No Such Thing as "Loveless Orthodoxy"
September 4, 2022
Updated September 6, 2022
2 comments 612 views
WHAT IS "LOVELESS ORTHODOXY"?
It has been stated that “loveless orthodoxy” and a “spirit of censure” are at work in the Christian Reformed Church, particularly in relation to the matters of marriage, the family, and human sexuality. Shiao Chong, the editor of the CRC’s official magazine The Banner, wrote an editorial called “Beware Loveless Orthodoxy" for the post-Synod July/August edition of the publication.
In the September follow-up issue, Chong continued his warnings. In an editorial called “Further From Revival” he says that a spirit of censure is “a pervasive spirit around synod and the denomination as a whole." And because of this, we are further from revival.
The idea of “loveless orthodoxy” is explained this way. Orthodoxy is the system of right beliefs. Beliefs about God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption, and other God-ordained institutions such as marriage, the family, and the Church. The CRC shares common elements of orthodoxy with many other Christian denominations. These elements of common orthodoxy include the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed. We also add more Reformed-specific confessions of orthodoxy in the CRC, namely the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Together, these Christian and Reformed expressions comprise the orthodoxy of the Christian Reformed Church.
Now, back to the idea of loveless orthodoxy.
The charge being brought is that the Christian Reformed Church, in its pursuit of orthodoxy (right ideas) is missing Jesus’ command to “love one another.” Again, the editor of The Banner says that this loveless orthodoxy, manifesting itself in a spirit of censure, is “pervasive” in the CRC. The editor goes on to give some examples of loveless orthodoxy: a delegate to Synod “jumped up to propose disciplinary action on another delegate even while that person was still speaking.” Delegates “argued over a normally routine approval of the next synod’s host church” (Church of the Servant in Classis Grand Rapids East). A CRC pastor in a podcast referred to a “big fight” in the denomination. Another pastor, post-synod, referred to “tremendous rot” in CRC agencies that “needs to be cleaned out.”
But are these really examples of “loveless orthodoxy”? Before we can answer that question, we should do what the Church should always do when we face a serious issue: go to Scripture!
WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?
According to the editor of The Banner, the Scriptural admonition against loveless orthodoxy comes from Revelation 2, where the apostle John records letters to the churches, straight from the mouth of Jesus. The charge is given to the church at Ephesus, and the claim is that the church at Ephesus was zealous for orthodoxy, but not loving enough, and therefore was being warned by Christ.
But is that really what Revelation 2 says? The editorial published in The Banner does not actually quote any of the relevant passages of Scripture. But I will. Revelation 2:2,
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”
So, Jesus is praising the church at Ephesus for their faithfulness to orthodoxy, to right beliefs, because they rightfully rejected false teachings that were thrown at them. Jesus goes on to say in Revelation 2:4,
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Seems pretty straight-forward, right? Jesus is clearly admonishing them to be more loving, correct? But is He?
The word that Jesus uses for love is a thing. Another way to say it is that the Ephesians lost their first love (a thing). Jesus did NOT say “You have abandoned the loving ways that you showed at first.” He is not saying the Ephesians were lacking in love in their pursuit of truth. Despite the claim in the editorial, that is not what Jesus is saying at all.
Nope. Instead He says to the church at Ephesus that there was a thing that you loved at first, and you have abandoned it. You have continued to pursue orthodoxy, you have expelled the false teachers, and both of those things are extremely necessary and good for you, the Church, to do. But there is a thing that you used to love, and you don’t seem to love it as much anymore.
What is this first love that the Ephesians are neglecting, that is so important that Jesus Himself told John to write to them about it? Well, again, let us turn to Scripture:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”
There it is! The thing that the Ephesians loved at first, that they do not seem to love anymore, is to do the works. That is what Jesus tells the church at Ephesus must accompany orthodoxy. And what are the “works” that the church at Ephesus did at first, that they now have forgotten? Revelation is not specific, but we do know that Jesus gave a very specific task to His Church in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
So, were the Ephesians guilty of “loveless orthodoxy"? Far from it! Jesus does not accuse them of being “unloving.” We know they were very faithful to God’s truth, and that they rejected the lies and false teachings of the world. But they may have forgotten their mission to preach the Gospel of salvation. Whatever their works were that they loved so much at first, they had started to neglect them.
CAN TRUE ORTHODOXY BE "UNLOVING"?
Now then, am I saying that orthodoxy can exist in a vacuum devoid of love? Of course not!
Let us remember what orthodoxy is. Orthodoxy is right beliefs about God and His truth. And we know from all of Scripture that love is a key element of these right beliefs. In fact, it is impossible to have these right beliefs if you do not also have love. If we abandon love, then we are no longer holding right beliefs; without love, we are no longer orthodox.
Think of it this way. When it comes to astronomy, the study of space and objects in space like planets and stars, would anyone ever say it is possible to have a "heatless star”? Of course not! Heat is a necessary component of a star. If a star stops producing heat, it can no longer be called a star.
In the same way, true orthodoxy will always operate in love. But just as the star produces the heat (the star comes first), right beliefs produce true Biblical love. Right beliefs (orthodoxy) come first. After that, true Biblical love follows. Any so-called love that exists outside of God’s truth is really fake love.
If my son commits a crime, and I help him cover up the evidence out of my “love” for him, it is fake love. True, Biblical love would require me to encourage my son to admit his wrongdoing, accept just punishment, and try to make amends.
If my child, or my friend, or my fellow officebearer in the CRC is committing open, unrepentant sin, and I justify or celebrate that sin out of my “love” for that person, it is fake love. True, Biblical love would require me to honestly identify the sin, warn my brother or sister, and help them find repentance and the power to overcome that sin by the Holy Spirit. If the person refuses to repent, true Biblical love requires me (as an officebearer in the CRC) to pursue discipline unto repentance. And if that fails, true Biblical love requires the Church to expel the immoral brother.
Outside of orthodoxy, all "love" is fake love. True Biblical love can only be found within orthodoxy.
And let us not fall into the trap of thinking that real love is mushy, non-offensive, non-confrontational tolerance. Sometimes love is blunt. Sometimes love is not “nice,” according to worldly, subjective standards of “niceness.” I’m sure the false teachers in Ephesus would label the Ephesian believers as not “nice.” Perhaps they would even accuse them of having a spirit of censure, or of loveless orthodoxy.
Jesus specifically praises the Ephesians for rejecting the Nicolaitans. Who were the Nicolaitans? They were people who claimed to be Christians, yet wanted to live according to the moral standards of the world, particularly when it came to worldly pleasures and sexual activity. Sound familiar? The Nicolaitans were heretics who believed that God’s grace and love were so powerful, that they could participate in activities that Scripture called sinful, but since God was all about “love” that it was OK to participate in sin. Maybe that sounds familiar as well?
THE MESSAGE FOR THE CRC FROM REVELATION
I believe the message to the church at Ephesus is very much a message that the CRC can and should pay attention to. But not because of non-existent “loveless orthodoxy.” It’s not a message of being civil and “nice” in the face of false teaching.
No. The real message of Revelation 2 is that Jesus wants and expects His Church to pursue right beliefs, reject false teaching, and have nothing to do with those who use God’s love and grace as an excuse to promote sinful activity. And to remember our first love, doing the work of preaching the message of the Gospel.
One final note on Revelation 2. Jesus calls the church at Ephesus to revival. Jesus says to them, “Repent, and do the works you did at first.” False humility is not the source of revival within the Church; repentance is the source of revival.
Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.Add Your Post
To the honourable High Priest of the most Holy Temple of the pure faith of Abraham and his descendants.
I, Saul of Tarsus, of the tribe of Benjamin, being discipled in the Pharsaical way at the esteemed feet of the learned Gamaliel, ardent servant of God, appeal to you my High Priest for letters of endorsement so I can go and deal with the corruption of our most true way of God by those revisionists who claim the heretic and blasphemer, Jesus of lowly Nazareth, who dined with the unclean, was actually the son of God and has risen from the grave. To allow this softening and corruption of God's plan for Israel to carry on unabated is an extreme offense to all that is righteous, and threatens to weaken the faith. You may be aware that I was the one who guarded the coats when the first action was taken to remove one of these corrupters. My zeal for our God calls me to take further such action and go to Damascus with a group of armed men to contain this contagion. Reliable reports say they are encouraging adherents to the way of the God of Israel who are not of Israeli blood to join with them. We all know of the disregard the fool they follow had for our precious law, and it is time we act to enforce that law against this movement that is calling for limp love instead of solid law.
I am prepared to leave immediately after sabbath, if you but grant me the desire of my heart to chase down and do away with these softies.
May our God bless you and your children and household, Praise be to his name!
Humbly submitted, in service to our Great God, with anticipation of serving him well in this endeavor,
Saul of Tarsus.
Saul (pre-conversion) is a fantastic example of someone whose orthodoxy was all wrong. Saul's beliefs were based on falsehood. He did not understand that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah of Israel. This is the mystery of the Gospel that Paul (post-conversion) refers to in his letters to the churches.
I think that is why Paul is so critical of false teachers and false teachings. He himself used to be a false teacher who believed in false teachings.
But once Paul got his orthodoxy correct, he was able to spread the truth of the Gospel in love. Love radiated from his right beliefs!
We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.