When someone rejects the Bible as being the word of God, when they repeat that mindless modern mantra, “Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible,” when they say meaningless things like “God is bigger than the Bible,” when they refer to those who do believe the Bible is the word of God as fundies, idolaters, and bibliolaters, all they really end up doing is denigrating the authority of Scripture. I have pointed out a number of problems with this attitude toward the Bible in previous blog posts, and I have no wish to repeat what those problems are here. But one problem I have not discussed in the past is this. When you denigrate scriptural authority, what do you replace it with? The Bible is that canonical instrument by which God administers his authority in his church. If you denigrate that authority, you create a vacuum. The question, then, becomes: With what do you fill this vacuum? The answer, almost invariably, is: You fill it with yourself; you become the authority.
To see how this works, consider the most recent article from self-proclaimed internet pastor, John Pavlovitz. It is entitled, “3 Reasons ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ Is an Abomination.” Here are just a few quotes from the article (note that Pavlovitz abbreviates the phrase in a number of places as LTSHTS):
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Rarely in history has there been a greater mischaracterization of the heart of Jesus or a more egregious bastardization of the Bible than these six words.
The damage that LTSHTS has done in the lives of billions of people and to the public perception of Christians can never be fully calculated, but one thing is certainly true: it’s an embarrassment and a sin and a total abomination.
Hiding behind LTSHTS is just using Jesus as justification for the kind of behavior he would be quite appalled by. It isn’t Christlikeness, it’s cowardice.
LTSHTS is about as sinful as we can get, friends.
Now, I am not particularly concerned about defending this particular phrase as a phrase; it’s kind of cutesy and cliché-ish, and it certainly needs to be carefully unpacked and nuanced to see what it actually means and entails. But, frankly, the concept itself I see as being entirely biblical, and very much representative of what Jesus did and what he expects his followers to do as well. The problem for Pavlovitz, however, is that he doesn’t simply dislike the phrase; he dislikes the concept as well. For him, a Christian should love the sinner, and that is where things stop, period. The Christian should not hate the sin which the sinner commits. And a Christian has no business pointing out the sins in someone else’s life and saying that they hate those sins. For Pavlovitz, to love the sinner but hate the sin is an “abomination,” an “egregious bastardization of the Bible,” an “embarrassment,” a “sin,” a “total abomination,” the opposite of “Christlikeness,” “cowardice,” and “about as sinful as we can get.”
In the article, Pavlovitz applies his great insights on this to what he refers to as the LGBTIQ issue (feel free to replace LGBTIQ with your own preferred alphabet string). He declares that Christians who disagree with homosexual practice and same-sex marriage should not employ this “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality. Indeed, to do so, he says, is an “abomination” and all those others things I mentioned above.
Now, I do not wish, in this article, to discuss the whole same-sex relationship issue. But here’s what I do wish to point out. If you look at all the responses to the article on Pavlovitz’s blog page, you’ll find that his internet groupies have gone all gaga over his wonderful post. But there are some dissenters. One dissenter, named Rob, made the following comment: “I haven’t read that LTSHTS is an abomination in the Bible, but I have read where the act of homosexuality is.”
This comment, as short as it is, and, frankly, as obvious as it is (a la “The Emperor’s New Clothes”), gets to the heart of my thesis in this article. Those who denigrate the authority of Scripture never stop there. They have created a vacuum. That vacuum has to be filled with something. Invariably, they fill it with their own self-proclaimed authority. This is what Pavlovitz has done here. He has emptied Scripture of its authority to declare what counts as an abomination, and has filled the vacuum with his own authority to declare what really counts as an abomination. I will not mince words here; his actions in this regard are absolutely pastorally irresponsible (okay, I am mincing words; I could have used much stronger language).
Now, as far as what Scripture actually teaches on this subject, note the following three passages from the New Testament.
(1) In Jude 22-23, one of the brothers of our Lord says this:
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
A couple of different commenters called attention to this passage. It is possible to show mercy and compassion, while still hating the sin and even the clothing stained by the corruption.
(2) Paul tells his readers in Romans 12:9 that
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Love must be sincere. A love that fails to hate what is evil is an insincere love. It is false, mawkish, sentimental rather than real. A love that professes to love the sinner, but does not hate the sin, is not really love, it is just sentimentality. It is a love that kills, and that fails to make alive.
(3) In Revelation 2:6, in a letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus, after listing things which he both likes and dislikes about the members of this church, concludes with this commendation:
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Interestingly, not only is it not sinful to hate the deeds of other people, but Jesus even positively, absolutely, commends the people of this church for hating these deeds, which he himself also hates.
You may ask: How can Pavlovitz ignore these passages of Scripture? The answer is fairly simple. Scripture has been evacuated of its authority. Pavlovitz has replaced it with his own authority.
I have pointed here to only three very short passages. I could have done so much more, and some of the responses to Pavlovitz’s article have called attention to how his thoughts here are contrary to the entire tenor of Scripture and the life of Jesus Christ. Here is the comment I left on his blog.
One of the most troubling things about this article is that it is Scripture-deaf. Danny, above, has already called attention to the failure to listen to Jude 22-23. Another important passage to deal with is the letter of Jesus Christ to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. After both praising them and calling attention to their faults, he then goes on to commend them for one more thing. And here is the commendation: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev 2:6). Not only is it right to hate the deeds of others; Jesus absolutely praises them for doing so.
What makes this Scripture-deafness all the more troubling, is that when you raised this same point in a previous article, there were commenters who called attention to these same passages, and yet, now, you repeat your same point, without taking these passages into account. It is almost as if there has been a policy adopted: “See no passages that do not support my point; hear no passages that do not support my point; speak no passages that do not support my point.” You are trying to defend a point for which there is absolutely no scriptural defense.
Put very simply, to refer to a Scriptural practice, indeed one that Jesus himself commends, as an abomination, is to put one’s self in a very precarious position. Indeed, not to hate the things that Jesus hates–that is the abomination.
To reiterate, when Scripture’s authority is denigrated, a vacuum is created. The question then becomes, “How do you fill that vacuum.” In this article, I have described one way in which it is done. But let me suggest a “more excellent way.” Repent. Stop trying to be an authority to yourself and to others. Refill the vacuum with Scripture. Surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ as manifested in that canonical instrument by which he rules his church—Scripture. Let us render our hearts captive to the word of God.
August 15, 2015