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Volume 17, Issue 1: Presbyterion

All You Need is Love

Douglas Wilson

Well, not really. Over the years, I have come to take a dim view of the activities of what I call "all you need is love" Christians. Taking one thing with another, and making all the necessary adjustments, the "all you need is love" Christians are generally far more spiteful and malicious than anyone really has a right to be.

Obviously, the problem is not love, but rather a lack of it. These three remain, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13). If a church falls from its first love, the Lord Jesus will come and take the lampstand away. Without love, a man can do many great things for the kingdom, but because the love is absent, his whole life is just a banging drum. The fruits of the Spirit are the glorious indicators of His presence, and the first of them is love (Gal. 5:22).
So the problem is not love. Rather, the problem is what happens when a particular group of Christians in the church wants to be free from accountability, and one of the best ways to accomplish that is through seizing the rhetorical high ground. If you don't want anyone pointing out your manifest lack of love, then you must become the dictatorial arbiter of what constitutes love at your church. Then you are safe, at least for the time being.
The Lord Jesus had a great deal to say about this particular religious frame of mind. It is that peculiar mentality that has no sense of proportion—and cannot distinguish gnats from camels, weightier matters from trivial matters, the gold from the altar, loving God from tithing the cinnamon, beams from motes, and so on. This could be considered one of the central themes in our Lord's ethical teaching. Don't get things upside down, the Lord says. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Don't accept the forgiveness of a million-dollar debt and then strangle a brother because he owes you a quarter.
And yet pietists and Pharisees continue to get the whole thing tangled. They define love in sentimental terms, and the end result is that families and churches are torn apart. A long face and a grieved heart are considered to be some sort of universal disinfectant, so that as long as a man feels grieved about it, he can disobey Scripture as he pleases. He can commit one relational atrocity after another, and it is all okay because his motive is "love."
But love is defined as doing what God said to do, and doing it with a whole heart. Love is obedience (Jn. 14:15). Love is fulfilling the law (Rom. 13:8). Love is not suiting ourselves, our own petty traditions, or our own internal emotional churning.
I have seen "loving" Christians destroy lifelong friendships, split churches, lie about brothers and sisters, circulate slanders, defend the indefensible, believe lies, perpetuate bitterness, and disrupt the lives of others over trifles. They will not be corrected on it, because their motive is always love. I have seen people with violent tempers who thought they were qualified to sit in ethical judgment over men who were the soul of patience. I have seen snarled knots of bitterness dictate terms of surrender to godly sessions of elders.
But as these people try to schedule a Scottish revival for their church (in which the church blows into a hundred small pieces), they never label themselves as the Bitterness Party, or the Hatred Faction. We have all been Christians long enough to know which words are the good words. Love is the central good word, and this is why the most unloving people want to get their hands on it. Oftentimes other reasonable Christians (in a tactical blunder) let them have the word, and so one group is described as more "truth oriented," and the other described as the "all you need is love" Christians. There are notable exceptions, but generally speaking the Christians who care deeply about the truth are far more loving than those who lay claim to Love® as their only standard.
This is because Christians who love the truth rarely set that truth in opposition to love. Christians who lay waste to multiple relationships with the spiked iron maul of their sentimentalism, disrupting yet another church, frequently set love and truth in opposition. But the truth without love isn't the truth. Love without truth isn't love. When God is at work in our lives, He gives Himself to us, and He doesn't parcel Himself out according to such systematic distinctions.
No one in this condition is beyond the reach of repentance, but this is one of those tricky situations where it is necessary to name the sin correctly. Those who love God hate evil (Ps. 97:10), but the hatred must be clear-eyed. The sentimentalists needs to repent, but he needs to repent of the sin of being unloving, the last sin he is likely to think himself guilty of. He might think that he loves "too much" or "too deeply," or something equally flattering. A pastor or friend who tries to bring his attention to the real problem is undertaking a risky business indeed. This idol is guarded with as many booby-traps as an idol in an Indiana Jones movie.
Those who see what is going on should also name the problem correctly, and the place to begin is in their prayers. As the situation is lifted up to God, and is identified correctly there, it is then possible to begin praying that God would grant an opening to say what needs to be said. There are many in the Church who hide their lack of love under layers of sentimentalism, and the sooner the Holy Spirit brings the problems caused by this to a head, the better it is. But the one who prays this way needs to be aware—he prays for conflict.

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