A friend of mine was telling me of his latest adventure of faith. The church he pastors has a sign on the main road of their small town. They posted this message: “The Sum of Christianity is Love God, Love Your Neighbor. The Rest is Doctrine.” My friend said that message caused unexpected controversy in the Christian community of his town. One minister took out an ad in the local paper attacking the message and the church that posted it. Others communicated their criticism in more direct ways.
Jesus did say that though–that was Jesus, right? Jesus was asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 NIV)
Why don’t we take Jesus more seriously as Christians? I mean, if the Bible is so important, then why don’t we take Jesus more seriously? Maybe it’s because it is easier to draw doctrinal boundaries around ourselves and declare everyone else wrong. It could be that we’ve made the Bible so important that we’ve forgotten to take Jesus seriously.
We live in the buckle of the Bible Belt here in north Alabama. Most Christians own more than one Bible. The Bible is acknowledged as important in all Christian communities. In the denomination I have lived out my faith, it has almost become a competition to see who believes the Bible the most.
Of course I believe the Bible is important. I have spent my entire adult life attempting to study, live, preach and teach the truth of Scripture. But if you were to ask me to define that truth as a Christian, I would point to Jesus. That is my perspective.
If Christians believe that about Jesus, why don’t we take him more seriously? Why would anyone take issue with a church sign that said Love God, Love Your Neighbor? Jesus did say that and many other things. He said something about loving your enemy too. Jesus reached out to the down and out, told his followers to take care of the poor and needy, feed the hungry and pursue peace. If the Bible is so important, why don’t we take Jesus more seriously?
Jesus’ example and teaching challenges Christians to do more than acknowledge those with different perspectives. He told us to affirm them as our neighbors–to love them. And if you have any question about who your neighbor is, Jesus answered that as well.
Robert White is senior pastor of Locust Grove Baptist Church in Athens, Ala., and assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Athens State University.