Love vs. Doctrine


I admit that I am passionate about non-believers seeing what the unconditional love of God can look like.

I am also passionate for believers in the church to understand the unconditional love of God so well that it sets them free from the legalism that is so prevalent in the american church today.

Because I hold those two views with unswerving commitment, I have been called a heretic, antinomian(one who rejects the law of God), unsaved, and disciple of satan. But these people do not know me very well. Actually they choose not to know me.

So to the question posed to me on more than one occasion,” Which is more important, right doctrine or unconditional love?”,  I would have to answer both.

A few months ago I sat in a congregational meeting at the church we used to attend. As usual the people with the strongest and narrowest point of view were the most vocal. One comment though really surprised me. One of the church stalwarts (she is the church’s self-appointed doctrinal police officer) stood up in a debate about how to develop community in the church,  declaring as though she had just come off of Mount Sinai that,  “If we want community, join the Elks Club or other social group! What we need is “Sound Doctrine”, not community!!!!  Unfortunately, this is an unbiblical statement.

Doctrine helps us to understand God, Jesus, and the faith we hold. There is doctrine that clearly brings us to an understanding of God’s love, our brokenness in sin, and the cross of Jesus which brings us into a relationship with the Creator of the universe. There is doctrine that shows us that we are loved unconditionally, and that God is never angry with the believer and that, in our struggle to become more like Jesus, the work the Holy Spirit in accomplishing spititual growth in our lives. And there is doctrine on how to love each other, and how the Body of Christ should operate in the world. Love is foundational to all the important doctrine, either overtly or covertly, it is there.

Then there is doctrine that is debatable such as the drinking, smoking, end times, and to some the understanding of hell and a multitude of other issues. Just an aside, there is no doctrine at all about how we are to be patriotic americans,in regards to voting, or political party affiliation But we spend most of our time arguing about these doctrinal (and non doctrinal issues). And this is to our shame.

There is a passage in the Bible that clearly shows the importance of doctrine and unconditional love. In the Book of Acts the Apostle Paul is leaving the church in Ephesus and meets with the elders of the church. He shares much doctrine and then prays and then all the elders weep, holding onto Paul and grieving his leaving. Why were they weeping? Because he shared cold, straightforward, pure doctrine whenever they had met? Or could it be that besides sharing doctrine he loved each of them deeply and had shared his live with them, and that he with them were a community of love.

I tend to believe their weeping had more to do with love then facts.


17 thoughts on “Love vs. Doctrine

  1. I think the other issue people have with unconditional love is they misunderstand love to mean accept someone as is and letting them remain that way.
    In Christ, we are unconditionally loved as we are but Christ calls us to wholeness and health.

  2. Leanne you said it well.

    Mark, your courage is humbling. Kim and I are encouraged by your desire to love and determination to create dialog around the things that so many in the church seem to want to ignore.

    I see Jesus, Paul, Timothy, James, etc all working to be and give what people needed. To the beggar Jesus was a compassionate healer. To the adulteress he was a gaurdian from the self-righteous. To the greeks Paul was an orator. To the ephesians he was loving.

    But at the same time; when Jesus healed, it was usually followed with something like “go and sin no more” (or a variation of that). When Paul “learned to be all things to all men” it was for the purpose of winning their souls.

    All this to say is that we have so many examples in scripture of the fact that people have different needs. Some do in fact NEED doctrine more than love, some NEED love more than doctrine. Some others need family more than brethren. others need communal worship more…etc.

    I submit that just as it is with mental maturity it is with spritual maturity….until one can see that other peoples needs are different, one is still a child

  3. Actually, I think that there is significant biblical evidence that the very best doctrine, if unaccompanied by love is worthless in God’s eyes. 1 Corinthians says that if we display any or all gifts of the Holy Spirit, but have not love, we are nothing. Jesus clearly predicted that there would be lots of people running around with doctrine but without love when he said not everyone who cries Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom but those who keep his commandments. (Matthew 7:21) and Jesus made sure we knew what Gods commandments were, Love God and Love our neighbor. (Matt 22) It was love that superceded judgement in sending Jesus. It was love that caused God to yearn for our company and fellowship. It was love that caused Jesus to heal and then tell the healed not to tell anyone about it.

    Today, we have lots of people telling about what they see the Lord doing and often offensively, what the Lord is doing through them. Jesus gave us a fundamental measuring stick that I absolutely adore. “You will know a tree by it’s fruit.” (Matt 7:16 and Luke 6:43) I don’t care how doctrinally sound anyone’s ministry is if I don’t see the fruit of love which is the greatest commandment.

  4. And a side note for Leanne. It’s the love of Christ that allows me to accept you as you are and my faith in God, The Holy Spirit, to make whatever changes need to be made in you and in your life. The Holy Spirit knows what to do, when to do it and how best to accomplish it. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians think that it’s their responsibility to accomplish sanctification in others when they couldn’t do it in themselves. Jesus warned us about them too by asking why we worry about the speck in our brother’s eye when there is a plank in our own. If you are in a congregation that is controlling you with their code of behavior, their standard of conduct and rules of fellowship, I’d strongly encourage you to focus on the love, patience and forgiveness.
    I know the power and usefullness of accountability and cooperation between brothers and sisters in fellowship having grown in a strong ambience (that ultimatly lead some to fall into a thing called shepparding that had no love in it) Still the notion of accountability works, like a weigh in at weightwatchers. Focus on the love my dear sister. Jesus takes you as you are and the Holy Spirit knows how to bring you farther, deeper and more soundly and completely than any pontificating of rules or doctrine.

    1. I completely agree with you on the change being the Holy Spirit’s job. I have often reminded people of that when they state we need to let people know they are in sin. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and change. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. You just have to laugh or cry when you hear of someone making a comment like, “we need sound doctrine, not community”. The Christian doctrine has so much to do with community. Its funny how we pick and choose the doctrines we want to adhere to.

  6. Terrific post. We’ve posted this blog post on our Page. http://www.facebook.com/christiansmisrepresented#!/christiansmisrepresented
    We cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to read your posts. Thank you for the work you are doing, even if it is but to share your point of view…..a point of view that makes sense in a world where mainstream christianity doesn’t make sense anymore. Our heart weeps for those who have been hurt by unloving doctrine. Our motivation should be pure love and that is something that is lacking terribly today. Peace.

  7. “self-appointed doctrinal police officer” does not sound like a very loving title for a sister in Christ. As I remember it (I was there too), her point was the Elks have community but true community *needs* sound doctrine (i.e right belief about God). The desire she expressed was to see more teaching on the doctrines of grace and the reformation which fits in your “Doctrine helps us to understand God…” paragraph not your “…doctrine that is debatable…” paragraph. As mentioned in an earlier comment, Jesus told us the 2 greatest commandments are to Love God and Love our neighbor. We need doctrine to do the former so we can then do the latter. There is nothing greater than knowing God (Phil 3:8) and knowing and loving God is the key to knowing and loving our neighbors.

    1. Mike, I will not debate your interpretation of the event, it is not the purpose of this post, nor would it be fair. but I will not back down on this.

      There are many churches that have a high regard for doctrine and preach it fervently week to week (I believe you attend such a church). But when some of those churches only preach doctrine and neglect the unconditional love of God and grace and forgiveness, the resulting fruit is prideful people, who know theology, and doctrine but lacking in love and in fact poisoning the Gospel with legalism and judgementalism.

      Both are critically important but unconditional love is still foundational in interpreting doctrine and in interacting with people.

  8. @ Mike
    There are always two ways of understanding an event and it’s nice to hear another’s view on what the woman said. I would beg to differ slightly with your position that we “need doctrint to do the former so we can then do the latter.”

    If I’ve understood your assertion correctly, that doctrine helps us love God and it’s by loving God that we are able to love our neighbor. It’s a minor point but I think one worth mentioning because a lot of hate and emotional violence have been perpetrated in that intention. The book of 1 John is the great tempering book but only a superficial reading would make it seem like a chicken and egg delemna. When he writes that anyone who says he loves God but does not love his neighbor is a liar, he’s giving us a key. 1 John 4:20 is quite clear. We have to love our neighbor first or we decieve even ourselves in the delusion that we love God. Couple that with what Jesus said about loving our neighbor as ourselves, we see we first have to be able to love ourselves.

    So many of us, my brother Mike, come into the body of Christ with a kind of self-loathing. The preachers tell us how much God loves us and often what draws us is the idea that we are so unlovable because of sin that God is the only one, not even we ourselves are truly capable of loving us. Nice sentiment but that slow working venom is starting to show outward signs of infection. The twist in the logic that chokes us is precisely what you said and I don’t blame you for your notion is a fervently and commonly held belief–that by first loving God, we are able to love our neighbor. Nothing could be further from the truth and nothing is less biblical.

    If we express love to our neighbor because such behavior is demanded as Christians, we are living under a new, old testement kind of law. If I love my neighbor because I see that God is able to love me and God loves my neighbor and God has given me his spirit with which to love, then I love as God loves both myself and my neighbor. Then my love for God will be evidenced in truth. By then, and only then, am I even to begin truly taming the flesh in a meaningful way that isn’t legalism and hipocrisy. (Right now, a fair portion the body of Christ, in general, just puts on the right clothes to hide but not truly tame the flesh.)

    Our problem, my brother isn’t the soundness of our doctrine which is, for the most part, fine. As our brother pointed out, quite a bit is actually debatable but that is for another discussion. Our problem is in how we apply it and in it’s resolution. A bad tree bares bad fruit. For so long we have been addicted to the doctrine, a teaching that preaches love but does not demonstrate it without arrogance and pride, the result is hate, anger, bitterness and bile–things that are clearly in contradition to the doctrine of the gospel. These have stained and stenched the body of Christ and have become a sort of standard. “You will know my righteousness by my ability to demonstrate that I am better, more Christian, more spiritual that those people over there.” I ask, what sort of tree is baring this fruit? Why are we surprised when well-known leaders of the church are caught literally with their pants around their knees when it was pride and not love that fueled their ministries?

    YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT in stating that there is nothing greater than knowing God. The second thing is like it, being known and loved by God and knowing our place in that plan. I my dear brother count myself the very least of His while many of my beloved brothers and sisters might say I am but a hang nail to be cut off and thrown away. It is only his grace that stood by me when I was the one hurling the verbal and emotional abuse in the name of Christ, causing by fellows to lay awake at night developing and cultivating the internalized hatred and augmented selfloathing of a victim who thinks it is his fault that he was victimized. It is his grace today that allows our brother in Christ through his blog to call our attention to something that we have been ignorning for too long.

    Let me go one step further, to say that doctrine enables love, something I don’t exactly think you meant to say but might be read that way, isn’t exactly wrong for the Law of Moses was an expression of God’s love in a way. To take it to it’s conclusion, then, once we have the law of love, then we are kind of left to our devices to achieve the goal of love when in the kingdom of God, love is the very ground we walk on, the very air we breath and the very food we eat.

    1. Thank you Joseph for you very succinct comments and for your understanding too. Peace to you my brother.

    2. Joseph, Thank you for your very gracious and well thought out comments. You have given me much to consider.

      Let me first just clarify that I’m defining “doctrine” as right belief about God. That was also my take on how the woman in the meeting was using it. That might be too broad a definition for the way Mark is using it in his post and, if it is and if I’ve thrown this thread way off, I apologize.

      That said, I do still think it unloving to refer to a sister in Christ as the “self-appointed doctrinal police officer”. I appreciate you treating me (likely one of “the people with strongest and narrowest point of view” ) with the grace you have in your comments directed to me.

      You mention 1st John – what a wonderful book! As I understand it, John reveals his main purpose in writing the book in chapter 5 verse 13 “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” The book is filled with descriptions of all of the characteristics of a true believer which, when we consider them against ourselves, allow us to know whether or not we have eternal life.

      You mention 1 John says “anyone who says he loves God but does not love his neighbor is a liar” and I believe you’re referring to 4:20. I encourage you to back up a few verses to 4:7-8 where it says: “(7)Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (8)Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” “has been” in verse 7 shows us being born of God and knowing God is past tense. We must be born of God and know God *before* we can love one another. It’s clear that there does not need to be and should not be, any significant passage of time between being born of God and beginning to love one another (like maybe a nanosecond?) but the verse is clear which comes first. 1 John 4:20 gives us a test to know whether we love God – that test being if we love our neighbor.

      I could not say Amen enough to your paragraph which begins with “If we express love to our neighbor because…”. You so rightly point out that it is legalism if we express our love because such behavior is demanded as Christians. Your next sentence so succinctly outlines the motivation for true love and that is because we see what God has done for us and love flows from that joy. Seeing (i.e. knowing) what God has done for us gives us a love for him and then others. We need that first. Again, I’m saying (perhaps too broadly) that the “seeing and knowing” is the most basic of doctrine.

      Moving to your next paragraph, I can’t agree with you that for the most part our (i.e. American Christianity I assume?) doctrine is fine. As I read Mark’s blog occasionally and saw his testimony and the small portion of your testimony that you’ve revealed, it’s pretty clear that you guys have been through some very difficult things with legalism in the church and I can see why that would motivate you to speak boldly against it. My testimony is very different as I’ve seen, and been victim of, the more subtle abuse of easy believism which has at its roots bad doctrine (wrong belief about God). My belief is that this is a much bigger issue in the American Church.

      I agree with Mark (I’m paraphrasing thoughts he’s articulated in other posts) when he says that the folks crying out that being Republican is the equivalent of being Christian are deceived. However, I don’t think they’re as much deceived by their lack of love for others as they are by their lack of love for God. It ALL starts with God.

  9. Good, sound doctrine is experienced and articulated in community. For Christians we are not called to be defined by our doctrine but by our love. One cannot have community without love. One can have community with people who hold to different doctrines.

  10. Mark,

    See, this is why I can’t go back there — at least not now, or in the near future — because of comments like that — that come out of their mouths. I went there since I was a little girl (we did break for awhile when Grandpa died)

    — and just since that whole PK thing — I saw what some of them are really about. It broke my heart. For real. It broke my heart.

    Jesus was all about loving neighbors and brothers (sisters , etc). All about family stuff!!!

    I . Just. Don’t. get. that. church. or. their. rude. and. unloving. comments! It breaks my heart.

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