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Love the Truth
Thursday after Pentecost 13
11 September 2014
When I was a college student there was a debate that raged on campus about the importance of doctrine in the Christian Church. One party argued that teaching was not all that important, but rather love is the most important thing in church. Those who emphasized the importance of the content of the teaching were described as loveless Christians. Of course, this was a horrible exaggeration. Those who are interested in the teaching are not necessarily loveless. Teaching and love are not mutually exclusive. Those who supported the idea of teaching over love took sarcastic pleasure in describing themselves as the “loveless committee.” Perhaps without knowing it they were quite in step with the reformer of the church, Martin Luther.
Throughout his tumultuous career, Luther was regaled by demands that he become more loving. He was told that needed to stop being so fussy about purity of teaching and let a thing or two slide. He was accused of dividing the church and hurting the faithful by being so stubborn about teaching the truth. Friend and foe alike begged him to stop being so rigid so that a wider net could be cast into the world beyond the narrow confines of (what came to be called confessional) Lutheran theology. Luther was genuinely baffled by this call to flexibility in teaching. What would he be compromising if asked to compromise the teaching? He would be compromising on God’s Word. What right would Christians have to compromise what did not belong to them but was ever and always a gift from God? Could a Christian give up on some divine teaching without imperiling the divine Word? Which teaching is the one we could choose to get rid of? What has God revealed that we have the authority to ignore or to reject?
Today, people want the church to betray God’s truth, just for their convenience. People want their pastors to ignore God’s Word and do what they find entertaining or even titillating. “Can’t you wink at it a bit, Pastor? After all, it isn’t that big of a deal if we stop teaching about Christ’s bloody death for poor sinners, because it offends so many people and they won’t come back to our church if they hear that kind of preaching. We appear to be so unloving.” Our love is important, yes, but we dare not take what is ours (love) and let it trump what is His (teaching). Our love does not have the authority to silence the speech of God.
For God love and truth are not opposites, but are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. He is both truth (Jn 14:6) and love (1Jn 4:8) without any contradiction. His love always emanates from His Word to us. He loves us enough to give us His teaching in His Word. This is why we hang on His every Word, because His Word is truth (Jn 17:17). A love that trumps His truth is not loving but a perversion of love, because we owe love to God first of all (Mt 22:37). We don’t need to be loveless but lovers of the truth.
“Now Paul attacks the flattery of the false apostles, by saying, ‘They make much of you, but to no good purpose’ (Gal 4:17). For Satan is accustomed to make an impression on simple people through his servants by wonderful arts and wiles, as Paul says, ‘by smooth talk and flattery’ (Rm 16:18). First they swear by all that is holy that they seek nothing but to promote the glory of God. They say that they are prompted by the Spirit to teach the sure truth when they see that the miserable people are being neglected and are not being taught the Word correctly by others. In this way they propose to deliver the elect from error and to bring them to the true light and knowledge of the truth. In addition, they promise sure salvation to those who accept their teaching. With this pretext of piety and in such sheep’s clothing (Mt 7:15) ravenous wolves do great damage to the churches unless watchful and faithful shepherds resist them. “In this passage Paul is anticipating a possible objection; for the Galatians could say: ‘Why do you inveigh so bitterly against our teachers who are flattering us? After all, they do this out of a divine zeal and pure love. Surely this should not offend you!’ ‘They do indeed flatter you,’ Paul says, ‘but for no good purpose.’
Thus we today are forced to hear from the Sacramentarians that by our stubbornness we are splitting the love and concord of the churches, because we disapprove of their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. It would be better, they say, if we winked a little, especially since the danger involved here is that we might stir up such discord and controversy because of this one doctrine. After all, they do not disagree with us on any article of Christian doctrine except the one doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. To this I reply: ‘A curse upon any love and harmony whose preservation would make it necessary to jeopardize the Word of God!'”
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.17