Virtual Voices

Marks of the true Church

Faith & Inspiration

I suppose every body of believers that hangs their shingle out has to decide pretty soon exactly who they are. There may be a fair amount of wiggle room for "disputable matters." (I'm the only woman in my church who wears a head covering, and there seems to be a live-and-let-live attitude about it.) But at the end of the day, the congregation has to know what are the "non-wiggle" truths without which they should not consider themselves a Church.

A friend of mine said that a while back his denomination did some rethinking. They were a group that had held to the three traditional Reformed marks of the true Church: (1) the right preaching of the Word; (2) the proper observation of the sacraments; (3) the practice of spiritual discipline. But it occurred to someone that maybe they should amend their statement to include "love" as one of the necessary marks without which the Church is not the Church.

I can just imagine how that would hit the fan in some churches. There is something about the word "love" that riles folks. It sounds like a code word for liberal, or soft on doctrine, or some other deviance from orthodoxy. It's just touchy-feely. It lacks intellectual rigor.

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If we can get past that initial visceral response and love one another enough to think calmly about this, we find an interesting question on our hands, and one not easily settled in either direction. On the nay side of the proposed addition, it may be said that "love" is not an empirically verifiable quality, whereas anyone can see whether a local church is preaching the gospel purely and administering communion in a way that pleases God and disciplining those who need it. Or can we?

Let us say, for argument's sake, that we can. Moreover, you can not expect the guy who just moved into town and is looking for a church home to walk in cold and ask the church secretary, "Is there love here?" She will look at you and say, "Huh?" "Love" is not scorecard-friendly.

On the pro side of the amendment is the fact that Jesus elevates love to number one in the hit parade. The whole Bible, while affirming preaching and sacraments and discipline, emphasizes love more than any of these as the sine qua non of the true Church. No one ever wrote a children's song that said, "They will know we are Christians by our every-second-Sunday-of-the-month Lord's Supper, 9 a.m. and 11 a.m."

Still, rebut the traditionalists, do we really want to put "love" as a "mark" of the Church? The presence of love is not only unquantifiable and subjective, its presence may wax and wane from time to time. And if we include "love," then why stop there? Why not include forgiveness and mercy and who knows how many other attributes?

I was just fantasizing, though: What if you did walk in cold to an unknown church and you asked the secretary if there was love there, and what if she beamed and said, "Yes," and started to tell you all about it? And what if you went back on Sunday and could feel it? Wouldn't it be grand?

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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