Our guest writer this month is longtime NazTooer Hans Deventer. Hans is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, serving as co-pastor in the Dordrecht CotN in the Netherlands. Though he has been preaching for almost 25 years as a lay minister, it was actually only 6 years ago that the Lord called him to pursue ordination. In addition to serving the church, he also works in accounting at a company that provides jobs and/or education for people who cannot do this on their own due to mental or physical disabilities. He has been married to Hannie for over 35 years and they have two grown children, the youngest of which left home over a decade ago, making them “empty nesters.” Both Hans and Hannie were raised in the Dutch Reformed Church but when the CotN started in Dordrecht in 1984, they became members at their first opportunity. Hans loves the Church of the Nazarene and because of that, wants her to be everything God intended–which creates some tensions.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13, NRSV)
As we all know, these words are no invention of Paul but rather go back to Jesus himself. And even Jesus echoed what the Tenach had already been teaching. But do we (“we” being the Church of the Nazarene) actually believe this? Do we actually believe “any other commandment” is fulfilled by love? Even if we answer “yes” (which I don’t believe is correct), the question immediately becomes, “what is love?” Or better, “what is loving?” since we’re obviously talking about the verb here.
One of the few that I know who have attempted to define that verb is Dr. Thomas Jay Oord, affectionately known as “Dr. Love.” He wrote, “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.” Agree or disagree, the fact remains that he took the study of love very seriously, as the concept is crucial to his theology and understanding of God.
The key for me in all of this is the fact that in order to love, to properly love, we (as a church), and I personally, need to have some understanding of what love is. If the very concept of love is elusive, there is no way I can fulfill the command. Even with Tom’s definition, I still need to be able to understand what would and what would not “promote overall well being.”
The Scriptures, of course, don’t actually define love but it has to be said, John comes close:
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4, NRSV)
The epitome of love, apparently, is God’s self-sacrifice on our behalf. Essential here is that we can actually understand this to be love. So I’ll be as bold as to say that in regards to the commandment, love is love when we can understand it to be love. People might object and say that God, in a parent-like fashion, surely can do things He knows to be loving that we don’t understand as such. It happens all the time with parents and children. But only later on, when those children grow older, they can come to recognize this love. True. But John presumes that the best example of love he knows, is one we can understand to be love.
This concept has been popularized by Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” Now, I don’t care how many languages there are; it may be 4 or 8 or whatever, but the main point is sound: we normally try to give love in a way we understand love ourselves. And we don’t receive love as love if it isn’t spoken in “our language.”
Now the conflict in a church arises when I perceive love in a different way than the Church does. And as it is the case within relationships as Chapman argues, likewise the Church can have a different view than I have.
Which brings us back to the start: the Church may believe it is loving, but that love may not be experienced as such. How to proceed? We can keep proclaiming we actually do love, but if that love is not experienced as such, it is actually of no use. That love won’t build relationships, won’t transform people, won’t lead to repentance (if needed), it basically will do no good, but will rather estrange us from the very people who need this self-sacrificial love of God.
I believe the famous self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ is not just the truth, but also the way. As Charles Wesley wrote, “He emptied Himself of all but love.” Becoming so vulnerable that people could and actually did nail Him on a cross. And that is the Jesus way. . . .
The Church may and should have views on what is right and what is wrong. The question is always the one of the “halachah,” the way to walk. We are people of “the way,” after all. So, how are we to live holy lives? Necessary question. But the problem is that however good and pure and right we might be (or try to be), unless our actions are received and understood as love, they are to no avail and we actually miss our goal–which happens to be one of the Biblical definitions used for “sin.”
So the narrow road that does follow “The Way,” is a road of enormous risks. Of self-emptying. Of associating with sinners. Of being rejected (or worse) by all the “decent” people. Of communicating love in a way that it is understood, even if I have to give up cherished ethics, as pure as we might believe they are.
Mother Theresa once said: “If I ever become a Saint – I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven – to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”
It is not just that love is the fulfilling of the law as if there are other ways. It is the only way, and mother Theresa was right – How can God be love? By being absent from heaven to light those in darkness on earth.
Or to phrase it in our own language: How can we be holy? Paradoxally, by forsaking “holiness” as we understand it and believe it to be Biblical, and by communicating love in a way people might understand. Which, since it was what Christ did, actually is the way of holiness.
I think that unless we can give up the purity of our ethics in order to “save some,” we will actually remain outside, failing to communicate love but rather communicating condemnation.
The other day I read in a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Judaism considers Noah to be righteous “in his generation” (which was seen as a qualifier), but also a failure. He did exactly as God had told him to and saved nobody but his family and the animals.
Abraham, on the contrary, started arguing with God and dared to oppose Him, pleading for mercy for those who surely did not deserve it. Therefore, Abraham was the true tsaddiq, the righteous one. He wrestled with God rather than blindly obeying.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Not in order to satisfy God’s wrath and anger. Nor to satisfy His laws and commandments. But rather to exemplify God’s forgiveness despite those laws and commandments.
9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1)
Faithful and just. To maintain the law? No. To forgive and to cleanse for such is the love that is the very fulfillment of any law.