Pastor Mark’s Blog

                                    LOVING CHURCH OR FAITHFUL CHURCH?
   Which one? Or should we choose? Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on this in A Testament to Freedom. He would point out that a church of faith – “the most orthodox faith that faithfully adheres to the creed” – is of no use if it isn’t equally a church of pure and all-encompassing love. What good is it to believe in Christ and recite the Nicene Creed and still embrace hatred and bigotry? Does it make sense to proclaim Jesus Christ one’s Lord in faith and not to accomplish His will in love (Jn. 14:15)? This type of faith is not Scriptural faith – it is hypocrisy. It is of little value for us to confess faith in Christ and hold to historical doctrine and practices while ignoring our calling to equally seek in love to reconcile to the Lord the godless, marginalized, and outcast. If the church is to fulfill its role to call our nation – in this case the United States of America – to faith in Christ, it must clearly be seen as a “burning fire of love.” Simply, the Lord’s people should be the leading force for reconciliation to God and to one another. The church as God’s people is to be the place where all other fires of hatred are extinguished. Instead, these fires of proud, self-centered, hate-filled people are to be turned into a people filled with the fire of God’s love. It should be clarified here that this fire of love does not extinguish the fire of God’s righteousness. God’s holiness is the consummation, the comingling of righteousness and love. This fire of love and righteousness will both drive people to their knees in repentance, and equally draw people to God’s all-gracious and all-encompassing love. The churches of the Reformation have accomplished some important things in bringing people back to the fundamentals of the faith – Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. But despite this orthodoxy, we have a long way to go to accomplish the “greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).
    I have been wondering if we know what these words mean today. Do we think them
important anymore? Just in case, here is a refresher. Equity refers to fairness and conformity to
rules and standards. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is about rightness and fair treatment of others
according to God’s standards and rules. Justice is about the determination of what is legally and
ethically right and proper. The Hebrew equates this word with righteousness, or right in the eyes
of God. What does God think versus what we think or what we can get away with. Psalm 99:4
tells us that God establishes equity, justice and righteousness (doing right) in the people He loves
because these values are the very foundation of His throne. Simply, those who call themselves
the people of God should reflect the very glory of God in their everyday behavior and treatment
of others. Are we being fair in our treatment of others? Are we conforming our lives to the rules
and standards of God’s righteousness and His teachings, or are we content to do as we please as
long as it is “legal” by man’s standards and just “the way the game is played?”
    Let me illustrate. If a person robs your home and takes all you have, and then is caught
by the law, do we want justice, or are we content to say, “That’s okay. Let’s just move on. They
were making a living the only way they could.” If someone lies, cheats or manipulates in a real
estate transaction, or takes advantage of another, is that just good business and “buyer beware?”
It is just the way the game is played. If someone or business overcharges beyond fair market
prices and proper profit, is it just being a savvy business and good capitalist?
    Somewhere along the way our sense of what is right and wrong, fair and just, has lost its
way. Maybe it is because our “winner take all” and “survival of the fittest” practices and
treatment of others is no longer grounded in God’s standards and rules. In fact, these new
“virtues” have obscured our Scriptural understanding of God’s righteousness – right and
equitable treatment, just and holy standards. God is clear. He is a holy God and His judgment is
based on justice, equity, right and wrong. You won’t be able to say, “I was just exercising good
business practices!” Nor can you argue that you were victimized by the capitalist system that
pushed you to succeed above the rest at any price. God will check the ledgers in the end.
But lest all this be misunderstood, one would certainly expect non-believers in God who
don’t fear God to move in these inequitable circles. What is abundantly clear is that today I see
many who call themselves “Christian” acting just as worldly, unjust and unfair in their treatment
of others, conveniently setting aside the right and wrong – “I’m just a poor sinner doing the best
I can!” Or, “It’s my right” which appears to take precedence over God’s standard of right. This is
disappointing. When we take advantage of the poor and the immigrant, and pay less than
minimum wage, are we being just and fair? When we can sell an item or product way above
market value “just because we can”, have we lost our mooring in equitable treatment of others?
    Should we use our wealth or status to bully others in our pursuit of gain and personal comforts?
Isaiah 56:1 says, “Keep justice and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come…”
What our Lord wants to see when He returns is for His people to be practicing justice and
behaving righteously. Church attendance on Sunday won’t amount to a lot if on Monday
through Saturday we are unjust, inequitable, and unfair in our treatment of others. We must
remember that God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness are only exercised by repentance. Without
genuine repentance – turning from our sin – we are left with God’s justice. And in His holiness,
sin will be judged unless you claim forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Christians are to be just in
their dealings with others, grant mercy, forgiveness and restitution when those who act unjustly
seek it. But absent these, there is nothing left but God’s justice and at times the laws of our land.
“For what you sow, you will reap.” “God has told you, O man, what is good: and what does
your God require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your
God” (Micah 6:8).