This is intended to be an examination of why the church is not what it should be, an apology and an appeal to my friends who are not believers in Christ, and a clarion call to all my fellow-believers to fulfill the destiny that God has for us, now and forever.
The calling of the church
Here is what Christians are to do: Jesus said that the most important commandments are “You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all you mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He also said to his disciples, “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 my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is what is to define us as Christians: our love for God and, consequently, for one another and for our neighbors. The church, which is Christ’s representative on Earth, is supposed to be the most loving group of people in the world.
So why isn’t it?
In the culture that I know, Christians are widely seen as hypocritical, condemning, and self-righteous. Why aren’t we widely known as those who have compassion on the wounded and hurting, as those who help the widows and orphans, as those who keep themselves pure, and as those who love others just as they are?1
Why Christians are unloving
Part of the answer is that none of us is perfect. Every Christian is a work in progress, for that is what Christianity is about: not following a set of rules, but about glorifying God and enjoying Him, and thereby being transformed into the likeness of Christ. That transformation includes learning to follow the two greatest commandments, to love others with the pure love of Christ, and even to love one’s enemies—but it is a learning process, and its pace and direction are different for each believer.
It’s also important, when taking an impression of what the church is like, to remember that not everyone that goes to church is a Christian. Attending a synagogue doesn’t make you a Jew; attending a mosque doesn’t make you a Muslim; standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car, and attending a church doesn’t make you a Christian. A person may speak and act like a Christian, yet still not have been inwardly transformed through faith in Christ. Therefore, know that not everyone who goes to church should form your impression of what the church (and therefore what Christ) is like.
Responding to unloving Christians
Still, many of us who are Christians do act in unloving ways—so how to respond to such?
First, to my unbelieving friends: when someone who claims the name of Christ acts in an unloving way towards you, know that they are not in that moment acting in a way that accurately represents Christ. He is the one you have to contend with, not any human being.
I apologize for the times that His followers have failed to love and challenge you with His love. I also apologize for the times that Christians (I do not exempt myself) have slandered the name of Christ and hurt you by acting in ways that are less than loving, or even in ways that are hateful. Again, none of us is perfect, but that is not an excuse for acting contrary to our Father’s wishes. If you want to know love, I’d encourage you—challenge you, even—to spend 21 days reading a chapter a day from the Gospel of John, and see for yourself whether anyone ever spoke like this Jesus of Nazareth.
And now for my brothers and sisters in Christ: when one of our fellows acts unlovingly, how do we respond? First of all, love them. Again, Christ commanded his disciples to love one another. Second, if you’re in a position to do so, call them out on it. This is what we’re commanded in Galatians 6:1—“if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual2 should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Take them aside and help them become more like Christ. We are to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1st Thessalonians 5:11): we are to make one another stronger and allow Christ to work through us to make one another more like Him, and most of all we are to love one another.
Finally: what do you do if you are an unloving Christian? Each and every one of us struggles with loving someone or another, whether they’re a sibling to which we have never been close, a coworker with whom we never discuss anything serious, or a neighbor with whom we’ve had trouble. Perhaps it’s even someone who hates what we believe.
In one way or another, to someone or another, whether to more or fewer people, all of us are unloving. We should always desire and work to be more like the one who is love, and we can trust in Christ that He will complete the good work he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6). Don’t be discouraged, and don’t think that anyone is unworthy of being shown the love of God. After all, you and I were unworthy, but He showed it to us anyway.
The calling of the church renewed
This striving to know and do love is the crown of our race towards Christ. It is important because it draws us closer to Him, makes us more like Him, and makes His love shine through us to everyone that we meet, inviting hearts to repent and surrender to Him. The eyes of the world are upon us.
We are not to love as the rest of the world loves. We are to love radically. Christ commanded us to love one another as He has loved us. We are to love our enemies. We are to love those who hate us. We are to love those who are indifferent to us. Through our love for one another and for our neighbor, we are to let Christ shine through us so clearly that the world cannot ignore us.
1Loving others just as they are does not mean being compassionate towards them without trying to change them. It means loving them regardless of their faults, dislikable qualities, and differences from you. For Christians, loving someone includes sharing God’s good news with them and trying to lead them to know Christ. In fact, it would be unloving for us not to do so.
2Although the word “spiritual” has taken on an extremely vague meaning in our day, in this context it means “of the Spirit of God [i.e., Yahweh].”