Should “Love Your Neighbor” Be Subject to Interpretation?

God, hell, sign Take at look at this church sign. This was posted in front of a small church in Norfolk (England, not Virginia). Would you be offended? Even if you were not a believer, would you consider taking action against the church? A passerby was offended but then it gets really weird. Robert Gladwin, age 20, called the police to complain:

“It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature. The message being displayed outside of the church could not be further from the often uttered phrase ‘love thy neighbour’.”

The police investigated the incident… as a hate crime. The 69-year-old pastor apologized, explaining that he regretted how the sign could be interpreted and had it removed. Read the original article at Daily Mail Online.

Robert Gladwin expressed astonishment that in the 21st century a church would use that message – that non-Christians will burn in hell – to scare people into joining their mentality; those were his words. The poster said nothing about Christianity but rather the consequences of not believing in God. It’s a warning against atheism although of course Christians realize that a mere belief in a god or even the true God does not equate with salvation. The particular signage in question makes a weak appeal to Christianity. But there are two more pressing issues I would like to bring out.

1) This would not happen in the United States – yet. There is still enough freedom of speech and of religious expression granted by the First Amendment that if a church put up a message on a sign they own, sitting on their property, that they could say pretty much anything – within reason – even if others disagreed or were offended. Like I say, within reason. I read through several comments on the post linked above and sure enough most people, even atheists, thought it was ridiculous. Some of them even cited the struggle over free speech. No one should be shocked, astonished, offended, mildly surprised, etc. that a religious institution of any kind believes that other people with different beliefs are wrong. Christians seek to spread the Gospel but come on; Scientologists seek to share their beliefs and win converts, atheists think others should believe as they do, and so forth. No matter how ridiculous a group’s beliefs are to those outside the group, we must be allowed to at least express those beliefs in order to reach others with our particular message. Attleborough Baptist Church in Norfolk believes that hell is a real place and non-believers will be sent there. If they have any conviction whatsoever they will share that message. And apparently, at least in their case, be investigated by the police for doing so.

2) Which brings me to young Robert. His interpretation of scripture is that the greatest command is to “love thy neighbor.” He interprets that to mean one can never say or do anything that makes another uncomfortable, offends their sensibilities or even it seems disagrees with their interpretation of God’s word and will. The sign suggests that anyone who does not believe in God will go to hell. I will go an offensive step further and say that any person who does not come to God through faith in Jesus Christ is going to hell. That’s bad news; The good news, also known as the Gospel, is that any person who repents and believes will go to heaven instead. Sharing the Gospel is not about heaven and hell but ultimately restoring the relationship between God and his children. The Gospel message is about relationship, love, forgiveness, and regrettably hell is a part of that story.

If I believe my neighbor will die and go hell, and say nothing to him, how is that love?

We have a responsibility to all those made in God’s image to tell them about his Son, his love, and how to restore the relationship God desires. Robert Gladwin thinks the church’s poster about God is hell “could not be farther” from the command to “love thy neighbor.” He has interpreted the command and the meaning of love and decided the church was spreading a message of hate. We should not be surprised either. As the world we live in becomes increasingly twisted in its thinking, the ideas of love and hate will be increasingly twisted as well. We already live in a culture that believes rules about decency and modesty are considered restrictive toward women; asking a young lady to cover practically any part of her body is the way the church represses all women. In our culture abortion is about a woman’s right to choose and not about the taking of an innocent life. “Gay marriage” is quickly become the norm in every state and to speak against it is being equated with the racial segregation laws of the early 1960’s.

Our mission field is behind enemy lines. This world is the realm of Satan and his fallen angels, and it will get worse before it gets better. The day may very well come that simply saying to a person “God loves you” will be labeled a hate crime, because our world does not interpret love and hate the way God does.


One thought on “Should “Love Your Neighbor” Be Subject to Interpretation?

  1. Great post Clark! And one greatly needed in today’s world.
    Yes, we need to tell of the love of God, but also of the justice of God.
    As you say, if we love our neighbours, we WILL warn them of imminent danger. We will do all we can while there is still time.

    Here in Australia there is great debate in our government concerning right of free speech/slander/bullying/intimidation. Many would be in favour of stopping freedom of speech.

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