When ‘Gospel-Centeredness’ Becomes a Cover for Idolatry

“By facilitating and encouraging a low view of what Paul called ‘holy, righteous, and good,’ church leaders have left their congregations with an incomplete view of God, and an inability to meaningfully resist the progressive ‘love is love’ tidal wave.”

Love is love. Has there ever been a more ambiguous, redundant, and meaningless phrase so frequently uttered by the human tongue? Yet this simple, three-word slogan has proved to be one of the most effective weapons brandished against traditional, Christian norms in society today.

The phrase has been the battle cry of almost every successful “equality” campaign to advance across the Western world and has since become the default response to any, and all, resistance to the progressive rebranding of family, marriage, and sexuality.

It’s a powerful maxim, but its potency isn’t to be found in the phrase itself. “Love is love” makes as novel an argument as asserting, “Water is water.” Nobody is going to dispute such a self-evident claim.

Rather, the power of the argument is found in the fault of those it’s wielded against. Simply put, the phrase exploits the weakness of those who lack a clear, objective standard by which to measure what constitutes love. Namely, those who have disconnected love from its biblical definition.

That this argument has been so useful to the progressive cause in stamping out Christian opposition only demonstrates how widespread this problem is. For decades, the church has, through ignorance or malice, subverted the Christian standard by substituting the biblical definition for a vague, subjective, Gnostic alternative.

As a result, love has essentially been reduced to nothing more than a four-letter acronym: “WWJD?” The loving response is now whatever we personally imagine Jesus doing in any hypothetical moral dilemma. Today, Marcion effectively lives on through, what has been dubbed, ‘red-letter Christianity’ and those who think the Old Testament has passed its ‘used by’ date.

With this mindset now firmly fixed within the church, there’s little wonder why we have militant Christian camps on all sides of every social issue currently up for debate. Love no longer has any definitive boundaries, parameters, or borders. If a thing seems loving, it is loving.

Consequently, whatever is “deemed” love must be accepted as love, because, after all, love is love. What many are yet to realize is that by forfeiting the biblical definition of love, the church has surrendered any meaningful involvement in this debate.

Without a firmly fixed criterion, how could anyone consistently argue that anything labelled “love” fails to meet a non-existent standard? Without a detailed definition of what love is, who can criticize, scrutinize, or demonize anything that anyone else experiences as “love”?

That was the argument of an Australian Anglican Bishop who recently dismissed the idea that Jesus strictly defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A major news outlet in Australia quoted the bishop who claimed the governing rule of the Gospels was Christ’s love for all people. However, according to the bishop, this is supposedly so vague, and so obscure, that we cannot possibly say who is and is not “fulfilling the teaching of Jesus and his ruling principle of love.”

Although conclusions on this specific subject may vary, the bishop’s assumptions are reflective of a broader sentiment within the church. The trend is to disconnect ‘red-letter ethics’ from the rest of the moral imperatives in the Bible. It effectively ‘unhitches’ Gospel love from its broader definition, making it impossible to clearly define or challenge, especially when it comes to affirming those things the world lauds, but the Bible abhors.

As such, concepts such as “love” now float in obscurity. This is largely why Christians have had difficulty trying to explain why ‘red-letter love’ doesn’t resemble what the progressives are demanding. Without a broader, objective definition, we must conclude with the bishop, that no one could possibly say what is and is not “love.” If it is deemed love, it must be accepted as love and considering Jesus loved love, we ought to love it too, because once again, love is love. Right?!

Of course, Jesus had a lot to say about love. Love is an essential aspect of the Christian life, so much so, that the absence of love may be considered the evidence of an absence of true and saving faith in God (1 Jn 3:10, 4:20). It is the external identifier by which “all people” will know who is and is not following Jesus (Jn 13:35). But if love is identifiable, then it must look a certain way and not another. It must be recognizable, distinguishable, and definable.

So, how then does the New Testament define love? What are the boundaries, parameters, and borders necessary for defining anything?

The Apostle John gave us the most concise and vital definition of love when he noted, not that love is love, but that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). In other words, love is not an abstract concept that God must conform to, but an aspect of his very own divine nature. It is who God is. God is love, and that means we’re not at liberty to impose our own inklings, assumptions, or likings on the term. To do so would be to craft a god in our own image. This is the definition of idolatry.

Instead, love must, by necessity, not only be constrained by God’s self-revelation, but it must also encompass the totality of it. The whole of the Bible must be recognised, lest we find ourselves guilty of idolatry by either adding to or taking away from God’s own nature. Yet this is exactly what many have done by reducing love to merely the ‘red letter ethic.’ What’s excused as ‘Gospel centredness’ is too often, nothing more than a neglect of the Bible as a whole.

But Jesus never intended for his message of love to be taken in isolation from the rest of Scripture. When the Lord spoke of the importance of “loving your neighbour as yourself,” he was not introducing a foreign or novel concept. The idea found its basis in God’s Law, specifically, Leviticus 19:18 which states: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.”

This was the second verse Jesus appealed to when he was asked which two commandments were the most important. The first being Deuteronomy 6:5, which states: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

According to Jesus, these two commands to love God and love others provide us with a summary of the entirety of the Law. “On these two commandments,” he says, “hangs all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Do you want to know what Deuteronomy is about? Loving God and loving others. Do you want to know what Leviticus is about? Loving God and loving others.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in the word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 3:9-10)

And: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14)

In other words, the Law is love. Whatever the commandment may be, and however contrary it is to modern sentiments, it is an expression of God’s love, and must be accepted as such.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all reveal for us the character and nature of our God who is love. But the failure to see the Law’s essential role in defining how we love God and neighbour has done a great disservice to the church. By facilitating and encouraging a low view of what Paul called “holy, righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12-13), church leaders have left their congregations with an incomplete view of God, and an inability to meaningfully resist the progressive “love is love” tidal wave.

Contrary to what’s commonly extolled today, the law is not the enemy of love. Law is not the enemy of grace. The opposite of law is lawlessness, and according to Jesus, lawlessness is the identifying characteristic of a false Christian. For the genuine believer, the exact opposite ought to be true. The Christian ought to be able to read Psalm 119 and say ‘Amen!’ to every Law exalting verse.

This is because, according to the Gospels, love for Christ looks like obedience to God’s commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). The mark of a false professor, however, is an indifference or disdain for God’s law (Matt. 7:23). They were lawless because they did not love, they did not love because they were lawless.

If it is true that when lawlessness increases, the love of many grows cold (Matt. 24:12), then it must be the case that law promotes love. This is achieved by the law defining for us what love looks like.

Unfortunately, in many places now, the exact opposite is assumed. Love no longer has any regard for God’s defining law, because that is viewed as narrow and constraining, and besides, some of the verses make us blush in front of our crooked and perverse generation. As such, we’ve allowed our definition to shift from God’s approved, objective standard to the world’s ever-changing, always-shifting ideals.

This means that whenever anyone presents a high view of God’s law, defences instinctively go up. That person is immediately viewed at best as suspect, and at worst, as a legalist on par with the Pharisaic enemies of Christ.

But Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders of his day was not that they held too high a view of God’s Law, but that it wasn’t esteemed highly enough (Mk 7:9). The Pharisees not only thought the law was their means of justification before God (Lk 18:14), their “law-keeping” was merely surface level. Within, they were downright lawless (Matt. 23:28).

How are we to define love? Love is not love, in the sense that it is wielded against the church today. God is love, and that means our definitions of God and love are subject to God’s self-revelation. Not some of it. Not just the red letters. All of it.

“All Scripture,” Paul said, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Or as A.W. Tozer once put it, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.” And perhaps today’s “love is love” campaigners recognise better than we do that in the modern church there is a serious and deadly absence of “whole Christians.” So, why wouldn’t they exploit that?

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