I sometimes wonder what we mean by the word “love” anymore. We hear it everywhere. I’m not talking about loving basketball or fine wine or a beautiful sunset. I’m talking about when we say we love someone or we think they love us. I’m talking about all of the ideas that come into our minds when such an idea is discussed. I’m talking about the songs we sing and the poems we write, the things we do or don’t do, the things we get or give up – all in the name of love. The vast majority of the world would seem to indicate that the idea of love equals sex. If it doesn’t equal sex, than it equals pity, which is seen as a lesser love than sex, but still viable all the same. Country music and advertising would be good examples of the first kind of love. Charities, both national and international would be good examples of the second.
Of all the people who should know what love is, it certainly ought to be Christians. After all, the God they serve is described as Love Himself (1 John 1:16). And of all the groups that call themselves “Christians,” it certainly ought to be Evangelical Christians who are holding up the torch of the definition of love, for their very name implies that they are about telling it to the whole world. However, whether Christians are evangelical or not, they have lost the knowledge of what love for God and others is supposed to mean. In losing this, they have also lost the knowledge of what it means for God to love humans.
You see, Christians don’t want to love God anymore. They want to have sex with Him. Just take a look at some of their music. Jamie Grace’s “The Way You Hold Me,” Rebecca Saint James’ “Breathe,” and the David Crowder Band’s “How He Loves” are all examples of this kind of attitude. The kind of love that is expressed in the words and the way they are sung is not the kind of love we would give to our best friend or to our parents or even to someone like God Himself. No, the kind of love that is expressed is much more similar to the old kind of love the Greeks called Eros – wild, passionate desire. It’s a desire to gratify oneself, to have as much as necessary until the senses are full of it, to hold on viciously and never let go. It’s a selfish desire. It goes far beyond receiving thankfully the things that we need to lusting after the things that we want. In fact, Eros might even be too congenial a word for it, since Eros it’s usually a term used for lover love. It carries a somewhat human, noble aspect to it, like we find in all the old love stories. What I’m talking about here is the natural impulse, the desire to have and to find pleasure, something even the ordinary animals share with humans.
Now, this kind of desire is not necessarily a bad thing. Properly cultivated within a marital relationship, it can be a very good thing indeed. In fact, God often uses the marital relationship as a metaphor for His relationship with His people. We must remember, however, that there is much more than sex which goes into the idea of “love” within a marriage. There is also the idea and practice of sacrifice, of giving up one’s wants for the needs of another, of loving them regardless of the love they show in return. It is this kind of love that is meant when God uses the marriage picture in describing His relationship with His church.
Christians have forgotten this. In an article published in Christianity Today entitled “Sex Economics 101,” sociologist Mark Regenerous describes the usual Western idea of marriage: “Most men want sex more than do women and have traditionally gained access to sex via marriage. In turn, most women have given sex for marriage, which has brought economic security and commitment.” Christians have (though they may claim otherwise), like their non-believing counterparts, made sex out to be the only reason for marriage and thus ruined the picture which God intended to demonstrate His love for His people. The idea of marriage, in becoming so focused on sex, has become simply a method by which people can get the things they want. Since sex is one of our strongest natural desires, it is a very useful tool for making people behave according to our whims. Advertising firms know this and thus have made a fortune. Christian artists have followed suit with the same results.
God does not want sex. He is not our boyfriend or girlfriend or our celestial bed-mate. He does not want to fill our every want or satisfy our greatest urges. He does not want to spoil us. He is not interested in feelings of closeness or of lofty words said or sung in moments of passion. He desires obedient hearts while He gives us our daily bread. He desires humility and service. But, He doesn’t need any of it. He can’t be swayed into giving us what we want by our loud acclamations. He is pleased when they come from pure hearts and is revolted when they do not, but His gifts to us come regardless of what we say or do. Thus, He is able to love impartially yet fully. Maybe we could learn something from Him.
Can we not love God more than with our bodily impulses? Can we not love Him more than with our emotional highs? Can’t we love Him since He is God…God! He has loved us, and thus we love Him at all (1 John 4:19). Let’s do it with more than our bodily passions presented with spiritual words.
Ever since writing a post about Namaste Sate a couple weeks ago, the issue of contextualization has often been on my mind. There was a good response to the article and some good discussion resulted from it. In the course of discussion, an article on the Christianity Today website was recommended to me. The article is entitled “Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims,” and it discusses a situation at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, where a local mosque was allowed to use this church as a venue for their Ramadan celebrations. As I read the article, there were a number of issues that came to my mind, which I feel the Evangelical movement needs to consider in evaluating their current practices.
First, what does a building mean when it comes to worship of God? Can any building do? Does it really matter who uses it? If Muslims can meet in a church, can Christians meet in a mosque? Can a church meet in a strip club or vice-versa? Why or why not? Do we really believe one type of worship is better than another?
Second, does worship of God which is not done in the way He prescribes really worship? The author of this article feels that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but Muslims don’t do so fully because they lack Christ in the picture. However, it seems quite evident that many who would seek to draw a parallel between Islam and Christianity when it comes to worship would draw stark differences when it comes to Christianity and Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Shouldn’t both of these be counted as valid forms of worship if Islam is counted thus? After all, these last two talk about Christ with much more fervor than Islam and would themselves claim to be Christians. Are we not seeing something in this?
Finally, are we willing to begin asking ourselves these questions? Are we willing to be shown wrong? What if we’re right and they’re wrong? What will be our response in either situation? Are we willing to take an actual stand that what we say we believe is true? Are we willing to stop blurring lines in our lust for more adherents and begin drawing some that have been erased as we long for truth?
Questions, questions…there seem to be so many. I fear in our current state of evangelicalism that we have grown fearful of asking the questions that would help us grow and so they are being answered by those who would seek to bring us low. Is Christ only worth that much to us? I certainly hope not – He wants us to value Him much more than that.
Just the other day, a friend referred me to a band called Aradhna, a group which seeks to bring Eastern and Western spiritual trains of thought together through the art-form of music. I enjoy their music – Hindi music is one of my favorite genres – but their claim caused me to do some thinking. I wonder if it is really possible to bring East and West together? Or, shall the twain never meet, as Rudyard Kipling wrote?
In our current Western culture, there seems to be a great shift (if I may use the cliché) towards Eastern methods of doing and thinking. On the one hand, we have pure Eastern mysticism, which we can find in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. On the other hand, we have things such as the New Age movement, which, although deriving from Western secular humanism, incorporates significant amounts of Eastern terminology. James Sire, in his book The Universe Next Door, calls the New Age movement “spirituality without religion,” thus denoting a less structured form of Eastern spiritual thought (166). In the West, many who hold to or seek after Eastern spirituality would probably fall into the “spirituality without religion” side of the fence. Many want some type of spirituality, but not the rules and requirements which come with organized religious systems.
Although all this information may be interesting, there remains the issue of how this pertains to Christian ministry. There are a number of questions which arise. For example, to what extent can we mix Eastern and Western in our Christian faith? Does a mixture of Eastern and Western niceties overlaid with some spiritual terminology reflect a deep level of cultural understanding, or does it simply mask some type of syncretism? Are the long-term effects of a religion or ideology upon a culture explored or do we focus on the short-term peaceful façade of interfaith dialogue? In our spiritual words, do we really seek clarity in our definitions, or do we run after ambiguity so as to offend fewer and attract more adherents?
If the East is to meet the West in the realm of Christianity, it would seem ambiguity must be discarded. We cannot use spiritual and religious terms to mean anything we want unless we don’t mind them not meaning anything at all. To pick on Aradhna a little bit, what do they mean when they say,
Truth, we greet you.
In you the whole Universe is held together
Conscious One, we greet you
The world is infused with your being
You dwell in our flesh and bones
One without a second, we greet you
Your Great Liberation brings us loving oneness with you
As though no separation exists between us
O Supreme One, we greet you
All pervading and eternal. (“Namaste Sate”)
In this song, who is “you?” Could we not use it to mean anyone we want? What is meant by “oneness?” Is it talking about our abiding in Christ as in John 15, or is it an Eastern view of all being one with everything else? Do you see the ambiguity? In trying to bring dialogue and harmony, we only find confusion.
To conclude, in our sharing of the gospel with those who have not heard it or even rejected it, let’s make sure we are saying what we mean. To try and contextualize by using ambiguity will only further alienate our listeners and not expose the message of the gospel for the truth we claim it is. For, although we say the gospel is true, our living up to our words will be the louder witness. East and West may very well meet, but they will only do so under the auspices of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Aradhna. “Namaste Sate.” aradhnamusic.com. Aradhna, 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2011.
Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009.
The other night, I was encouraged by a few friends when we spent an evening together preparing for a worship service we’re leading here at our university. The thing which encouraged me from our time together was not so much the songs we sang (although I appreciated them very much), but how the time we spent together was worshipful in spite of being rather impromptu. Prior to our time together, I had been stressing over how the service we were supposed to lead would come together, as I had not had much time to prepare an order of worship.
As we sat together playing our instruments and lifting our voices, an assumption I had held rather loosely began to unravel itself from inside my thinking. You see, it didn’t matter so much that there was not time to prepare an order for our songs to follow – the members of the team came together wonderfully and we settled that matter within a very short time – what struck me was how God is the one who demands worship and He is also the one who makes it possible for us to worship. Once I realized this, it challenged my assumptions as to what worship is. Mostly, I think of worship as something I bring to God for Him to accept. If it is acceptable, good for me; I must have begun to figure the worship thing out. If it is unacceptable, back to the drawing board; I had better tweak my methodology if I’m going to produce something better next time. Although I may have spent time thinking of God as the recipient of worship, I failed to see Him also as the giver of worship. I figured the giving part was up to me.
It struck me how easily I turned something which would normally seem so innocent (a gift for someone else) into something so selfish. Whether I deemed my worship as “good” or not depended entirely upon my view of myself, not my view of God. If what I did seemed good, I would praise myself. If it seemed bad, I would beat myself over the head and thus reject the grace extended to me by God. Worship had not become a question of whether or not God was worshiped as it was a question of how “well” I worshiped according to my own standards.
How are we to avoid such a trap? Perhaps we would do well to remember that worship, like prayer, is essentially a work of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26 that we do not really know how to pray, but the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Isn’t it interesting that God the Holy Spirit prays to God the Father on our behalf because we don’t know how? In Psalm 8:2, David says something similar in that God ordains praise or strength from the mouths if little infants! Even those things which seem underdeveloped and immature can be used by God to bring glory to Himself.
In considering our worship, let us be as the disciples when they asked Jesus how they were to pray, always being open to His guiding voice as we seek to worship Him. Let us remember that what we give to Him comes from Him anyway; we cannot make it better than it already is. In fact, he has given it to us with the end in mind that it would be used to honor Him. He is the one who receives and He is the one who gives; we simply are allowed the great privilege of being a part of what He is doing.