This was a piece used in The Spire, a monthly newsletter published by the American Church in Paris. Visit acparis.org for current and past issues.
It is inevitable that during the month of February that one writes on the topic of love. We have so many pictures of what love is. And many words have been written elsewhere to discuss love in its many forms. But I would like to discuss the role of love in our theme verse for 2016 at the ACP.
12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17 (CEB)
One of the unique and beautiful characteristics of the ACP is the diversity, not only in culture but in theology. We are a body made up of 40-50 different nationalities, but we are also a community with wide-ranging theological views. And this can be a tricky sea to sail upon.
Let’s take a look at just a few (and I mean just a few) examples.
- What is the role of women in ministry?
- Is homosexuality a sin?
- Was the world created in six literal days? What about evolution?
- Can we participate in war as Christians?
The reality is that in a congregation like ours there will undoubtedly be as many answers to those questions as there are denominations represented. We are faced with the challenge then to worship together in the middle of a complex web of theologies. You will not agree with every person you meet at the ACP. In fact you may vehemently disagree with certain people on certain issues which may hold significant importance in your life.
Here in Colossians Paul lists all these attributes to possess as ‘God’s choice, holy and loved.’ And he finishes that list by saying ‘over all these things put on love.’ Why? Because it ‘is the perfect bond of unity.’
So often in the protestant tradition we have disagreed, but rather than work together, we have split apart, forming yet another denomination. Paul challenges us here to put on love over all of the other attributes, because through truly loving each other, even in our differences, we bound together in unity.
St. Augustine of Hippo is famously quoted saying, ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.’ Immediately following verse 14, Paul tells us that ‘the peace of Christ must control your hearts – a peace into which you were called in one body.’
Don’t miss that, because Our essential is Christ.
We belong to the ACP through our unity in Christ. Remember that though we have our differences, sometimes big differences, Paul tells us to put on love and St. Augustine reminds us that in non-essentials (which by the way, is what all these controversial issues are) we have liberty, and in everything we ought to show charity.
So the love I want for each of us at the ACP is one that, amidst complex theological diversity, is bonded through our most important essential, Jesus Christ. So that in our community of believers of all kinds, we work out our faith together ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.’