I visited two churches last Sunday. One was a non-denominational church that I visited before. The other was a Baptist church. The Baptist church was like an African-American church, in that it had an African-American choir, an African-American preacher, and enthusiastic call-and-response. But there were a lot of white people there.
I will visit the Baptist church again in the future. People were friendly, but not intrusive. I also enjoyed the worship. The songs varied, as they included old-time hymns, classic praise and worship songs that I used to sing at Intervarsity in the 1990’s, and modern praise songs. At a lot of churches that I visit, we sing the modern songs, and I miss the praise and worship songs that I sang in the 1990’s (“Shout to the Lord,” “As the Deer,” etc.). The worship at the Baptist church that I attended last Sunday was, thus, a refreshing experience.
To be honest, the sermons at both churches did not make me feel that good about God or myself. At the non-denominational church, the sermon was about I John 4:18. The translation that was being used was the New Living Translation, which states for that verse: “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
The preacher was saying that love and fear cannot co-exist in the same person. I can understand that fear can hinder us from showing love to other people. But to say that fear and love cannot co-exist in the same person? Why can’t a person have a concern and a desire for another’s well-being, while still dealing with fears and phobias about life? I don’t see why the two cannot co-exist.
And then my mind was unravelling the potential implications of what the preacher, and possibly I John 4:18, are saying. Love is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). I John 4:8 says that those who do not love do not know God. Since fear and love cannot co-exist, that must mean that people with fear lack love, right? Does that mean that they lack the Holy Spirit, do not know God, and are unsaved? Wouldn’t that kind of conclusion make a person more afraid of God’s punishment, not less, which would go against the spirit of I John 4:18? Plus, would the preacher truly suggest that Christians are never afraid? Everyone is afraid, on some level—-unless I am the only imperfect person to walk into a church!
I do not think that the preacher was intending for people to arrive at those kinds of negative conclusions. After all, he said that only imperfect people are allowed at church. He contrasted God with the boss Gary Cole plays in the movie Office Space, Bill Lumbergh: God is patient, not a tyrant who keeps secrets from employees. The preacher would probably say that, when we fear, we are not truly grasping the depth of God’s love for us. We are still loved by God in that case, but we have not truly or sufficiently internalized that love.
The Baptist church that I visited was going through the Book of James. The preacher was talking about what James said about good works being an expression of faith. The preacher was chiding those who attended church, yet did not serve the church, or somebody, in some capacity. He was saying that every Christian has a spiritual gift, and, if we do not know what ours is, shame on us! The preacher was saying that there will be Christians on judgment day whom God would let into heaven, yet God would do so with frustration: “Oh come in, you lazy person!” The preacher did not mention this, but I thought of Jesus’ condemnation of the servant who hid the talent in Matthew 25: Jesus called that servant lazy and unprofitable, then ordered him thrown into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth!
I have a hard time seeing this God as unconditionally loving. Even if I were to start doing service projects to make this God happy, I would still feel like I am serving Bill Lumbergh-God. Maybe worse, since I read on wikipedia that Bill Lumbergh was not exactly confrontational. I somewhat agreed with what the preacher was saying about giving back: we should not just be takers and consumers, but we should give. But the picture of God that was in my mind after that service was not particularly positive.