When Christians Love Theology More than People


Love NeighborRecently I came across an article posted on the Internet by Stephen Mattson, on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. While it may make the reader a bit uncomfortable, there’s a lot of truth in what he writes:

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When Christians Love Theology More than People

Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.

Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”

Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.

It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.

  • When I’m sick, and you bring me a meal, I don’t care whether you’re a Calvinist or Arminian.
  • When I’m poor, and you give me some food and money, I don’t care if you’re pre-millennial or post-millennial.
  • When I’m in the hospital, and you send me a get-well basket, I don’t care what your church denomination is.
  • When you visit my grandparents in the nursing home, I don’t care what style of worship music you listen to.
  • When you’re kind enough to shovel my parent’s driveway, I don’t care what translation of the Bible you read.
  • When you give my friend a lift when [his or her] car breaks down, I don’t care if you’re Baptist or Catholic.
  • When you help my grandmother carry a heavy load of groceries, I don’t care what you believe about evolution.
  • When you protect my kids from getting hit by a car when they’re running across the street, I don’t care who your favorite theologian is.
  • When you’re celebrating my birthday with me, I don’t care about your views related to baptism.
  • When you grieve alongside me during the death of a family member, I don’t care if you tithe or not.
  • When you love me in deep and meaningful and authentic ways — nothing else really matters.

But when you idolize belief systems and turn theology into an agenda, it poisons the very idea of selfless love. The gospel message turns into propaganda, friends turn into customers, and your relationship with God turns into a religion.

You may have the most intellectually sound theology, but if it’s not delivered with love, respect, and kindness — it’s worthless.

The practical application of your love is just as important as the theology behind it. Our faith is evidenced by how we treat others. Does the reality of your life reflect the theory behind your spiritual beliefs?

We should never give up on theology, academic study, or the pursuit of understanding God, the Bible, and the history and traditions of the church, but these things should inspire us to emulate Christ — to selflessly, sacrificially, and holistically love others. Theology should reinforce our motivation for doing things to make the world a better place — not serve as platforms to berate, criticize, and attack others.

But too often, we’re guilty of failing to practically apply our beliefs in tangible ways that actually help others. In the end, this is what matters most to the world around us: that we simply love as Christ loved.

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No doubt I’ll be criticized for agreeing with someone who may appear to be less interested in things theological than those of us in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod profess to be. Nevertheless, these words from this brother in Christ make a lot of sense to me.

And I believe Jesus would approve. That’s why he said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory … [he] will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you invited me into your home, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you visited me…. I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.’” (Matt. 25:31-36)

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