Last Sunday was our joint Pentecost service here in Englewood. Seven or eight sponsoring churches cancelled their Sunday morning service and met together on a baseball field to share in a joint service of prayer and worship followed by a meal. As Billy Waters pointed out in his brief sermon, Paul’s letters to the churches are addressed to the “church of God which is at Corinth” or “to the saints who are in Philippi,” not to First Baptist or Third Anglican or even to the church that meets at so-and-so’s house as over against the others. We believe in One Church in Englewood, and it was as the One Church of Englewood that we gathered. Of course, there are other churches that weren’t involved in sponsoring the event, and they went on with their regularly scheduled services, which is fine. All were invited, and all are welcome — they are part of the One Church in Englewood whether they jump in on this particular event or not. Because I come from a much more sectarian tradition, this kind of occurrence always prompts me to meditate on why I do this, and why I no longer believe that I’m transgressing some boundary of doctrinal faithfulness when I do it.
Biblical truth and Christian love are two virtues which we must cultivate; two doctrines to which we must be faithful, and they cannot be separated such that it’s possible to prioritize one over the other. The two are not in competition; “I am the…Truth” and “God is love” show us that truth and love are a perfect unity within the Triune Godhead, and they ought to be in God’s creaturely images too. It is neither wise nor virtuous to set our virtues at one another’s throats. When we have “love” lacking truth, the prime critique is not the lack of truth. Love without truth isn’t true, fair enough — but more importantly it’s not really loving. Likewise, “truth” lacking love is a sounding brass and a clanging cymbal, and of course unloving by definition, but more importantly, it fails on its own criterion — it falls short of genuine truth. The One who is the Truth is loving, and real love rejoices in the truth.
It is precisely because I care that truth be lived as well as honored on paper that my fellowship and working relationships are as wide as they are. Once upon a time, Paul came to Antioch and discovered Peter, his breath still reeking of pulled pork, suddenly refusing to sit and eat with the Gentile believers. Paul could have upbraided him for being unloving. Paul could have simply criticized his legalism. But what Paul did, in fact, was rebuke him for not being straightforward about the gospel — and Paul’s subsequent tirade is one of the clearest expositions of justification by faith in all of Scripture. Christ had spoken; the Gentile brothers were as clean as it gets. By breaking table fellowship with them, Peter was implicitly succumbing to a “Christ-plus” gospel — of course the Gentile brothers belonged to Christ, but something was still missing because they ate that darned piggy.
Except for the occasional sectarian Messianic Jewish group, we seem to do okay these days on the piggy question, as long as we’re talking about literal piggy. But we seem to have more than our fair share of metaphorical piggies coming out of the woodwork. Whether it’s pre-, mid- or post-somethingism, hand-wringing over whether those guys are “radical” enough in the pursuit of Jesus, or whatever — anything that makes you look at someone Jesus called clean and think, “But is he really clean enough?” — lay down your idols and repent.
Christ is among us. We are His people. That is enough.