“Here I stand! I can do no other,” Martin Luther reportedly said as he stood before the papal commission that was investigating his radical beliefs. Taking a “stand” has been the Protestant rage ever since. We children of the Reformation, and I include myself in that family, just love to tell others what we believe.
When such telling begins, it doesn’t take long for words like doctrine, creed, tradition, and orthodoxy to get thrown around. Or, we use the opposite of these: Error, heresy, and sacrilege. We take our “stand” with a checklist in-hand. If you believe “this, this, and this” then you believe properly and can “stand” with us. If you believe something else, well, stand aside.
I used to own one of these checklists. It was well-worn and dog-eared from being pulled from my pocket to hold up against others. Serving me well, it was both defensive and offensive, for it was a security blanket telling me how right I was, and a ready weapon against those who might question my correctness.
I maintained this list back when I thought I knew a lot about life, God, theology, truth, and the mysteries of the universe. But the older I get, the shorter and simpler this list becomes; not because I don’t believe anything any longer, but because the older I get, the more I learn how little I truly know. And what I do know, I don’t want to become a cause for fighting or hating others.
Of course, if I stay true to what I have come to know, it should prevent me from fighting and hating others, for what I know is very simple: The highest orthodoxy — the greatest and truest belief — is that God is love. Not that he shows love, expresses love, communicates love, or is capable of love; rather, love is who God is by his very nature. To believe in less is sacrilege.
Not all of my Protesting-Protestant and Conforming-Catholic friends agree with me on this point. Sure, they believe in God’s love, but their list of divine attributes is much longer. It’s not unlike my barber who once asked me what topic I preached most about. I answered, “Most of the time I talk about the grace and love of God that I have found in Christ.” He sighed heavily then said, “Well, I guess that’s okay. Just be sure you don’t say too much about God’s love. People need to know about punishment too.” Seriously? Can someone actually talk “too much” about the love of God? Is that even possible?
Yet, I find that many are made uncomfortable by an abundance of this love talk. Beyond my barber, I regularly hear from dissenters who want me to quit emphasizing a gracious God. They want me to cast off this “flower-child-puff-the-magic-dragon-theology” of mine for a more “responsible position.” They want me to “take a stand” on the “pertinent moral and social issues of our day.”
Okay, I can do that. On so many of the hard and troublesome issues of our times, I take this responsible position: I stand for grace and love. For if Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to redeem it, how can we who bear the name respond any differently? Yes, my theological beliefs are important. Yes, what I believe about all the moral and social issues of the 21st century mean something. But these beliefs are useless if my first and consuming passion is not the love of God for those who are different and believe differently than me. After all, “if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but I do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
We have a choice: We can tirelessly work to prove we are “right” about every argument under the theological sun, or we can choose to love others. It is often impossible to do both at the same time. Here I stand. I can do no other.
• Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” If you'd like to have a look, visit Ronnie's page at Amazon.