I changed my mind about...Loveless Christianity.

Updated: Sep 19


Many dynamics on display among self-identifying disciples of Jesus have caused me great heartache and confusion in recent years. The obsessive allegiance to an earthbound kingdom and its values and politics has been a big one. But none have left me as confused and saddened as the nearly universal death of New Testament love among a great portion of self-professing American Christians.



But, don't get me wrong. It didn't always disturb me. As a proud, card-carrying, conservative, Republican Christian, I'd absorbed the rhetoric that honoring and serving God meant combating his enemies and "defending the faith" by opposing other human beings who lived and believed differently. Publicly attacking, condemning, and demonizing everyone who wasn't "us" was just The Way. It was what being a good American Christian meant. That this attitude and approach to life ran contrary to the most basic of Jesus' teaching somehow eluded me.


That it took so long to recognize it is both astounding and instructive.


Because love - agape love – that self-sacrificing, others-before-myself-kind-of-love, isn’t exactly an obscure concept in Jesus' teaching or the New Testament as a whole.


It is, in fact, the recurring, foundational theme. Jesus said many times and in many ways that self-sacrificing love not only sums up the entire Law of God (Matthew 22:36-40), but that it would serve as THE characteristic that marks out his disciples AS his disciples (John 13:35). It’s mentioned in some fashion in nearly every book of the New Testament, and in some, it takes up great sections of the discussion.


So, getting off track here isn’t a minor issue; it's losing the plot at the most basic and fundamental level.


John, one of Jesus’s earliest disciples, puts an extremely fine point on it in his first epistle:


By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. If anyone says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked.


And what was Jesus' command to his disciples?


John 13

34 A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”


Mark 12

“This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”


Luke 6

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.


And these, of course, are just a couple among the dozens of passages where the foundational priority of love is reiterated.


The earliest disciples understood the primacy of love and the priority Jesus placed on them becoming the kind of people who exhibited love as he had loved them. Through that quality of their lives, they transformed the Roman world. They were the kinds of people whose inner orientation to life was to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, and it spilled out and blessed all who came in contact with them.


So, to lose that focus and that primary objective to love as Jesus commanded is, according to Scripture, to lose the very essence of what it means to be a disciple. To lack love is the clearest sign that this thing we call "following Jesus" in 21st Century America is something fundamentally different than what Jesus intended and that his earliest followers exhibited.


Once again, John pulls no punches.


I John 2

9 If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause of stumbling in him. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.


In 21st Century America, Christians are equal opportunity haters. We hate our enemies (i.e. the "Demoncrats," the Republicans, and the "Libtards".) We hate our neighbors (i.e the LGBTQ+ community, the "illegals," and the "ignorant rednecks." We even hate our brethren (i.e. pretty much anyone who sees things differently than us.) And we are more than proud to make our position publically and loudly known. It's very telling that we have much more in common with those who share our political and ideological framework than with those who share our foundational faith in Christ.


And that is a very big deal.


This new version of the loss of love has grown to epidemic proportions in our current politio-religious culture of contempt. And it has swept up many self-identifying Christians, convincing us that the right and the righteous path is not to love others and seek their good, but to attack them, criticize them, condemn them, demonize them, marginalize them and hold them in derision.


Even other disciples.


It's deeply troubling. But, it's also nothing new. When one looks back over history, the visible church has always struggled with the temptation towards a loss of love, particularly in the tension between allegiance to the Kingdom of God and the systems and values that govern a society. When the influence of money, power, and control creep in, the lines blur between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. And we begin to derive our priorities from humanity, political systems, and earthbound values, which inevitably run contrary to self-sacrificial, agape love, especially in a nation where our foundational ideology is the "pursuit of [our own] happiness."


And subsequently, we lose the plot.


In his iconic way of cutting right to the heart of the matter, Jesus let his disciples know up front that:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and…


He ends the statement with “money” because that’s the context in which he is speaking, but his intention is clear; just fill in the blank. You can’t serve God AND. When the church tries to serve God AND, the results are always the same; the love for Christ and for others is sidelined and replaced with earthly values, tribalism, and self-righteousness. This move inevitably results in marginalizing and even using violence against those on the “outside,” including other followers of Jesus.


There is a long, sad history of belief, doctrine, or political position being substituted for love, and being made the litmus test for true faith in Christ. Those who failed the test got the label “heretic” and received the wrath and punishment of those who held religious and political power.


There is, as Solomon says, nothing new under the sun. What we’re seeing in our culture, with the rise of rabid Christian Nationalism, is the same spirit, the same rhetoric, the same self-righteous insistence on controlling others and demonizing those who don’t agree that has spanned history. In our current context, not loving those others is perfectly justified. Condemning and attacking our enemies is simply standing up for God and "protecting America."


The deeply ironic part is that if heresy is defined as holding beliefs or opinions contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine, there could not be a more blatant and obvious heresy than the concept of loveless Christianity.


The idea that one can be a follower of Jesus; a disciple; a Christian, and be devoid of the foundational, biblical love for God and for others that Jesus demonstrated and demanded of his followers is utterly foreign to the scriptural witness.


Biblical love is, very simply, THE doctrine of the Gospel and the message of the entire New Testament. So much so that if you remove it, you rip out the beating heart of the faith. The subject is so ubiquitous throughout the pages of scripture that the acceptance of its absence among self-identifying "followers of Jesus" is one of the greatest ongoing deceptions in church history.


Here are just a few examples of what the New Testament has to say about priority of love...


Matthew 12

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”


1 Corinthians 16

14 Let all that you do be done in love.


1 John 4

8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.


1 Peter 4

8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.


Colossians 3

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.


John 13

34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Matthew 5

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

(all emphases mine.)


And the list goes on, and on.


But, all this does beg the question, especially in our confused culture. What exactly IS love? What does it look like to love others? As it turns out, the scriptures provide plenty of guidance here as well.


I Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends.


Romans 12

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Philippians 2

So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


Ephesians 4

4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(all emphases mine.)


These scriptures, and many others, make it clear that self-sacrificing love is indispensable to being a disciple of Christ. It is what being a disciple IS.


Christianity that's not driven and characterized by agape love is the deepest of errors, and if we are to honor and pursue discipleship to Jesus, it cannot be allowed to stand in our individual lives and in the life of the church.


In our divisive, angry, hate-filled, and polarized culture where emotions are at a fever pitch, each of us must step back from the rhetoric and earthbound concerns over country, politics, and ideologies to take a very close look at ourselves.


We can't start where our Fallen Self always wants to start. With them. They are the problem. "If it weren't for them (fill in the blank), I wouldn't have to (fill in the blank.)"


If we are a disciple, our responsibility is to start with ourselves.


What does our social media feed say about our love?


What do our daily words and actions say?


What do our attitudes indicate?


My challenge to all of us who are pursuing discipleship to Jesus is to monitor the movements of our hearts, evaluate our actions, and compare them to what the scriptures say about the characteristics and priority of love. And then if they don’t match, our first priority must be to pursue becoming the kind of people who are filled with Jesus' command to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself." Which is to say automatically and without conscious thought, because that is how "we love ourselves."


That is what Jesus meant.


I must confess that I have not always done this as well as I would have liked. I’m concerned and often quite angry about the misrepresentation of Jesus by earthbound political and religious agendas. I'm angered by Christian's allegiance to people and priorities that stand in stark opposition to Jesus’ most basic teachings. And that’s legitimate. However, in that process, I have sometimes been unkind and unfair and exhibited that same loveless spirit that I’m calling out as heresy. Often I have not fully considered that I was once there. I once held many of those same ideas and beliefs and entangled the Kingdom of God with earthly priorities and politics. But I loved Jesus, just as many of my brethren do. And like me, they are just following what I’d been taught.


I just needed to learn and to grow.


I still do.


We all do.


And yet, our fallibility should not be allowed to stand as an excuse to gloss over the subject. There is no greater issue that we need to address as disciples of Jesus here in 21st Century America than the lack of love. Love, expressed in “…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” is deeply conspicuous by its absence among many who self-identify as disciples of Jesus today.


Those outside the faith see and experience our profound lack of Christlike love daily in how we speak to them and about them. They are calling us out on it, and rightfully so.


For to dismiss the critical role of love,

to explain away its absence in our lives,

to accept that there can be “Christianity” without it,

is the greatest of heresies


And it is also the greatest betrayal of our King, who is, Love, personified.

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