Author: Ron Graham
What Went Wrong?
—Why the history of heresy, scandal, and division?
It is now about 2000 years since Christianity began. In that time it has gone down hill a long way. The history books bulge with tales of heresy and scandal. Of course truth and sincerity can also be found, but for these you have to search. If we go right back to the first fifty years of Christianity, we find that it had gone badly wrong almost from the moment it started.
There was nothing wrong with the way Christianity was founded; but there was a lot wrong with the way it was followed. Very few people have really and truly followed Jesus and become like him. Generally speaking what has passed for "Christianity" down the centuries has been a disappointment if not an outrage. Why is this so?
Why the failure?
The question is not hard to answer. The hard part might be to find someone interested in the question! My answer to the question "What went wrong?" might surprise you. My answer is that love went wrong!
That answer shouldn't surprise you really, because you already know two things: first you know that something went basically wrong with Christianity, and second you know that Christianity is founded on love. Putting those two things together, you will realize that the failures of Christianity are, deep down, simply failures of love.
Now I know you are about to quote "Love never fails" (1Corinthians 13:8). Of course true Christ-like love never fails. However, if you analyse the love promoted among those who are supposed to be following Christ, you'll find that, all too often, it is a false love, a love gone wrong. I think I can show you three ways in which love can be like that:
1 Love with the Wrong object
Jesus summed up true religion this way: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart... and love your neighbour as yourself" (Luke 10:27).
True Christian love arises from three principles which are links in a chain. These are taught by John in his first epistle:
- Firstly, we love our neighbour because it is God's commandment that we do so (1John 4:21).
- Secondly, we keep God's commandments because we love God (1John 5:2-3).
- Thirdly, we love God because he first loved us (1John 4:7-10, 19).
Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you". He went on to say, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" (John 14:15,21).
It is clear therefore that we must love God before all else, and we love God by obeying his commands. If we love someone else or something else, that love should be given out of obedience to God's commandment, so that God remains the primary object of our love.
The love of many...
The love of many who profess to be Christians is directed at a different object, and this is manifested by their disregard of God's commands.
They might, for example, love to worship, but only in such a way as pleases them. They do not question whether their worship pleases God and whether what they are doing is what God commands. They worship like Nadab and Abihu doing what seems good to them, instead of offering to God what God commands them to offer (Leviticus 10:1).
Others love to be in the ministry of the church. But they do not ask whether God has authorized their ministry by the commandments he has given.
The love of such people may be earnest, sincere, and engaging, even burning hot. But it is a love which, on examination, is seen to expresses itself in disobedience to God. That means God is not its object, and so it is a love gone wrong, and it does more harm than good.
We have been saying in the first place that Christianity goes wrong when love goes wrong, and love goes wrong when its primary object ceases to be God. This is manifest in disobedience to God's commands. Now we look at another way love can go wrong:
2 Love at the wrong temperature
When Jesus foresaw serious problems for Christianity, he expressed it this way: "Because of increased wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12)..
But surely Jesus is not saying that wickedness has the power to destroy true Christian love, is he? Surely any love that grows cold was not hot enough to start with! Let's illustrate:
Damp wood on a fire
If you pile an armful of damp wood on a fire, what will happen? Will the damp wood put out the fire, or will the fire consume the damp wood? It depends how large and hot a fire you have in the first place, doesn't it? If the fire is not properly lit or has been let die down too much, then an armful of damp wood will put it out.
But if the fire were a roaring furnace on a bed of bright hot coals, even a large armful of damp wood would not conquer the fire. Rather, the fire would conquer the wood. Likewise, if love is white hot, it conquers wickedness. Only when love is "neither hot nor cold" does wickedness conquer love.
A lukewarm love for Christ and for his truth is the underlying cause of a great many shames and failures of Christianity. A strongly burning love for Christ is what makes a true Christian and a true church. If we are not hot for Jesus, we are not for Jesus at all. Jesus made this perfectly clear in his messages to the seven churches:
"I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember what you have fallen from, and repent, and do what you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place... Because you are lukewarm I will vomit you out of my mouth!" (Revelation 2:4-5, 3:16).
Occasionally we have visitors come to church who are drifting around looking for a new church to join. It is revealing to ask them what they were hoping to find when they visited us.
I have yet to be told, "Well I love the Lord with a fire burning hot in my heart and I can't put up with half-hearted Christians or Christians who are passionate about what they want, rather than what God says he wants. I'm looking for a church that loves the Lord as much as I do!"
Our lesson so far
We have so far seen two things which together are necessary for love to be true. First God must be its object, and second it must be burning hot. One of these alone is of no use. God may be the object of your love, but if your love is cold what use is that? Your love may be white hot, but if God is not the object of your love, what use is that? Now we look at the third essential element...
3 Love on the wrong foundation
When speaking of the deception and wickedness that many will follow, Paul tells of "those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved" (2Thessalonians 2:10). Here the difference between perishing or being saved comes down to this: "the love of the truth".
It stands to reason that the only true love is the love of the truth and established upon the truth. Let's illustrate:
Love tested by truth
A teenage girl discovers that she is adopted. The parents who reared her, always led her to believe she was their born child. Now she has discovered this "lie", she feels compelled to re-examine the love between her and them, and to do this she must find out the whole truth about her origins, and how and why she came to be their child.
She must sort out the true elements from the elements of pretense. Her adoptive parents are surprised to find that her love for the truth is stronger than her love for them! All their protestations about how they love her are answered by, "Then why did you lie to me all these years?" They can only restore her love for them by telling her the whole truth and letting her test it and prove it to be the truth.
Why so much falsehood?
We are often dismayed at how people supposed to be Christians are deceiving and being deceived. How can so much falsehood be believed? The answer is simple: these people do not have the love that is "of the truth".
When people refuse to love the truth, they leave themselves no alternative but to believe the lie. But a love founded upon truth protects us from the lie. The secret of finding the true church therefore, is first to "receive the love the truth".
I don't mean to say that if we have the love of the truth we will immediately know all the truth and never be in any doubt, ignorance, confusion, or error. We are constantly being bombarded with new and recycled "issues" which we have to think about and examine.
It takes time and effort, but our love of the truth will ensure that we can sort out the genuine from the false and find the answers we need. We will not "depart from the faith" or be led astray, and each encounter with false doctrine will help prepare us for the next. "The love of the truth" can accomplish this.