Transcriber's Note: The original title page verso was as below. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.
HEREIN IS LOVE
REUEL L. HOWE
about this book
"God created man to live in relation with the world of things, with himself, and with his fellow men, and to live in these relationships in such a way that he will ... grow in his relationship with God," writes Dr. Howe in this meaningful book. He describes the true significance of Christian fellowship and how it can come about and exist. Living responsibly by giving ourselves to one another—parent to child, child to parent, pastor to congregation, congregation to one another, church to the world—only in living out the Word of God's love in human relationships can we experience the love of God.
Dr. Howe wrote this book at the request of the Division of Christian Education and the Division of Evangelism of the American Baptist Convention. It grew out of a series of lectures he presented at a national conference on Christian education at Green Lake, Wis., on the subject, "Growth in the Christian Fellowship."
It is intended that this book be used in study groups such as parent groups or parent-teacher groups. Pastors and students of the church will gain new insights from it. Moreover, any individual who is truly interested in the Christian life will find that it is addressed to him.
Cover Design by Alexander Limont
HEREIN IS LOVE
By the same author_ _Man's Need and God's Action_ _The Creative Years_
HEREIN IS LOVE
A Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Love in Its Bearing on Personality, Parenthood, Teaching, and All Other Human Relationships
REUEL L. HOWE
The Judson Press Chicago Valley Forge Los Angeles
Copyright (C) 1961 by THE JUDSON PRESS Sixth printing, April, 1963 All rights in this book are reserved. No part of the text may be reproduced in any manner without permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations included in a review of the book in a magazine or newspaper. Except where indicated otherwise, the Bible quotations in this volume are in accordance with the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946 and 1952, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used by permission. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 61-11105. Printed in the U.S.A.
To my children
Marjorie and Lanny
This book was born out of a living encounter with the members of the Christian Education Conference to which I lectured at the American Baptist Assembly at Green Lake, Wis., in August of 1958. As I stepped to the speaker's rostrum to begin my first lecture to that group, and my first to so large a group of Baptist lay people, I wondered whether I as an Episcopalian and they as Baptists had images of each other that would help or hinder our communication. I shared with them my question and learned later they had been asking themselves the same question. I explained that I had prepared myself to speak to them in the hope that through me some of the truth of God would be heard by them, and I explained also that their lives were to be their preparation for hearing what I had to say; that is, that I hoped they would work as hard to hear me as I would work to make myself understood. They responded in good spirit, so that the Spirit of God spoke through and to all of us.
I describe this occasion because it produced the experience and context out of which the present book appeared. Herein Is Love is, I believe, an outward and visible sign of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit experienced on that occasion; and I offer it as a means of opening to others the possibility of participating in this fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
The theme of the book grows out of that experience: As the love of God required incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth in order that it might be received by us, so the Word of God's love in our day calls for persons in whom it may be embodied. The church, as the embodiment of divine love in human relationships, has tremendous responsibilities and opportunities in our modern culture. The old and familiar biblical symbols and stories do not always communicate their meanings to men today, and we must find a language that does. The language of the lived life of both man and God is the one that we shall use here in an attempt to open to us the meaning of the life of man and of God.
Reuel L. Howe
January 10, 1961
PAGE FOREWORD 7
I SOME FRIGHTENED FRIENDS 11
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." —1 John 4:18
II GOD IN THE WORLD 26
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...." —John 3:16
III HEREIN IS LOVE 43
"Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God."—1 John 4:7
IV SOME OBJECTIVES OF LOVE 61
"Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth."—1 John 3:18
V THOSE WHO WOULD LOVE 82
"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren."—1 John 3:14
VI LOVE IN ACTION 99
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." —1 John 3:16
SOME FRIGHTENED FRIENDS
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."—1 John 4:18
"It seems to me that the church has lost its influence. Nobody pays much attention to it any more, except some of its own members; and they don't seem to be interested in anything except their own activities. The time was when the word of the minister carried weight. Some may not have agreed, but when the church spoke they paid attention. It's not true now, though."
Mr. Clarke eyed the others in the group as if he were testing their reactions to the statements he had just made. The church had always given him a sense of security, and now he was both worried that it seemed to have lost its power, and resentful that people no longer listened to its teaching.
He was one of a group of leaders of a local congregation who, at the request of their minister, were meeting to re-examine the purpose of the church. Not all of the group had arrived as yet, and the minister of the congregation, Mr. Gates, had been detained in his office by an emergency call upon his pastoral care.
Within the minute after Mr. Clarke finished, Mr. Wise spoke up. He was a thoughtful and compassionate member of the congregation who often raised the kind of questions that carried the discussion to deeper levels. When his questions were ignored, as they often were, he would smile good-naturedly and continue both as a contributor and as a question raiser. Turning to Mr. Clarke, he said: "I think I know how you feel. The statements of our ordained spiritual leaders are important, but do you think we should equate their words with—"
As usual, Mr. Wise's comment was interrupted, and this time by Mr. Churchill who, with evident irritation, protested against any concern over what others thought about the church. He said: "The church has got to be the church, and the world is different from it. I don't like this 'return to religion' business. Christianity and the church aren't supposed to be popular movements. If people want to join the church, that's fine; but if they don't, that's their lookout. Let's be the church and leave the world to itself."
"But why was Christ born into the world—" began Mr. Wise.
"I don't agree," exclaimed Mrs. Strait, responding to Mr. Churchill's comment and not hearing Mr. Wise. "I think we should be concerned about the world; concerned enough, at least, to set a good example, so that people will know what they're supposed to live up to and to do. After all, Jesus told us how we should live, and He did so in such simple words that even children can understand them. All we have to do—and it's written there for us to read—is to keep the commandments, imitate Jesus, and live a good life for ourselves and others."
"Yes, but if it's that simple, why don't church people live better—"
"Not at all! Not at all!" pronounced the stately Mr. Knowles with some disdain. "I don't agree with any of you. Our difficulties today result from the ignorance of our people, and the answer to the problem is education. We need to teach, and teach again. Church people must know their faith and know why they believe in it. When I was a child I was drilled thoroughly in the knowledge of the Bible, and I once won a prize for knowing more Bible verses than any other child. We need more adult education, and our children must be filled with the truth so they can recite it forwards and backwards. In my estimation, there is too much emphasis now on persons and not enough on the content of the faith."
"But didn't Jesus say, 'For God so loved the world—'"
"It seems to me," interrupted Professor Manby, "that all of you are in too much of a hurry. Some scientists estimate that man has been eight million years coming to his present state of life. In contrast, civilized man is only four thousand years old. This being true, we should be more patient. Given time, man will solve his problems."
"But has man's character developed in pace with his knowl—"
At that moment the Reverend Mr. Gates, with several other members of the committee, came into the room, and after greeting everyone he said: "Now let's get down to business. As you know, I've called this meeting in order that we may consider the purpose of our church in this community. I think we need a clearer understanding of why we are here. I wish we could be surer that we are serving God's purposes and not our own. I wish we all would assume as true that God's purposes for His church and for us are greater than anything we may think they are, and that we would hold our opinions and beliefs open to His correction and renewal."
"How can we be any clearer about the purpose of this church than to keep it open and its organizations going, so that people can come to it if they want to," exclaimed Mr. Churchill abruptly.
Mr. Wise now got to his feet, and with a twinkle in his eye began speaking: "You've all interrupted me several times, but now I'm going to speak my piece. I think Mr. Gates is right. We do need occasionally to rethink the reason for our existence as a church, lest it become a private club that caters to our own special needs. Our discussion so far tonight suggests that we want the church to be what we need it to be. We want God cut down to our own pattern and size. It may be that our church is too small for God, and that we'll turn out to be a religious, but godless, club."
"But how could that happen to us?" protested Mrs. Strait. "If we do what's right, God will love us and use us as His obedient servants."
"I wish Mr. Gates would set us straight on these matters. Were you going to say anything more, Pastor?" inquired Mr. Clarke.
"Yes, I'll have more to say," replied Mr. Gates slowly, "but this is not my problem only. That's why I called you together. We need to help each other think this question through. But to do that, we all shall need the spirit of Christ to help us. We need to look at the concepts and meanings that we bring out of our lives in the light of Christ's teachings and example. He brought the gift of God's love, but He brought also a judgment that was most disturbing to religious people. Instead of our judging what is good for Christ, I pray that He will judge us, and help us to be the instruments of His love."
"But you're our minister and teacher, so why don't you tell us what you think the job of the church is in this community? I'm sure we'd all support you in whatever you might suggest," urged Mr. Clarke.
"Mr. Clarke, I am not the church. I appreciate your confidence in me, but I am only one member of the church. The fact that I am ordained does not make me any more responsible for the church than you are, and I refuse to assume your responsibilities for you. Instead, I want to use my role as an ordained member of the church, and such training and experience as I have had, to help you find your role, so that together we can carry on the functions of the church in ways that will serve God and His people."
When Mr. Gates finished speaking there was silence. The reactions of his hearers were varied, showing anxiety, irritation, confusion, and blankness. And no wonder! The spontaneous discussion that had gone on before Mr. Gates' arrival had revealed how little their understandings of the church had prepared them to hear the question he was raising. The viewpoints they had brought to the meeting now closed their minds to the meanings he was trying to open to them.
What, then, were those concepts and meanings that made it so difficult for them to hear and understand their minister? Each of them represented a point of view that is widely prevalent in the church today and which keeps the church from being fully relevant and effective.
When Mr. Clarke thought about the church, he did so in terms of the clergy and their work in the church. We might call him a "clericalizer"; that is, one who thinks that only the minister does the work of the church. This idea is the basis of clericalism, the disease which saps the strength of the church because one part of the body, the ordained minister, is made to do the work of the rest of the body, the unordained members. In the discussion Mr. Gates took exception to this idea, and rightly so, for it results in a clergy that is overworked and frustrated. Indeed, they find it impossible to do all that needs to be done. And yet the idea has a hidden appeal for many of them, for it feeds their professional pride and arrogance. But the damage done by this disease does not cease there. It also makes for church people who are lazy, who feel that the church belongs to the clergy, and who are not themselves instruments through which God works in the world. God is kept from doing what He would do for them, because He cannot do through the clergy what He would do through the whole of His church.
Clericalism blocks the ministry of the church, because it tends to make lay members second-class citizens who feel incompetent on matters of religion. When the ordained member makes religious interpretation and action his professional monopoly, the lay member responds by exhibiting increasing ignorance and incompetence. Sometimes it seems as if lay people show less intelligence in the church than in their world. It is as though the practice of religion had a stupefying effect on them, whereas in other areas of living they are intelligent, informed, and perceptive. This clericalizing of the church's ministry produces in lay members the sense that religion is separate from life. They are heard to say to their ministers, "You stick to religion and leave the affairs of the world to us." Religion thus becomes a Sunday business, and Sunday business is kept separate from weekday business.
Still another and related ill effect of clericalism is that it keeps laymen from discovering the religious significance of their work. Parents, for example, are not only parents entrusted with the physical, psychological, and social care of their children, but also are the teachers, pastors, and priests of their children. A teacher may serve God in his teaching, a doctor in his practice of medicine, a businessman in the conduct of his business, a milkman in the delivery of milk, and the garbageman in the collection of garbage. It is the business of the church to help these members find their ministry, but clericalism never allows them to make the discovery.
Clericalism, like any other concept, is more than a set of ideas. Mr. Clarke didn't just happen to hold that notion of the church. He held it because he needed it. His need grew out of his dependency, his timidity, and his fear of assuming responsibility. He needed to exalt the clergy. He wanted to be told what to believe and to do; and his "doctrine" of the ministry, namely, clericalism, justified him in his need. People who want to be told what to believe and to do inevitably will develop or drift toward a doctrine that is authenticated by their need.
Ministers also contribute to the prevalence of clericalism. All men have a very human and understandable need to be centrally important and indispensable, and ministers are tempted to exploit this need in the conduct of their work. It is only natural for them to think of the church as "my church," of the people as "my people," and of the ministry as "my ministry." These images cause them to function as if everything depended upon them, and as if they wanted everyone to depend upon them. Indeed, they may even measure the success of their ministry by the number of people who depend upon them for guidance and support, rather than by the number who are achieving mature self-sufficiency. As a part of this same picture, some ministers are unable to accept suggestions, much less criticism. The clericalized image they hold of themselves is that of an "answer man"; that is, one who has all the answers to human problems, and always right answers.
Thus, clericalism is a condition contributed to by both the ordained and the lay members of the church, and it tragically diminishes the power of the church. It is a symptom of Mr. Clarke's fear and of our own. It shows that we are afraid to trust God and to let His Spirit work through the whole of His people.
Mr. Churchill's ideas, on the other hand, represented a different concept, one which may be called churchism, or pietistic otherworldliness, a concept which encourages the church's retreat from the world. It creates an artificial distinction between the religious and the secular, the religious being thought of as worship and all the other activities that go on in the church building, and the secular considered to be everything that goes on outside the building. In its local version churchism is parochialism, or total preoccupation with the church as an institution at the level of the local community.
The tragedy of such parochialism is that the creative thought and energies of people are consumed in the mere maintenance of the church as an institution, and in dead-end religious activity and worship. Mr. Churchill, and thousands of others who are like him, think of the church only as "gathered," as a congregation. They think that the church is most truly the church when its members are assembled in the church building and engaged in church work. They think of the church in terms of "going to church," of working for its organizations, of planning for its promotion, and of meeting the needs of the church as an entity separate from the rest of life. What is even worse, these people think that only when they are doing this church work are they serving God. Theologically, their concept means that Christ died for the church.
Instead, Christ died for the world! The purpose, then, of the church is not to meet its own needs but to serve God's purposes in the world. This forces upon us the position that not only should we think of the church in its gathered sense, but also in its dispersed sense. This means that church people should think of themselves as members of the church when they are out in the world, and that their work in the world is the means through which God may act through them in the accomplishment of His purposes. Therefore, in terms of the gathered church we can speak of "church work," but in terms of the dispersed church we must think of the "work of the church in the world," the work of the instrument of God's purposes there.
The relation between the gathered church and the dispersed church should be complementary. The church, as the people of God, comes together in a conscious way from out of the world to be renewed, instructed, and equipped for the purpose of returning, as the body of Christ, to its task in the world. Then, out of its work in the world, the church gathers again to worship, to make its offerings, and to be strengthened anew for its work in the world. Elsewhere I have likened the church to an army that has been sent on a mission. In order to accomplish its purpose, it must have a base. In order to have a base, it must assign certain troops to the task of building and maintaining that base, so that the rest of the army may be free to accomplish its mission. We tend, however, to forget the "mission" and wastefully assign most of our people to building and maintaining bases, with the result that we do not accomplish our true purpose. More members need to be assigned to and trained for the mission, where the conflict between life and death goes on unceasingly.
Contrary to the opinion of Mr. Churchill, therefore, a complementary relation exists between the church and the world. The world is the sphere of God's action, and the church is the means of His action. The church must be found at work in the world, where it will encounter the tension between the saving purposes of God and the self-centered purposes of man.
As in the case of clericalism, so it is in the case of churchism. There is a human reason for the existence of the concept and for its prevalence in the church. The reason, in Mr. Churchill's case, was to be found in the conflict that he felt between his human interests and his church membership. He had certain real estate holdings and other investments from which he was making an excellent profit. Some of these, however, were exploitive and in contradiction to the faith which he professed. It was necessary, therefore, for him to keep the church and the world separate; and his doctrine of the church made it possible for him to rationalize the split between his faith and his life. We must not think that Mr. Churchill engaged in this contradiction deliberately. In part, his action was the unconscious means by which he held on to two conflicting values without suffering from the conflict between them. We must not think that Mr. Churchill is alone in this kind of separation of belief and practice, of splitting the church from the world. We all have our own individual forms of it.
It is because of our insecurity and fear that we develop these defensive attitudes of parochialism and churchism. We huddle like frightened children behind the doors of the church, whereas, as soldiers of Christ, we should be struggling courageously on the frontiers of life where the conflicts between love and hate, truth and prejudice, are being waged.
The next member of the group who spoke up was Mrs. Strait, and she voiced for herself and for millions of other church people the moralistic understanding of the faith. Moralism is perhaps the most widespread of all the concepts that we are now discussing.
Moralism is usually identified as belief in good behavior as a source of life. A group of church people, many of them leaders of their respective parishes, were asked to describe the Christian. It would be no exaggeration to say that their descriptions of a Christian made it difficult to distinguish him from a Jew, because, according to their statements, a Christian is one who achieves his status as such by obeying the commandments of God. He must live a good life by keeping the law. The imitation of Jesus is the method, illuminated by a study of His teachings, especially the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. And, as Mrs. Strait indicated, they agreed that a Christian should set a good example for other people.
When asked how they felt about this concept of the Christian life, many of them admitted that they were not too enthusiastic about it, because it was hard to achieve. They admitted that they failed often and miserably. One man put it rather well when he said that he felt that trying to be a Christian was like whistling in the dark. They all admitted that their concept was widespread among their fellow church members and that it had little appeal. When they were asked why such an unappealing concept of a Christian was so prevalent, they replied that it was due to people's feeling that they ought to be better than they are. Their discussion revealed further that they were unable to accept themselves as human beings, and that they felt they had to justify themselves by doing good works and by moral living.
That is the reason why Mrs. Strait holds to the moralistic concept of the Christian life. Separated from her husband and feared by her children, she feels acutely vulnerable and guilty. As a defense, she has built for herself a fortress made up of precepts, ideals, and rules, all based on a foundation of righteousness, and this has made her a formidable and rigid person. Like all self-righteous people, she tirelessly dispenses obvious truths, and keeps her own life and that of others narrowly proscribed.
Mrs. Strait is in no way an exception. The lives of moralistic people are not beautiful to behold. They are apt to be conventional, legalistic, and maintainers of the status quo. Because they have no sense of deliverance themselves, they are apt to be ungracious in relation to others. Because they live by the law, they do not show the fruit of the Spirit: namely, the love, joy, peace, and long-suffering which should mark the followers of Christ. They reveal how impossible it is for a human being to be a Christian by himself. He needs the spirit of Christ to live in him and to remake him. As we shall see later, there is available to us the spirit of Christ, who accomplishes in us the righteousness of Christ which is of the spirit and not of the law.
Moralism also is a sign of our fear and defensiveness. We reduce life to the dimensions of a moral code, because we are afraid to trust the Spirit and to risk the dangers of love and its communication. As one person said, "Let's be proper so we won't need to pray, for there is no knowing what God might ask us to do if we really listened to Him." In other words, moralism is a way of "playing it safe."
A fourth concept sometimes held by church members about the faith was exhibited by Mr. Knowles. Its name is intellectualism. This intellectualism, sometimes called gnosticism, claims that knowledge is the source of life, and that the possession of knowledge delivers us from the power of evil. This is an ancient heresy that lives on in every generation. The desire to know and the achievement of skill in the use of knowledge are indeed commendable. But to know is not justifiable as an end in itself. Knowledge about God and man, about the Bible and the Christian faith, about the church and its history, is good and necessary for informed Christian living, but it can in no way substitute for our dependence upon Christ and the work of His spirit in us. We need to know about Christian faith, but it must not replace the need to love and to be loved. Knowledge about God must not become more important than our knowing God.
When religious and theological knowledge becomes an end in itself, the church is apt to become coldly intellectual and sophisticated. I am reminded of a group of laymen who became avid students of Christian theology, and who became so prideful in their achievement that they exhibited in their relations with one another, as well as with their other associates, a spirit of pride, arrogance, and competitiveness. They had acquired the knowledge of Christianity, but they had lost the spirit of the Christ.
The work of Christians is not so much to hold and transmit a knowledge of the faith as it is to be the personal representatives and instruments of Christ in the world. To be sure, Christ's representatives should know what they are talking about and intellectually be able to enter into dialogue with all men. But their knowing should incarnate them, both as persons and in their capacity to represent God and His Christ to men.
This brings us also to a controversy that exists in the field of Christian education. Many people feel that the purpose of the church school is to transmit the content of the Christian faith. Christian education, however, must be personal. It must take place in a personal encounter, and only secondarily is it transmissive. It is true, however, that Christian education is responsible for the continued recital of God's saving acts, and for the transmission of the subject matter of the historical faith and life of the Christian community. The content of our faith was born of God's action and man's response—a divine-human encounter. It is neither possible nor correct to reduce this to subject matter and substitute the transmission of subject matter for the encounter, with the assumption that it will accomplish the same purpose (it cannot, it never has, and it never will). Actually, the relations of transmission and encounter are complementary. Both are needed. The church, as the tradition-bearing community, contains both poles and should not subordinate one to the other. When the content of the tradition is lost, the meaning of the encounter is lost, and in the end even the encounter itself. Then tradition becomes idolatrous and sterile. Both are necessary to the community of faith, and both are meaningless, even dangerous, if separated. Christian teaching is concerned with both.
Mr. Knowles, however, is not happy about the required complementary relation between the content of the Christian faith and his life. As Mrs. Strait uses moralism for a defense, so Mr. Knowles uses his emphasis on the content of the Bible as a way of protecting himself from the deeper and more personal challenges of life. He is estranged from his family, and he is regarded as austere and unfriendly by his employees and many of his business associates. Personal relations frighten him, but by mastery of knowledge he gains superiority and power over others.
Intellectualism and gnosticism are not confined to the church. We see their influence in every walk of life. Many people talk much about the importance of love in human relationships, but they do not love. They use their knowledge about love as an evasion of their responsibility to express love. Man cannot be saved by what he knows, but only by the way he lives with his brother. "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." This is the stern but clear word of the Scriptures.
But we can be so frightened by the risks of expressing love that we may turn away from those who need our love and have a right to expect it from us. How much easier and safer it is to know about God and His love, and to confine this meaning to the sanctuary and the study group! Intellectualism, then, is another way in which we try to "play it safe."
Professor Manby speaks for humanism, another point of view in the church. He, with others, says, "Give man time and he will work out his own salvation." Humanists, like Dr. Manby, often react against the religiosity of the church with the complaint that the search for truth is cluttered with obsolete myths and meaningless observances. On the other hand, the humanists, while splendid in their devotion to truth, have only their opinion of what is good and true to guide them. Because they acknowledge no life beyond this one, they become the servants of a closed system in which injustice frustrates the justice for which they plead and work. The plight of the humanists is pathetic. Since they accept no savior, they can draw only on their own human resources, and are put in the position of trying to lift themselves by their own power. They can only whistle in the dark. While man apart from God cannot save himself, God's love for the world works in the world, and He has a part for man to take. In the relation between God and man, there is need for both the greatness of God and the greatness of man.
Dealing with Conflicts
And so these five frightened friends, familiar types to us all, reveal to us how easy it is to get lost in our preoccupations and to distort or diminish the truth we would serve.
Mr. Gates, the minister, has his anxieties, too. He represents the ordained ministry of the church, which is caught between the demands of the theory of Christianity and the demands of the world; between the demands of the pulpit and the demands of the pew; between the church as an institution and the church as a saving power in the world; between the surges of the spirit and the sucking drag of tradition. And he himself is also trapped by the demands of his image of himself as a minister and the demands of his people's image of him; by the idealism of his training for the Christian ministry and the realism of the demands on his ministry in the church and in the world.
He cannot resolve these conflicts by himself, nor should he try. These are not his conflicts. They are the conflicts of the church's ministry, and he and the people need to deal with them together. Neither he nor they will be able to resolve the conflicts, because they are the inevitable tensions between the spirit and the Law, and between life and form. But Mr. Gates and all other ministers, together with the rest of the people of God, by reason of the Christian faith, must live through these conflicts and deal with them creatively.
Both Mr. Gates and his people need to accept conflicts as an inevitable part of life, especially of a life that is lived in response to a call or a loyalty. No growth or learning takes place at any depth without such conflict: conflict between the known and the unknown, between our need for security and our need for maturity. This is the nature of life. As for the gospel, let us not forget that its universally accepted symbol is the cross, a symbol of the conflict between love and hate, between life and death. As Christians, our only realistic expectation is that because of our Christian belief and practice, our conflicts will increase and intensify rather than diminish. The only peace we may hope to have is an irrational peace, an "in-spite-of" peace, the peace of the depths beneath the storm-tossed surface; in other words, "the peace of God, which passes all understanding." To suggest how this may be achieved in some areas of life is the purpose of this book.
Finally, Mr. Wise, the member of the group whose remarks were always being interrupted by the others, represents a Christian point of view which, in the church generally, is listened to no more than it was here. What he was trying to say will be explored more fully as an answer to some of the questions raised in this chapter.
 1 John 4:20.  Phil. 4:7.
GOD IN THE WORLD
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son...."—John 3:16
The concepts and attitudes of Mr. Clarke, Mr. Churchill, Mrs. Strait, Mr. Knowles, and Professor Manby lead them and the rest of the church away from God and the world. Their clericalism, pietism, moralism, intellectualism, and humanism represent ways in which frightened and disturbed people seek to make themselves secure. Unfortunately, however, their security then is purchased at the price of their freedom. Their lives become locked up in the small closet of their limited concepts. Their literal and rigid understanding of the Christian church and its faith makes them so loveless that their lives have an alienating effect on others, and they themselves fail to find God.
Concepts About God May Be Dangerous
They do not, nor shall we, find God in our concepts about Him or about His church. He is not to be found in assertions about Him or in abstract belief about His omnipotence or other attributes. God is not an idea, but Being itself, and our ideas are only our concept or image of Him. When we confuse God with our ideas about Him, we are misled into thinking that we know what He wants, and we tend to represent and act for Him uncritically. This confusion between God and our ideas about Him explains why the religion of so many people lacks humility and reverence. It is one of the reasons why true Christian fellowship is as rare as it is.
Not only may these ideas and concepts lead us away from God, but also they may lead us out of the world and away from that encounter with the world which began with the Incarnation. Separation of the church from the world, its assumption that its task is to defend itself from the attacks of the so-called secular, its defensiveness of God in response to the unfaith of the world, all are symptoms of church people's lack of faith in God and of their failure to understand how and where He works. In other words, the otherworldliness of the church hardly harmonizes with the worldliness of God, Who chose to create the world, to speak and act in and through it, and Who finally entered it and made the life of man in history His right hand. Our belief in the Incarnation and our understanding of the love of God for the world should send us, as children of God, into the world, into the so-called secular order, eager to participate in its meanings, and to bring them into relation with the meanings of God.
As we work at this, we shall begin to experience true Christian fellowship, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which I understand to be the fellowship of people who have the courage to live together as persons rather than to relate themselves to each other through their ideas and preconceptions. Christian fellowship is living with and for one another responsibly, that is, in love. "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." And, "He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." If we would find God, therefore, and learn the meaning of life and love, we must live in the world by giving ourselves to one another responsibly. It is for this that the church exists. The church does not exist to save, build up, and adorn itself. Nor does it exist to protect or defend God. The mission of the church is to participate in the reconciling dialogue between God and man. Here is the source of the true life of the world. Here, too, is the source of the life of the church and its worship. Without this, everything, including worship, is false and idolatrous.
These are some of the things which Mr. Wise was trying to say to the group. He represents those in the church who see beneath the surface of things and behind the distortions of conventional and defensive Christianity. But the question that finally emerges is: How do we free ourselves from the distortions of our faith? What should we do?
We Find God at Work in the World
The answer is simple. We should look for God in the world. We shall find Him in the meeting between men. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." And, "gathered in my name" means gathered in the spirit and after the character of Jesus. It does not mean gathered only under special and separate religious auspices. To be sure, the gatherings of God's people for worship and instruction are indispensable to the life of the church, but unless we translate our worship and instruction into action, our religious observances will be idolatrous and sinful, and will separate men from each other and from God. So we look for God where He works; that is, in the world and between man and man.
The place where we encounter God first, in the course of our individual lives, is in the family. The family provides the individual with his first experience of living in relation to other persons, and this is his first experience of Christian fellowship. Immediately we are confronted with the nature of God's creation and, therefore, with the revelation of Himself and of how He works. We are confronted with the relational nature of all life; for nothing exists in isolation. Everything and every person finds full meaning only in relation to other things and persons.
We are used to thinking of persons as living in relation to persons; we are less accustomed to thinking of things existing in relation to other things. But does not the tree exist in relation to the earth, atmosphere, and water? And does not the hammer exist as hammer in relation to the hand that uses it and the object it pounds? The only difference is that persons are active participants in relationship and things are passive. But things may be made active symbols or instruments in the meeting between man and man, as, for instance, in the case of the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper.
God created man to live in relation with the world of things, with himself, and with his fellow men, and to live in these relationships in such a way that he will discover and grow in his relationship with God. The terms "man" and "relationship" are synonymous. An old Roman proverb puts it, "One man is no man at all." Alone we would cease to exist. We all have had the experience of being shut out from some important relationship and we know what a desperate feeling it produces. We lose whatever sense of well-being we may have had, and we begin to feel unwanted, depressed, and less alive. When we are warmly gathered again into an important group, we begin to come alive. Our blood runs faster, and we know the joy of life again. It is almost as though we had been resurrected. The sense of being a part, the experience of fellowship, makes the difference between life and death. I once visited in a home where a teen-age girl was having one of her frequent "tragic" love experiences. The boy she was currently dating had not called her up for three days. She was full of gloom, moped around the house, and lost her usual interest in everything. One evening the phone rang and the call was for her. First we heard her laugh, and then she burst into the room full of gaiety and enthusiasm. You would not have known her for the same girl. Alone and rejected, as she thought, she was dead. Restored to relationship, she came alive again. We may smile patronizingly at the emotional excesses of this teen-age girl, but on the other hand we understand deeply the fundamental meaning of her experience.
The patterns of relationship begin with our birth. We would not survive if the whole community, centering in the basic function of the mother, did not assume responsibility for us. Our dependence upon her for food and care is the occasion for the beginning of relationship. And both the infant and the mother have their part to play. She moves as a person toward her child with the gifts of her milk and of her love. The infant, on his side, in random and non-specific ways, calls out to her. He cries and makes his simple movements. She responds to his cries with her care. He responds to her care by sleeping and waking, by crying and cooing. And thus begins the dialogical nature of relationship.
Relationship Is Dialogue
Relationship is dialogue. Dialogue occurs when one person addresses another person and the other person responds. It is a two-way process in which two or more people discuss meanings that concern them. To whatever degree one part of the dialogue is lost, to that degree the relationship ceases to exist. A marriage, for instance, ceases to exist, except in form, only when either one of the partners ceases to communicate with the other, and the quality of address and response is lost. Likewise, true religion disappears when it represents only what God says and eliminates the meaning of man's response. Religious dogma is sometimes used to shackle human creativity, and the form of belief is allowed to stifle the vitality of faith. Similarly, religion disappears when the address to God and the response of God are eliminated. The Pharisee in Jesus' parable had lost the dialogical quality of his prayer because he "stood and prayed thus with himself...." He was not speaking to God and he expected no response, with the result that his religion lost its dialogical quality since he was separated from God by his self-righteousness. This dialogical quality is indispensable to creative living. It is out of the dialogical encounter that the individual emerges.
Only by the process of dialogical teaching can children really learn. The relationship between parent and child is not one-sided. The child may protest against the authority of the parent. This is the child's part of the dialogue. The parent may recognize his child's need to find himself as an autonomous person by making allowance for his protest and exercise of freedom. The next stage in the dialogue between them is the reassurance which the child experiences and reflects in his behavior in response to his parent's affirmation of him as a person. He may show this by a more realistic acceptance of the parent's authority. This in turn may reassure the parent, so that he feels more relaxed in the exercise of his authority. Gradually the parent and the child begin to experience a more mature relationship with each other.
We Are Responsible for Each Other
Because of the dialogical nature of relationship, we have responsibility for one another. Each of us has a responsibility to call forth the other as a person, and each needs to be called forth since none of us will develop automatically. We call forth one another in the same way that the conductor of an orchestra calls forth the powers of his musicians and the potentialities of their instruments. And they respond by calling forth the interpretive genius of their conductor. Each draws out the powers of the other.
The potentialities for development are inherent in us, but we need the warmth and stimulation of other persons. This is certainly true in the case of the newly born. The role of parents and teachers is to call forth and welcome the personal responses and initiatives of their children. This is also true of those who, because of the pressures of life, start to unfold as persons but then withdraw in order to protect themselves from further hurt. Here again, parents and teachers, pastors and counselors, and indeed all men, from time to time, are obliged to call forth some soul who is either in hiding or in retreat.
This role is easy to see in our relation with children, because children's responses are sometimes so uncomplicated that the process we are talking about is clearly revealed. Susie, feeling that an injustice had been done her, retreated to her room and withdrew into herself. After seeing that she would need help in order to come to herself again, her mother finally asked her if she would like to help her bake a cake. Soon Susie and her mother were chatting happily together in the kitchen doing something that Susie loved to do whenever her mother had time to help her. During the course of their conversation, the mother had an opportunity to help Susie understand the situation that had upset her. As a result, Susie emerged out of the situation more mature and resourceful.
I once knew a bus driver who discovered that he, too, could call forth people by the way in which he greeted them and did business with them. On his morning runs he observed that many people were grumpy and sullen, and treated him and their fellow passengers discourteously. At first his inclination was to respond in the same way. Then he discovered that by taking the initiative and greeting his passengers with a smile and cordial word, and by making change cheerfully and being patient with their grumpiness, the spirit of his passengers underwent a transformation. Over the years a number of people told him how grateful they were for his good cheer. They said that his influence had often been decisive in their lives. It had affected their relations with other people. Thus, his attitude toward people and his method of relating himself to them as a driver of a bus became his ministry; and since he was a member of the church, the church's ministry reached out and worked through that bus driver into the lives of many who may never have come anywhere near the church. Through such relationships. God is present and active in the world.
The relationship between man and man, therefore, not only is important to men, but also is a part of God's plan for the reconciliation of the world unto Himself. It is given to us for our own sakes and also for the accomplishment of God's purposes. Unfortunately, however, our relating to one another often is hurtful because of our anxiety and insecurity. We may attack others in order to make ourselves feel secure. Instead of calling them forth, we cause them to withdraw. Even when we undertake to love others, we may do it in ways that hurt them, because we love them for selfish reasons. Human relationships, in themselves, are ambiguous, and we need deliverance from the ambiguity of them, for these relationships can either destroy people or call them forth.
Human Love Is Ambiguous
Furthermore, because human love can be ambiguous, we do not know whether it is safe to give and accept love. It is a risk both to love and to accept love, and all of us, to some degree, are afraid to take the risk. Some people, to be sure, have more courage for it than others. They love more courageously, and are more courageous in their acceptance of others' love. These people seem to have a power of being that others lack.
The giving and receiving of love implies responsibility for one another, and we may withhold our love and reject the love of others as a way of evading the responsibility of love. We are willing to love up to the point where it begins to be inconvenient to love any more. We like the image of ourselves as loved and loving people, but we would like the benefit without the responsibilities of the role. When the response to our love presents us with demands, we may begin to hold people off. We may say: "Yes, to be sure, I love you, but keep your distance. I am willing to give of myself, but not too much. I need to keep something of me for myself." By this attitude we are admitting that when we love another we have to give ourselves to him, entrust ourselves to him. Commitment to another person is a courageous act, and it is no wonder that we sometimes recoil from it.
What has been said about giving love is equally true of accepting love, for the acceptance of love also calls for trust and commitment. If I really respond to your love, I will open myself to the possibility of being hurt because your love cannot be completely trusted. Furthermore, if you should really love me, I am not worthy of your love and I do not welcome the judgment of me that is implicit in your love. I shall, therefore, make a cautious response to you and give myself to you guardedly. Then the person who is giving love is made lonely because his gift is not accepted. He, too, begins to withdraw and to dole out his love, which in turn increases the anxiety of the one to whom it is being given. This is an aspect of human fellowship which we need to recognize before we talk much about Christian fellowship. Human fellowship is both heroic and tragic; it is both renewing and destructive; it is both healing and hurtful, but it is indispensable to life. This is our human predicament.
Something is needed to cut into the ambiguity of human love. And this is what Christ does. He draws the confused currents of human love into the unifying stream of divine love, thus making possible a new relationship. As the apostle Paul makes clear, we become new creatures in Christ, and as such, a part of a new creation.
Having considered some of the characteristics of human love and fellowship, let us now look at Christian love and fellowship. One word of caution is needed before we begin. The fellowship of Christian men and women will still have its human look, but something new has been added that makes a difference. What is it? How shall we describe the new relationship?
What Is Christian Fellowship?
Christian fellowship is the relation of men and women who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, participate in the life and work of Christ. Christian living is participation in the continued living of Christ through the activity of His Spirit. This concept stands in sharp contrast to the ones held by the church members described in the first chapter. The source of the Christian's life is not knowledge about God or even our historical remembrance of His incarnate life, although they contribute to it. Neither is it to be found in a determined imitation of Christ's life, although that effort also will help. Nor is it in the good will of man which, along with his power of love, is likewise found to be ambiguous. No, the true source of the Christian life and of the Christian relationship is the incarnation of His Spirit in the lives of men. The presence and working of His Spirit transforms our own spirit and provides a new dynamic for our living. This does not mean that we cease to be human; the old conflicts are still there and the old battles must continue to be fought, but a new power of being and of love is given to us by the indwelling Spirit.
Just now we referred to the incarnation of His Spirit in us. The concept of incarnation is an ancient one in Christianity, and represents the embodiment of God in the human form of the historic Jesus, Who participated in the life of man as man in order that man, through Him, might participate in the Being of God. What happened is known to us all. The incarnation produced the life of Jesus, His death, resurrection, and the coming of His Spirit. These are not once-for-all historic events as was the life of Julius Caesar or of George Washington. Through Him a new power of love was released into life that continues unto this day. B.C. and A.D. are not merely a way of dividing time, but are our way of acknowledging that in the life of Jesus of Nazareth something radically different entered into life, a new dynamic that changed the nature of creation. We participate in the historic incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth which took place 1900 years ago by the daily incarnations of His Spirit in our individual lives and in the life of the people of God. And since His incarnation meant God's entry into the world, so likewise the indwelling of His Spirit in us also should mean God's entry into our world and into its conflicts and issues.
We are Christians by doing what He did in the world, which was to have a care and a responsibility for others. His Spirit seeks to incarnate Himself in the day-to-day decisions of every responsible person in every sphere of his living. Thus the mother not only serves God by her decisions and actions in the home, but through these same decisions and actions she may believe that God is present and accomplishing His purposes for her and for the members of her family. So, likewise, a businessman's sphere of Christian action is carried out in the decisions and work of his business, but also he may believe that in and through these same decisions and work God seeks to accomplish His purpose. So the principle of incarnation means that God is both served and met at the points of decision and responsibility of our daily lives. And this is what it means to participate in His life by the power of His Spirit, to bear the true mark of the Christian.
In the context of these thoughts, we may now look at the three parts of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and, as we examine them, the idea of participating in His life may become clearer.
Participation in the Life of Christ
First of all, there is His earthly life, the life of the man Jesus, Whom we call Lord and Savior, the Christ. This life gives us the picture of what God meant man to be. Here is the perfect portrait of God's creation—man. It as a stirring picture and we love to look at it, contemplate it, read about it. It is a dull mind and heart that does not quicken in response to His amazing compassion and strength; and as we study his instructions to us, it becomes clear that He expects us to be to our generation what He was to His.
When we realize what His teaching and commandment require of us, our sense of the beauty and simplicity of His life is overshadowed by the terror aroused in us by His expectation of us. We know that the ugliness of our lives can never reproduce the beauty of His. From a human point of view, the imitation of Christ is a complete impossibility, and one wonders how so many Christians can go on, generation after generation, thinking that this is their task and that they can accomplish it. Yet it is clear that He expects us to be members of His body and to do His work in our time. Is it possible that He asked us to do something that is beyond our powers of accomplishment? If this is so, then far from being Savior, He is one of the most cruel of men. There must be some other answer.
The answer, of course, is that Christ did not leave us alone to carry out His commandments, summed up in the great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." He understood only too well the ambiguity of our lives. How understanding He was of vacillating Peter, and yet He called him the Rock. Had Peter possessed any self-understanding, he must have wondered why his Lord gave him that name. But after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter became the Rock, because then he incarnated the Spirit of his Lord. As with Peter, so with us. The presence of the Spirit makes possible an imitation of Christ. Now we can read the Gospels without dread, and not as patterns for us to imitate literally and slavishly. The New Testament provides the understandings that help us to test whether or not we are responding to His Spirit and letting Him accomplish His work in and through us. Thus, like Peter, we may become rocks, incarnating the Spirit of our Lord.
Nor do we need to be embarrassed by our humanity. We begin to sense that we cannot be Christian without first being human, which means that we shall be both loving and hostile, both righteous and sinful, both courageous and cowardly, both dependable and vacillating. We are in the world and of the world as other men are, and we share the lot of human existence. But in addition, we have been given the spirit of power and love and self-control, not that we may be condescending toward the world, or try to regulate it as if it were a recalcitrant child, but that we may be embodiments of the Spirit of God in human affairs through whom He may accomplish His purposes in the world. In the process, because His Spirit is in us, men will know that they have seen Jesus.
Thus we may come to understand the life of the people of God, and to find therein a basis for a true evangelism; and thus we may participate in the life and teaching of Christ, which are at once our ideal and pattern of living, and at the same time our judgment.
Participation in the Crucifixion
Since the life of the Christian is participation in his own time in the life of Christ, he must participate also in the crucifixion and death of his Lord, which were a part of His life. Christ's crucifixion and death were a natural consequence of His teaching and of the way in which He lived. The acceptance of the unacceptable, the loving of the unlovable, inevitably produces the necessity of the Cross, which itself must be chosen and accepted if the life of love is to be triumphant.
We would like to evade this part of Christian living, if that were possible. The Cross and all that it represents is the part of the Christian gospel that we would prefer to skip. The lives of church people reveal only too clearly how much they wish it were possible to move directly from the contemplation of the ideal to its actualization, and to bypass the experience of crucifixion and its meaning for us. Lovers, for example, would like to move from the contemplation of the romantic ideal of their love to its realization in their lives. But the full meaning of their love cannot become available to them except as they pass through the challenges and crises of their relationship and die to themselves for the sake of the other. Nor can anyone master a skill or a field of study except as he moves from the vision of what he might do, to its realization through the path of self-discipline, which is a kind of dying to himself and to other values which he might choose and cultivate.
Jesus Christ affirmed by His teaching and life this principle of disciplined self-giving. If we would be partakers of His resurrection, we must be willing to be buried with Him in His death. We are expected to show forth His death till He comes, and we do this by dying daily. In one sense, the life of the Christian is a life of dying. Being buried with Christ in His death is symbolized in the act of baptism, especially when it is administered by immersion and accompanied with such a Scripture verse as, "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." In other words we have to expect the pain of our relationships and accept the responsibility of them for the sake of the glory in them that may be revealed later. We are to accept the unacceptable in ourselves and in others, because on the cross Christ accepted the unacceptable in all men. This is what produced the Cross. And so He died, bearing the sin of man while He perfectly fulfilled His own teaching; that is, He was perfectly obedient to the full meaning of love. We too have to die daily to our desire for peace at any price, to our desire to work out convenient and comfortable compromises, and to our desire to be God and to have things run our own way. Thus, we come to realize the meaning of His words, "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
The Christian fellowship, therefore, is the fellowship of men and women who accept dying as a part of living, and who are not surprised by the presence in human relations of selfishness, betrayals, misrepresentations, hostility, and all other violations of the ideal. When we meet these things, we should not run away, or pretend that such conditions do not exist. Instead, we should face these hostile and negative human responses with courage. Because we are participating in the life of our Lord, we may move through these experiences, knowing that nothing can really separate us from the love of God which seeks to make itself known in and through our relations with one another. We may trust that if we accept the pain that we have in our relations with one another and are obedient to the spirit of the love that seeks to reunite man with man, we may emerge on the farther side of the painful experience with relationships that are richer, deeper, and stronger than they were before.
An excellent illustration of this principle is to be found in Tennessee Williams' play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the point of which many people miss because of what they regard to be the vulgarity, profanity, and licentiousness of its characters. In the play, Brock, the son, evaded his problems with himself, his father, his wife, and his work through an excessive use of alcohol. His father, Big Daddy, in his rough, profane way was greatly concerned about his son. Finally, in a tremendous scene between Big Daddy and Brock, the father pursued his son through every kind of evasion and rationalization in a determined effort to break through to his heart. Nothing that Brock could say to his father was sufficient to cause Big Daddy to turn away. He could easily have abandoned his sick boy and evaded the pain of what he was trying to do. Instead, he hammered at the door of Brock's life with a love that was willing to accept every rejection that his son could offer. And he did not give up. Finally, he broke through, reached his boy, and brought him back to his life with his family and his work. Because he was willing to die to himself and every comfortable impulse. Big Daddy was freed to be the instrument of a saving love. Here was a dramatic portrayal of the truth which our Lord not only taught but exemplified, and which He would like to see reproduced in the lives of all of us.
Incidentally, it is ironical that so many Christian people missed the real message of this play because they were so easily offended by that which is not pretty in human life. It is a shame that we would rather be pretty than redemptive. We seem to place respectability above salvation. Christians ought to be able to see through and behind the dirty and sinful ways in which people live, and recognize them as symptoms of a spiritual condition that calls for that which God is trying to give them through us. It is tragic that some would-be Christians, like Mrs. Strait, become so moralistic that they condemn rather than help people. Christ could see behind the suffering of men, behind their sins, and He was not distracted by what they did. He was concerned for men first and for their behavior last. He knew that if He could reach the man, the behavior would take care of itself. We are supposed to be like Him, men and women who, because His Spirit indwells us and because we participate in His living and dying, are able to see the hearts of other men and women and to unite them with the power of God's love and forgiveness.
Participation in the Resurrection
This kind of living would bring us to our third participation in the life of Christ, namely, in His resurrection. Because He was faithful to His love and willing to die in obedience to its demand, He was raised up in triumph, and with Him all things were made new. These were the events of His life. But His life affirms the principle of God's life as it is lived in human existence. Since His Spirit incarnates itself in us, then we may expect that our lives will be triumphant also and be the source of renewal for others. Another criticism that we can make of Christians is that they do not have this sense of expectancy, this sense of deliverance, this sense of triumph, and this appearance of having been renewed. All too often we are grim and sad, discouraged and cynical, and our lives contradict the faith we profess.
However, because we participate in His resurrection, we are given the wonderful power of facing any problem with courage, even though it may seem, from a human point of view, that no solution is possible. We live in the faith that if we consent to be buried with Christ in His death, we shall be made partakers of His resurrection. And this, not in the hereafter, but now, in this present life.
A father told me of an incident with his son that illustrates the principle we are now considering. He and his son had become involved in a quarrel and both had lost their tempers. The father confessed that he had said some harsh and cruel things to his boy. Finally, however, he came to himself, realized what he was doing, and, dying to his pride, he acknowledged his fault and asked his son's forgiveness. When the exchange was over, the boy was still rather subdued, but later when he came through the room where his father was seated, he called out cheerily, "Hi, Pop." The cheerful greeting of the son was a sign of the triumphant relationship between father and son, and, in the human relationship, the father was participating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In other words, our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ will give us courage, faith, and hope. This way of life will not save us from the pain of human living, nor will it save us from going through dark times of indecision and lack of faith. We shall, however, be able to live our lives out of the power of the triumphant life that God lived in human life.
Our worship is yet another way in which we participate in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. In worship we bring our lives to the judgment of Christ's teaching and life, and these reveal how unequal we are to live His life, and how greatly we need His Spirit to transform our lives. By our confession of our sins we participate in His death for us and for our sins, and the assurance of His forgiveness enables us to participate in His resurrection so that we may rise to our feet, make a confident offering of ourselves, and sing our praises of thanksgiving.
The Christian, we conclude, is one in whom the Spirit of Christ is incarnate. By the power of the Spirit he participates in the life of Christ, so that the presence of Christ and His Spirit has contemporary power and meaning in the arena of human relations. The love of God is for the world, and this world-love of God should be reflected in the devotion of His people to His work in the world.
 1 John 4:20.  1 John 4:16.  Matt. 18:20.  Luke 18:11.  See 2 Cor. 5:17.  Luke 10:27.  Rom. 6:4; See also Col. 2:12.  Mark 8:35.
HEREIN IS LOVE
"Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God."—1 John 4:7
Thus far, we have identified the Christian life as participation in the life of Christ, and the Christian fellowship as the relationship of men who have been reunited to one another by the presence in them of the Spirit of Christ. We need to make this concept even more specific and, therefore, now ask the question: "How does one participate in the life of Christ; how does one find the Spirit; what must one do?" The gospel's answer is: "You shall love." It has surpassing attraction, but is also considerably disappointing. Love is appealing, but its practice is appallingly difficult. While the Christian relationship seems to promise a difference, it is hard to identify. What makes the difference? or, What is the Good News?
The Gift of God in Christ
Christians believe that the gift of God in Christ confers something that man needs but has lost. What is it that we do not have that we are supposed to receive as a result of our new relationship with Christ? Let us recall that in our earlier discussion we took note of the ambivalent character of love. We want to be loved and we are afraid to accept love; we want to love and are afraid to give love for fear it will not be accepted. We are not free to love, therefore; that which by nature we cannot have is the freedom to love. We believe that God is love. Creation is the work of His love, and love is the work of His creation. But the ambivalences of human nature keep us from being free in the work of love. The coming of Christ, in the midst of history, changed the balance of power between love and hate, life and death, and set us free to love. Love became the energizing, reconciling force in human existence. B.C. and A.D. marked the transition, not only of time, but also of the old creation in which our power of love was imprisoned in our fear to love, and of the new creation in which our power of love was set free by the love of God in Christ. Now the triumphant power of God's love is at work in the world and is available to all who seek to do the work of love anywhere and for anyone. Accordingly, the work of love was and is the breaking down of walls of separation, and the reuniting of man and God, man and man, and man with himself, in all which work we participate.
What Is Love?
Do we know what we mean when we think of love in this way? A clear understanding of love is needed, because it is so gravely misunderstood in our time. All too commonly, love is regarded as a sentiment, a feeling, a "liking" for someone. While sentiment and emotion are certainly a part of love, it is tragic to make them synonymous with love. Certainly we mean more than that when we say, "God is love," or when we wrestle with the concept of man showing his love of God through his love for his neighbor. In these concepts we are thinking of love as the moving, creating, healing power of life; of love that is "the moving power of everything toward everything else that is." Love reunites life with life, person with person, and as such is not easily discouraged. The most dramatic symbol of love's courage and triumph is, as we have seen, the cross and the resurrection; it stands for the love wherewith God has loved us. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us...." Having given us His love, we have it for our response to Him, so that we love Him by loving one another with His love which we received through His people. Thus, the nurturing of our response to God's love is the work of the church. Our responsibility is to love Him. We are to love God by loving one another, and in loving one another we introduce one another to God. This is the work of the church and the vocation of the people of God. We are called to love one another reunitingly with the love wherewith God loved us.
In order for us to participate in the love of God which is at work in the world, we need to understand ourselves and our own creaturely problems in relation to love. Too much Christian thought about love and its work is abstract rather than a reckoning with the complications of human existence. In order to avoid this danger, let us turn to a consideration of what is involved in recovering our freedom to love.
Recovering Our Freedom to Love
Because we are created in the image of God, our deepest need is to be loved. This need is fundamental and has both human and divine roots. The baby comes into being as a result of being loved. We take him in our arms, care for him, call him by name, and reveal to him the love that we have for him. Thus he experiences love. These experiences of love stimulate, in turn, his love, which is the completion of his need of love. His response to being loved is to love, and this response is not long in coming. We see it in his smiles, in his cooing, when he pats his mother's cheek, when he puts his little arms around her neck, and later when he begins to toddle and bring his gifts to her. In many ways the individual begins to show that he has been loved by revealing his growing power to love.
Our day, however, seems to be one in which people are more conscious of their need to be loved than of their need to love, with the result that everyone is running around looking for love. But we do not find love by looking for it; we find it by giving it. And when we find love by loving, we find God. Our Lord gave us His love generously, not in order that we might be loved, but that we might be freed to love one another. "You received without pay, give without pay." He calls us from our childish preoccupations with security to the appropriate adult occupations of the mature Christian. He calls us away from our suckling tendencies to our responsibility to feed others, from receiving to giving. If someone came to me and asked, "How can I find God?" I would answer, "Go find someone to love and you'll find Him."
Unless the searcher was love-deprived and in need of reassurance, I would not begin by figuratively putting my arm around him and cherishing him. There are situations where this is necessary. People can be so broken and so hurt that they cannot love, and they need to be cherished and reassured until they can. One of the responsibilities of the church is to be on the alert for those people who in later life need the love and reassurance they should have had when they were younger. Unfortunately, however, many of us are embarrassed when we are confronted by emotionally needy persons. We may resent their need and the demand which it makes on us, with the result that they may never know the love of man and God, and may never be brought to the point where they may participate in the life and work of Christ which is, as we have seen, to love.
Of course, it is not easy to love, especially when we feel unequal to it, are tempted to regress, and want to be loved and cuddled ourselves. Yet even then the answer to our need is to love. Many of us have had experiences that have borne out this truth. Once when my son and I had had a quarrel in which I had lost my temper, and was feeling discouraged as a father and not at all competent where human relations were concerned, the phone rang and a young couple asked if they might come and talk with me about the difficulty they were having with their young son. Because of my feelings of wretched inadequacy, my inclination was to say "No," but they were so obviously in need of help and so importunate that I arranged for them to come to see me immediately. I had no confidence in being able to help them, but I did try to listen to them. As I listened, I participated in their thinking about their own situation. When the session was over, they thanked me enthusiastically for my help. After they were gone, I realised that however much I had helped them, I myself had been helped. By accepting my responsibilities as a counselor and by listening to them, I was loving them; and because I loved them, I had the experience of being loved. The relationship in which our love is needed may offer little apparent encouragement, but once we give ourselves, the resources for the work of love become available.
It is, therefore, as important for us to love as it is for us to be loved, and our need to love is as great as the need to be loved. If we are not able to love, life is as deficient as it would have been if we had not been loved. We must not assume that because we have been loved we shall automatically become a person who loves. Human beings do not develop that automatically. Certainly the experience of being loved prepares us to love, but we can misuse the gifts of love. We may decide to appropriate them for ourselves. We may not want to assume responsibility for others. But having received love and choosing not to love, we may lose such love as we have. We then become self-centered and selfish misers of love, and therefore loveless.
How can we love our children so that they will become givers of love rather than hoarders of it? How can the freedom and power to love be released in them? The answer is, by encouraging their love responses. We have already recognized the importance, first, of the need to be loved, and second, of the need to love. We now face the importance of our being able to accept love and of encouraging the attempts of people, and especially of our children, to express their love. We might assume that it is easy to welcome their responses. Unfortunately, our expressions of love do not always please those to whom we make them. Because our love offerings are not appreciated and accepted, we may feel unloved and rejected. After repeated attempts to express our love successfully, and having been repeatedly rejected and discouraged, we may give up and turn our love in on ourselves.
A rose gardener told me of an instance that illustrates how difficult it is to accept some love offerings. He not only grew roses, but exhibited them as well. On one occasion, he had several blooms that he was nurturing for a coming show, one of which was being produced on a bush of his favorite variety. On the day before the exhibit his four-year-old son appeared before him with ecstatic face and with his prize rose clutched stemless in his hand, saying, "Look Daddy, what I brought you." It was obvious that the youngster, who adored his father, thought that he was presenting the perfect gift of his love, because he knew how much his father liked that particular rose. The father, on the other hand, confessed that he responded as the rose grower and exhibitor, rather than as one who had an opportunity to encourage his son's love responses by recognizing, from his son's point of view, the appropriateness of the gift. When, therefore, he very understandably scolded and spanked his child for picking the rose, the little boy was dreadfully upset. Episodes of this kind, if only occasional, are not serious, because they are experienced in the context of a relationship that is predominantly loving, supportive, and encouraging.
When the expressions of love and affection of children are not received with understanding and acceptance, their attempts to learn to love find no encouragement. Because they are being prevented from learning to love their parents and others, they are being prevented also from learning to love God in and through them. Our Lord's response to the gifts brought to Him demonstrates the kind of responses we should make to one another. Even when people's gifts were poorly motivated and ill-chosen, He was able to look behind them and see and understand the person who gave. Although Zacchaeus seemed to be motivated only by curiosity, our Lord invited him to come down out of the tree and asked that He might have dinner with him, thus moving behind the greed that had made Zacchaeus a publican. And because our Lord was able to accept the gift of Mary Magdalene, her true love was called forth. So it is with us. Our offerings often are pitiful and ill-chosen, but He looks upon the heart and sees there that really we are trying to express our love despite our ill-chosen means of doing so.
If we are to participate in the life of Christ and be the instruments of His love, we must learn to be hospitable to one another's efforts to express love. Parents need to look upon the hearts of their children and see deeply what they are trying to express. Husbands and wives likewise need to look behind the externals of behavior. What we do on the outside often fails to represent truly and adequately what is on the inside. We all need encouragement to love, and hospitality toward human attempts to express love is one of the surest ways in which we can participate in the contemporary living of Christ in the world.
Some Disciplines of Love
Now there are some disciplines that we need to follow as we engage in the dialogue of love. First, there is the discipline of giving oneself. It is the discipline of keeping oneself responsible for and to one another, responsible in facing issues and in making decisions. The only way to love is to communicate love by word and action. We may learn to use our power of being to speak and act the word of love. We should refuse to withhold it for any reason, including our fear of speaking it. Of course, there is risk in giving ourselves. Our gift of love may not be accepted, may not be appreciated, and may even be exploited. In giving love we may be hurt because of the nature of others' responses. But we will be stronger for having given it, and others may be called forth by it. Life cannot remain the same when love has been expressed.
Second, there is the discipline of holding ourselves to our own part. This is the discipline of allowing others to speak for themselves; or again, the discipline of refraining from trying to carry on both sides of a dialogue. We are always doing this; that is, we speak to the image we have of the other person. We try to anticipate his response and take away his freedom to respond and speak for himself. We choose our part of the dialogue in response to what we think his reaction will be and thereby rob ourselves of our freedom to be. There can be no communication between the images which two people hold of each other. Communication is possible only between two persons who, out of mutual respect, really address one another.
A third discipline is to accept the demand in love and our obligation to meet that demand. The compulsive element in love is hard for us to accept. But we cannot separate law from love. Law is implicit in love. Our Lord, Who is the incarnation of divine love, warned that He would not remove one bit of the law. He did not destroy the law, but by His love fulfilled it. It is really good that law is a part of love. Our own love relationships benefit from the presence of law in love, because law guides and protects our relationship. When we are "in love," or in union with one another, we are not conscious of the law, but it is implicitly present. We can be said to be "living above the law."
The law that is implicit in the relationship between a man and a woman who love each other is that they shall respect and act trustworthily in relation to one another; that they shall care for one another in all the ways that are necessary to their relationship. As long as love prevails, they are not conscious of this law. They do not need it. But if for any reason they should "fall out of" love, then they become conscious of their obligations to each other. Their relationship is now lived under the burden of law, and they will find it harder to observe than they did before. They now are being held together by their obligations, and it may be that while being thus held together they will again find each other in love. When they look back on this period some years later, they may call the whole experience love, because then they will see that the obligations of their relationship are a part of their love. Obviously, this is mature and not infantile love. Love that accepts responsibility and its obligations is love that is not primarily concerned about its privileges, although it gives thanks for whatever privileges it has. It recognizes itself not primarily as an emotion, but as a way of life; and it is more concerned about commitment than sensation.
By the employment of these principles that we have just rehearsed, we can help our children grow in their capacity to love and thereby become more capable of a heroic commitment to one another. This kind of commitment should characterize the members of the Christian fellowship, the men and women in whose lives the Spirit of the Christ is incarnate.
We have seen that we need to be loved in order that we may love others and that we should encourage one another's love responses. Does this mean that our attempts to express love should be accepted without correction? What should the rose-growing father of the little boy have done? One view is that the father should have accepted the gift with thanks, recognizing only the child's intention. Certainly, his intentions should be honored and his gift accepted. But the boy also needed help in learning how to express his love to others. Here is something we are always having to learn. All of us have had the experience of doing or giving something that was intended to be an expression of our love, only to discover that the gift was not appreciated by the one to whom it was given, and we find ourselves saying, "Oh, I didn't mean it to be that way." With children and with one another we need to strike a balance between acceptance of the intention and guidance in choosing the means for the expression of love. Loving is an art, and we all need to learn the art and to refine its practice. One would expect Christians and church people, who are supposed to be incarnations of the spirit of love, to be masters of the art. Yet, to the world, we often appear to be ungracious people. So let us learn to love one another, and let us train our children in the practice of the art of love, by encouraging and disciplining them in it.
If a text for this responsibility were needed, we might take it from the ancient liturgical language of the church in which we say, "We receive this person into the congregation of Christ's flock," which should mean that we receive the person into the congregation of persons in whom the love of Christ is incarnate.
The Language of Words and Life
Unfortunately, however, we often use the words that suggest the right meaning but fail to carry out that meaning in our lives. All too easily our religious statements become empty forms, separated from the vitality and meaning which they are supposed to express. Remember, for instance, how vainly we sometimes say the Lord's Prayer, which is a form that our Lord gave us, by means of which we could express the vitality of our relationship with God and one another. Likewise, we can honor and use the correct verbal and other symbols about the church and Christian fellowship, its rites and ceremonies, and yet fail to translate them into action, with the result that our rites and ceremonies and doctrinal statements become dry, empty forms. Instead of being the means of new life, they may only disappoint people, because they do not really communicate the meaning that they seem to promise. Every church should always test whether its forms are really expressive of the truth which it professes. It is not enough that we speak the truth; we must live it.
It has been given to men to communicate both by word and by the life that is lived. There must always be a vital relation between the meaning that is being communicated in the word and the form or means of its communication. The breakdown of education and of religion occurs when there is a breakdown between the human experience with its meaning and the word which represents it. This breakdown is complete when speaking the word becomes a substitute for living its meaning. This breakdown also occurs when a culture undertakes to educate by means of words and concepts only, and neglects to employ what happens between man and man as an integral and indispensable part of the curriculum.
The word and the meaning of the experience belong to each other and need each other, and the relation between them is a necessary part of education. Let us use the word "fight" as an illustration. We have this word because of man's experience in fighting. Out of the relationships of conflict and combat comes the experience we think of as fighting, and the word "fight" stands for it. The very young child learns to fight before he learns the word "fight." So far as he knows, the experience of fighting exists only between himself and his mother, and it is necessary for him to discover that fighting is a universal human activity. He learns the meaning of the word "fight" by the meanings that he brings out of his own combat, and on the basis of these he begins to understand the universal meaning of "fight." The word thus unites his little, individual experience with the experience of the human race of which he is a part. Therefore the word becomes an effective instrument in teaching him the meaning of his experience in the context of the experience of his own kind.