Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Meghan and Harry’s wedding was a passionate piece of oratory on the power of love, watched by 2 billion people worldwide. It is a message that God is love, that God loves us unconditionally and that if we could just love each other we can change the world. Many people were moved by his message, with some well known atheists saying it made them think about God in a new way. But there were some dissenting comments, among them this one from Gavin Ashenden:
‘The world is rightly talking about Michael Curry’s wedding sermon. It was a ‘tour-de-force’. He is very good at preaching. But it also offers us all an insight into the dramatic difference between the two kinds of Christianity that are at odds with each other in the Anglican Communion. We will call them for the moment, ‘Christianity-max’, and ‘Christianity-lite’. Credit where it is due. ‘Christianity-lite’ can be very appealing. It reaches out to where people are hurting and it encourages them. It reaches out to where they are longing for good change, and it promises them that change can come.
It speaks continuously of love and hope. Everyone likes to hear of love and hope. But it has three serious flaws. It doesn’t define love, and it never delivers on the hope. It isn’t what Jesus preached.’
I agree with this analysis and offer these thoughts on the subject. I appreciate that Bishop Curry only had a limited time to speak and that the things I am going to say here would not be appropriate to say at a wedding service. However as Gavin Ashenden says this message of ‘Christianity-lite’ is very much part of contemporary Christianity, not just in the Anglican Church, so we need to know why it is inadequate.
Bishop Michael said, ‘There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Anyone who has ever fallen in love, knows what I mean. An old medieval poem says it: “Where true love is found, God himself is there.” The Bible, 1 John 4 says it this way: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God. Whoever does not love does not know God for God is love.”’ (1 John 4:4-8)
Surely we can’t argue with the fact that God is love and that we should love one another? No, but we do need to understand that there is a condition to us receiving this love, and it is this aspect of the ‘God is love’ message which is missing. When we look at the context of the quote ‘God is love’ which he makes from 1 John 4.8, we see that receiving this love is dependent on our response to the message of the cross, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead. The verses which follow 1 John 4.8 define that love and tell us, 'In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.'
God’s love is shown to us and given to us by the Lord Jesus coming into the world and being ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ Propitiation means to appease the anger of someone by making an offering which will satisfy that person. This means that at the cross Jesus bore the anger of God against sin on Himself, and offers us pardon by taking the punishment Himself. To receive this pardon and know God’s love we must repent of our sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour.
Until we do this the cross does not benefit us. In fact the Bible says we are ‘children of wrath’ ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ and objects of God’s anger against sin (Ephesians 2). Only when we receive Jesus as Saviour do we become children of God, as John 1.12-13 makes clear: ‘As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
Bishop Curry said, ‘The way of love is the way to a real relationship with the God who created all of us, and the way to true relationship with each other as children of that one God, as brothers and sisters in God’s human family.’ The implication of this is that we are all children of God as a result of being born, and therefore brothers and sisters in God’s family. God accepts everybody, we are loved and affirmed as we are, therefore we must accept and affirm everybody as brothers and sisters in God regardless of their behaviour and religious or moral practice.
This message fits in with the diversity agenda. We must not be judgemental, we must accept every lifestyle and say that everyone is accepted by God as they are. Bishop Curry is the presiding head of the US Episcopalian Church, the American branch of the Anglican Church. This ultra liberal church has accepted the right of homosexuals to marry in church and has altered the words of the marriage service to remove any use of the terms “husband” and “wife” so as not to offend same-sex couples they marry. His Facebook page shows him giving a homosexual kiss to Louie Clay who is described as being a ‘queer poet and religious activist throughout the Anglican Communion.’
The New Testament teaches us that at the cross the Lord Jesus took the anger of God against sin on Himself, and offers pardon to the person who is facing punishment for their sins on condition that they repent and believe the Gospel. Until they do that they are the objects of God’s wrath. When God looks down on the earth and sees a world torn apart by violence, children abused, people being enslaved, drugs and pornography wrecking lives, religion being abused and used as an instrument of hatred or greed, does it make Him feel good about the human race? Does He say, ‘Aren’t they lovely? How much I love and accept them and respect their right to do these things?’
Psalm 7.11 says, ‘God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.’ Romans 1.18-19 tells us, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.’ It goes on to specify one particular sin which rouses the wrath of God, homosexual practice:
‘For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.’
The chapter concludes with words of warning to those who know ‘the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.’ That means that those who affirm practices which God calls sinful, even if they do not participate in them, are under the judgement of God. That includes those who preach such things from Christian pulpits, as does Bishop Curry and the American Episcopal Church.
This leads us to question another statement he made in his sermon: ‘One scholar said it this way: “Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.” (Charles Marsh’s The Beloved Community).’
Did Jesus really found a revolutionary movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world? The most famous verse in the Bible does tell us that God does indeed love the world. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ John 3.16. But it also tells us that there are two possible responses to this love, one that leads to people perishing and the other to having everlasting life. Avoiding the bad option (perishing) and receiving the good one (having eternal life) is conditional on believing in Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
Those who receive the salvation God is offering us in Jesus, by repenting of sin and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, move out of darkness into the light of God’s favour and receive eternal life. Those who reject the Lord remain in spiritual darkness, and under the condemnation of God as the verses that follow John 3.16 show:
‘For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. … He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3.17-21, 36.
This whole side of the Gospel is missing from the ‘God is love’ message. Everybody is loved, accepted and a child of God because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We have a similar message in the hugely popular book, ‘The Shack’ which became a bestseller in America and has now been made into a film. This book preaches a message of universalism, that everybody is reconciled to God because of Jesus. God does not condemn or judge anyone. The ‘God’ figure in this book says, ‘I am not who you think I am. I don’t punish sin. Mercy triumphs over justice because of love. I am now fully reconciled to the world. Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful. In Jesus I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me.’
All of these statements are untrue. The Bible consistently shows that God does punish sin, that God forgives the sins of those who repent and believe in Jesus, but that those who reject the salvation He is offering us are not reconciled to God.
James De Young, a New Testament language and literature professor at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, asserts that “The Shack” promotes a heretical idea of “universal reconciliation,” the concept that all people will be saved in the end. “The danger from all of this is to distort the gospel, to give people a false hope of being able to change their destiny after death and to distort the meaning of Christ’s death. Indeed, the need for Christ to die a sacrificial death for people’s sins is dissipated and eventually erased. But the greatest danger is that universal reconciliation redefines who God is by insisting that the attribute of God’s love trumps his other attributes of justice, holiness and righteousness. Love limits his other attributes. In so doing, some attributes are not fully expressed or perfect. In this way God ceases to be God. Instead we have a man-created, man-centred god.”
One implication of saying that God accepts everybody no matter what they believe, no matter how they behave, is that we should accept them as brothers and sisters in God’s family. God accepts all religions and life styles, including sexual infidelity, homosexual practice and transsexualism. So should we. In fact if you don’t go along with this and you say there is something wrong with these you are being judgemental and may find yourself discriminated against by the state, especially if you do so in the name of Jesus the Messiah.
But the Bible says there is a judgement. ‘It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.’ Hebrews 9.27. The sinner who does not repent is not reconciled to God and faces eternal judgement. That is why we must preach the Gospel, and show that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus, who died once for our sins and rose again for our justification and opened the way into the kingdom of God for us.
Bishop Michael concluded his message with a call to change the world by the power of love. ‘This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s game changer. Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way. Imagine our neighbourhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way. Imagine our world when love is the way. No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. Poverty would become history in such a world as that. The earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that. We would treat one another as children of God, regardless of differences. We would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. There would be a new heaven, a new earth, a new world. A new and beautiful human family. The very dream of God.’
The way of Jesus is to love the world. All you need is love. The problem is it doesn’t work. No matter how much you love some people, they will continue to choose evil. The majority of people in the world will continue to make the wrong choice because as 1 John 5.19 tells us: ‘The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.’
The wicked one or Satan has been voted out of existence in the ‘love’ theology. But he carries on the business, tempting people to sin, using all kinds of demonic influences to fuel human wickedness. Jesus said of days before His return, ‘Because wickedness is increased most men’s love will grow cold.’ Matthew 24.12.
Violence, sexual immorality, drug abuse, spiritual deception will be more and more in evidence as we go into the last days of this age. In Revelation 9.21 we read that when the judgements of God are falling on the earth in the Great Tribulation period, ‘the rest of mankind … did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.’
There is only one way out of the judgement that is coming on the earth, repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in new birth. Jesus said ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.’ Matthew 7.13-14.
The present world system is like a sinking ship. It has so many holes in it that no matter how hard we try we will not fix it. What we can do is get on the lifeboat of salvation in Jesus and encourage others to join us. Sadly the Bible indicates that only a minority will find their way to salvation and respond to God’s gift of love to the world, the Messiah, Son of God dying on the cross in order to take the sins of the world on Himself, in order that those who repent and believe will find salvation and eternal life.
At some point He will take those who believe in Him to Himself, in the event we call the rapture of the church, when one shall be taken to safety and one shall be left. Those who are left behind will face the time of tribulation which is coming on the earth because of human sin and rebellion against God. (Luke 17.26-37, 1 Thessalonians 4.16-18)
After the Great Tribulation, the prophetic vision of a world without poverty, war, and corruption will come to pass, but only after the return of Jesus the Messiah. He will then judge the world in righteousness according to how we have responded to the Gospel and set up His Messianic kingdom, reigning from a redeemed Jerusalem over the earth (Isaiah 2.1-4, Zechariah 14, Revelation 20).
In the meantime we are to love God and our neighbour, as the Lord commanded. In Colossians 3.12-15 Paul tells us
‘Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.’
This is the high standard to which God wishes us to live. We all fail, but by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us as a result of the new birth we can aspire to this. When we fail, we can repent and know God’s forgiveness in Jesus. But only in Jesus. And only in Jesus can we have a glorious hope for our own future and the future of this earth.