S.
Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ in Culture in
Dallas, Texas. He is the author of a very important new book Uncompromised Faith
(NavPress, 2009). Michael is my dear friend and currently serves as the
chairman of the ACT 3 board of directors. We shared some time together
in Dallas two weeks ago and I was refreshed again by the friendship of
this dear brother. Michael writes a weekly article much the way I do
with the ACT 3 Weekly. His article last Monday was so good that I want
to share it with those of you who read my blog. I encourage you to sign
up for Michael's Truth in Culture Weekly and to get a copy of his fine book too. You will not regret adding this thoughtful man's insights to your own mind and heart.

NewsletterTop Love Believes All Things

S. Michael Craven

Last
week I wrote of marriage and its potential to convey an essential
distinction in the way we in the church can practically demonstrate the
witness-bearing love for one another of which Jesus speaks. The issue
of marriage within the church must be taken seriously if we want to be
faithful to the gospel mission.

I
hope my article served to stimulate some to action, to raise questions
within your respective churches—such as, “What are we doing to promote
and preserve marriages in our church?” and “Have we become indifferent
to divorce?” or “Do we really understand marriage from a biblical
perspective?” I hope some pastors were challenged to consider teaching
on the subject beyond the popular topical level and instead address the
sin and selfishness that leads to divorce. I hope others have grasped
that teaching the saints about marriage serves the Great Commission by
making disciples.

I
now want to take up Paul’s charge that “love believes all things.” Once
again, Paul is speaking about our relationships within the body of
Christ. Paul is not calling for a foolish gullibility. However, being
guarded against the possibility of being taken advantage of is not
correct either. If love believes all things and love is our motivation,
then suspicion has no place. If one has a need and we are able to meet
that need, we do so without any expectation (see Matthew 5:41). You may
be taken advantage of; you may suffer a loss. You may even look foolish
to the world for doing so. So what? We serve one another without
qualification in obedience to Christ. 

Furthermore,
this passage means that we begin from a position in which we think the
best of each other, rather than assuming the worst or judging another’s
unspoken thoughts and motivations. I can think of no other attribute
more lacking in the church today than this.

I
have received many e-mails over the years from people who want me to
“take on” this Christian leader or another whom they are convinced is
“destroying the faith.” Often these positions against one another are
political issues common to the culture wars more so than doctrinal
issues. For example, such-and-such doesn’t share our emphasis (i.e.,
conservative) on same-sex marriage, politics, or the culture in
general, so some feel justified to publicly attack because they have
elevated these political positions to essentials of the Christian
faith. Recent reactions to Rick Warren are an excellent example of
this.

I
myself have received personal attacks, such as one recently from a
woman who charged me with “leading millions astray” because, according
to her, I was “emphasizing relationships and community over being
obedient to the Scriptures.”

I
think I am actually “emphasizing relationships and community in
obedience to the Scriptures,” but nonetheless, her correspondence was
anything but an attempt to believe the best about me. She wrote, “You
have forgotten what the Scriptures say and you have replaced it with
this unbiblical mumbo jumbo … You have strayed from the path and you
are dragging many people with you … you should be ashamed of yourself
…. You and people like you are the single biggest reason we are ‘losing
the culture war!’” Those are pretty strong words from one who claims to
be my sister in Christ.

Does
this mean you can’t disagree with me or any other Christian for that
matter? Certainly not! Anyone who is mildly familiar with church
history would see that orthodox Christians have, throughout the
centuries, held differing views on a multitude of important political
and theological issues. It was at the height of such controversy that
the Puritan writer Richard Baxter (1615–91) issued his famous appeal:
“In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all
things, charity.” Baxter was appealing to the principles laid out in 1
Corinthians 13.

I
am called to teach and preach and the Lord in his providence has
afforded me the privilege to do so, but I do not think for a moment
that I speak “in the name of the Lord.” I can be wrong in my efforts to
process and understand the mysteries of God, and so can we all. You can
hold a different opinion about this or that theological matter and we
can both remain Christian. The church is filled with various and
opposing interpretations of biblical doctrine that remain well within
the pale of orthodoxy! Christians can clearly be wrong about some
things and still be Christian. Recall Apollos who, “being fervent in
the spirit,” required Priscilla and Aquila to explain “the way of God
more accurately” (Acts 18:26). This would be expected among people who
are saved by grace and not by knowledge, wouldn’t it?

How
many times have you heard the phrase “doctrine divides?” In response, I
would say it isn’t doctrine that divides us but rather epistemology. In
other words, it’s what we think we know with certainty that divides us.
Such certitude is presumptuous and arrogant, the height of hubris when
measured against the humility of Paul, who in the same chapter on love
conceded the presence of mystery when he wrote, “Now I know in part” (1
Corinthians 13:12). If the apostle Paul did not know the truth
completely, then neither do you or I. The consequence of this fact
should be a more humble epistemology that is more inclined to listen,
to process and ponder, rather than critique and attack.

If
one brother disagrees with another he can express that disagreement in
a way that preserves the love and unity that Christ speaks of.
Thankfully, I hear from some of these as well, such as a pastor who
recently sought clarification and better understanding (very
graciously) of my thesis before drawing his conclusions.

As
one who challenges the church to think and question our most common
assumptions in the light of Scripture, I am always deeply grateful for
such brothers and sisters. They express a rare spiritual maturity and
openness. The pastor and I corresponded, dialogued, and he was
satisfied that his initial perception was not entirely accurate. You
see, this brother began by thinking the best of me, as 1 Corinthians 13
commands, rather than the worst. We were able to dialogue, exchange
ideas, and expand each others perspective—and not only was unity
preserved but a relationship formed.

How
often do we find ourselves being critical of others, judging others in
order to feel better about ourselves? Jesus addressed this very issue
in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (see Luke
18:9–14). The question we must ask ourselves is this: Am I like the
Pharisee who elevates himself above other believers, thinking “I’m the
true Christian” ready to condemn those with whom I disagree? Or do I
see myself as the tax collector, an undeserving sinner who humbly
pleads for God’s mercy? The former is self-righteous, contentious, and
divisive, displeasing to God; while the latter is “justified,” a man
who is humble, judging only himself.

If we spent more time judging ourselves, critiquing our own faith, knowing the truth of our own condition, we would inevitably be a people who could not help but believe the best of one another.