By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 5, 2023
The greatest commandment tells us that we love God by loving others-even those we don’t like-as we love ourselves. Don’t confuse loving God with worshiping God, even though many pastors emphasize worship and supporting the church as ways to love God. Jesus emphasized humble service to the least of those among us as the way to love God.
Faith is important, but affirmations of faith are no substitute for acts of love for others and promoting the common good in politics. Most churches avoid controversial moral issues in politics and emphasize belief in exclusivist Christian doctrine rather than promoting the common good. They need to reverse their priorities of faith and focus on acts of love rather than belief.
God is spirit. We can only love God by loving others. The greatest commandment includes two separate commandments: the first is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. (see the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5); and the second is to Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Leviticus 19:18).
If we love God by loving our neighbors, just who are our neighbors? Jesus answered that question with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), in which a Samaritan stopped to help a wounded Jew who had been bypassed by several Jews. The idea of a Samaritan as a good neighbor shocked Jews who detested Samaritans as apostates.
Like prophets before him, Jesus taught that God expects our mercy, not sacrifice (see Matthew 9:10-13, citing Hosea 6:6 and Amos 5:21; also Matthew 12:7). We show our love for God through loving acts of mercy and compassion and by seeking reconciliation with our adversaries, not through ancient religious rituals like a blood sacrifice.
Worship services should conclude with the following benediction: Worship is over, let the service begin. Sharing the reconciling love of God with our adversaries is the best way to show our love for God; and unless the church makes following the greatest command a priority over promoting exclusivist church beliefs, it’s not following the moral imperatives taught by Jesus.
The love of God must be given in order to be received (Luke 6:36-38). That’s the nature of discipleship. The church has failed its evangelical mission by allowing exclusivist church doctrines to take precedence over the moral imperatives taught by Jesus. It will take a civil religion to save the soul of American democracy from further moral corruption.
If the church doesn’t reform itself, it will take another secular Enlightenment to promote the altruistic priorities taught by Jesus in a civil religion to save America from self-destruction. Edmund Burke once predicted that in a democracy “Americans would forge their own shackles'', and more recently Pogo observed, “We have met the enemy and it’s us.” Christian morality must be applied to democracy, or once again it will come apart at its seams--as it did in 1860.
The authority in this commentary is from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel accounts. I could have mentioned Thomas Jefferson, Alexis DeTocqueville and Abraham Lincoln, but they have been cited often before. My primary objective is to convince Christians that the altruistic moral imperatives taught by Jesus should be emphasized in the church to save both the church and democracy from the dustbin of history.