“Church is a place where you learn how to love. Church is about bringing people back to love and helping people see how easily love is screwed up. But it’s also about helping people to see that when love goes right, everything is changed.”
“Where is this church?”
“Oh, it exists…in a few places.”
This exchange occurred in an interview with Norman Wirzba, professor of Christian Theology at Duke University. The interviewer’s question “where is this church you’re describing?” sounds a bit tongue in cheek, yet it’s very sincere. There are a lot of churches that would describe themselves as “loving,” yet when they are hit with fiscal challenges, difficult decision making, or threats to the fellowship, the “love” evaporates. Then, fearful human instincts are unleashed to run rampant: competition, avoidance, suspicion, strategic maneuvering, and blame, just to name a few. Those churches that sincerely believe themselves to be “loving” are often shocked when they witness the atmosphere change so quickly. Every church is vulnerable to this. Every single one.
The problem isn’t that love is fickle, as the saying goes, but that what we often call love is merely affection. Affection is a surface expression of fondness. It thrives as long as people get along. But when disagreements emerge, affection cannot hold in the face of discovering one another’s more negative qualities. If a church’s only commitment is to be affectionate to one another and it forgoes the disciplines of love, it cannot claim to be one of those few places where people can learn how to love.
The commitment to love is rare because its disciplines are very rigorous. It asks a lot. Love sacrifices suspicion for curiosity. It refrains from accusations and stays open to listening. Love resists cynicism, embracing humility in its place. It is honest, kind, and direct; and it stays in the room when affection has long left the building. Love is also rare and precious and worth all of the hard work because, as Wirzba says, when it goes right, everything is changed.
The world needs churches that teach love. The voices of anti-love are very loud and fearful. They try to drown out all else, convincing people that if they choose love they will lose. In a sense they are right. In a sense, choosing love does mean losing; but, in Christ, it is only by losing that one can truly be found.