When Did Love Become a Denomination?

De Nominare is the latin for “to name or designate.” It is where we get our word for denomination. Denominate literally means to name from or to designate. It’s a new designation for a group coming from something(one) that already exists. The very nature of denominating is to further separate or distance one’s self from an already existing body. Denominating is like a cancer. Once the cell begins to split and replicate, it gains a momentum that becomes nearly impossible to stop. Cancer is defined as “The disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body” (cancer.net). Conversely, love unifies that which is broken.

I just preached a wedding where I was asked to read 1 Corinthians 13, aka “the love chapter.” We can’t divorce 1 Cor. 13, however, from its context. Paul was writing to the church in the city of Corinth that was full of division, tempers, sexual sin, debauchery, drunkenness (during the Lord’s Supper no less), incest, homosexuality, idolatry, judgmental people, and prostitution, to name a few. And that was just within the church! It looked a lot like what is going on today in the US with the whole Chik Fil A vs the world thing that’s going on, all started by an overreactive and insanely ignorant media. At any rate, Paul had his work cut out for him. How do you reverse a culture of division and pitting one side against another? There are many Christians who mean well but by taking sides, we are further denominating ourselves and spreading a poisonous cancer.

While we are fighting wars on homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, etc. there is a world of people dying from abuse, exposure, and starvation. So how did Paul address a culture of division and sin within the church? Did he tackle the church issue by issue? Did he damn the sinners and throw them to the curb? Really, how did he successfully and radically transform a church that needed serious radiation and chemo treatments to stop the spread of sin, division, and destruction which was literally poisoning the church?

1. He begins his letter to the church with praise and thanksgiving. Say what? Remember, he’s writing not to a cute little group of sheltered saints wearing halos to church service. Rather, he writes to a divided church full of greed, sex scandals, idol worship, and scenes that make “Girls Gone Wild” seem tame. Paul says, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. . . He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4, 8). Strange greeting to a church that has derailed the spiritual tracks, eh?

2. Paul strongly confronts and condemns division and calls people to be united. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10). Notice that Paul, though upset with this group, still considers them “brothers” (no Paul was not a misogynist; Greek language uses the masculine in group settings to include women too; Paul was addressing his sisters as well). These people are family to Paul and family sticks together. There are no throw away members. Paul will address division throughout the letter. There is no room for division in the church.

3. The notion of “love” being defined as tollerance of immoral behavior is crap to Paul. He’s still going to address sin and he unapologetically defines it as such. In fact, for the Christian man having sex with his mom, Paul expects him to be disciplined by the church. I believe that shunning another Christian had a cultural influence which made them long to come back to the church (community of believers) and be a part of that community again. And this did not appear to be a regular practice. Keep in mind, this was a Christian man having sex with his mom and who has gotten the church members to be proud of it (1 Cor. 5:1). And Paul doesn’t expect him to be kicked out so that they can rid the church of a sinner. Paul does it because putting the man in “time out” is the only thing that Paul believes will turn this man back to God. Keep in mind the end goal for Paul: “Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul’s not a hater, or a bigot, or an incest-o-phobe. In fact, apparently this measure worked because the man came back to the church and Paul, in his second letter, tells them to back off of this man and forgive and comfort him so that “Satan might not outwit us” (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

4. Again, no matter how raunchy and offensive the behavior might be (and some of the stuff that the Corinthians were doing was downright nasty), there are no throw-aways in the church. Paul does not encourage the “pure” Christians to take a stand against the gay Christians or the incestuous Christians or the adulterous Christians in order to prove that one side is wrong and the other is right. Instead, listen to Paul’s words concerning individual members of the church just a few verses before the love chapter: “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. They eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (1 Cor. 12:20-23).

5. Morality, faith, good deeds, and even martyrdom is absolutely nothing without love–the point of 1 Corinthians 13. “. . .if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames (martyrdom), but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no recorde of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:2b-7).

Love does not redefine or embrace sin, either. It really is ok for Christians to hold the orthodox view of heterosexual marriage without pitting themselves against homosexuals. We still have a divine duty to love others, whether we agree with them or not, and ultimately we are to lead them to Jesus and invite them to be a part of the community.

Love does not denominate. Love is patient with people with whom we diverge theologically or ethically or morally. It is kind. It is patient. It is not rude. It is up to us Christians to set the bar of kindness and to not retaliate against those with whom we disagree. This, I believe, can be done without compromising views on morality. There is always going to be division and disagreements on what is right and what is wrong; what is moral and what is immoral. However, we can minimize the divisions and maximize unity by not denominating in the name of love.

4 thoughts on “When Did Love Become a Denomination?”

  1. Thanks so much for this explanation of love in a world that seems to be totally confused about it. I especially appreciate the timeliness of this message in light of all of the hype centered about people’s rights, the supposed comments of a CEO at Chic-fil-A , and all of the division that has resulted from emotional bias and misrepresentation and misunderstanding of God’s holy words.

    This is one post that I wish would go viral. The world needs to read this!!!

  2. I was raised in a Christian church, but I am more of an agnostic/universalist unitarian than than anything else. Nevertheless, I really appreciate this piece. One of many reasons that I do not identify with Christianity, is that I have been incredibly turned off and dismayed by the hatred and intolerance spewed by some people who call themselves Christian, but from what I can see, act and speak in decidedly un-Christlike ways. I wish that more people would focus on the values of love, acceptance, service to others and forgiveness, which the Jesus I was taught about espoused, rather than dogmatic, hateful and judgmental approaches to people who do not fit a certain mold. There is far too much hurt in the world already. I hope that many people read what you’ve written and take it to heart.

    1. Rebecca,
      I am slow to respond but I thank you for your words. I’ve seen many a church (and visiting non-church) people turned off to Chrsitianity altogether from the way they have witnessed Christians (mis)treating one another. Christians, in my experience, do lean toward judging others harshly. However, it is not fair to make a blanket statement (as many do) that “all Christians are the same,” “Christians are haters,” and the like. Really good, genuine, and authentic Christians do exist, believe me:-) I just with they were the norm. One of my favorite passages comes from Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

      Thanks again for your reply!

  3. Good stuff, bro. I could argue the Chick-fil-a points, but I can’t argue with the heart of your message. Thanks for using your Greek expertise to uplift our sisters and to inform our brothers. I loved your point that no matter how rotten the church might have been that they were greeted in love. I’m with your mom, go viral already.

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