. Mere finger-pointing isn’t getting us anywhere.

Short of us appropriating a transcendent morality which unseats our own (usually selfish) standards, and being or becoming grounded in the love of the One who is in Himself love, I see no other direction America can go apart from the increasing application of power, whether legal or illegal, to force us to do what the ones in power deem to be right. I do think John Adams was correct when he said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The extensive freedoms we’ve enjoyed require self-control, and that self-control needs to be rooted in a moral strength that exceeds our own.

I’ve been increasingly convicted, having been in the business of arguing for the truth of the faith on an intellectual level for a long time, that we will only convince people of it by demonstrating it in how we live (along with giving voice to it). If it isn’t just a set of ideas but rather a complete way of life, then it should be observable in action. And since racism isn’t merely a matter of the heart, an individual matter, but shows its face in society, we have to show the truth of God’s love and goodness in society as a desirable and truly possible alternative; first of all, though, in the church, amongst ourselves in the small societies of our local churches. How those of us who attend churches far from our homes will do that, I don’t know. But it has to happen. This, of course, doesn’t preclude the necessity of displaying the love of Christ on an individual level with our neighbors. But I don’t think that will have as much impact as seeing it lived out amongst believers. In itself it will be good, and it will also be a witness to the truth of what we confess.

As an aside, I would urge Christians who aren’t part of churches to become part of one (if possible), for this and other reasons. Yes, I know the people in churches are still sinners who don’t always behave the way we ought. But that’s true for Christians who don’t go to church, too. Jesus came to establish the church, not just to provide individual salvation. It is there, in local congregations, that his image is better seen and his purposes worked out. Perhaps the presence of these living witnesses to love and forgiveness will help turn the tide in our country and, even better, lead people to believe the good news we proclaim, a process in which all of us should play a part.

  1. Paul Rutherford permalink

    Great word, Rick. Even-handed, gracious, and humble–just a handful of the remarkable traits I admire in you, sir. Thanks for posting:)

    Paul Rutherford


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