When I was a boy and went with my mother to the grocery store, we would almost always buy ice cream. If mom didn’t have enough money for ice cream, she would get imitation ice cream. In doing a little research I discovered that imitation ice cream substitutes other edible fats for milk fat. Milk fat is more expensive than other edible fats. Real ice cream is more costly than imitation ice cream. This is why many settle for the imitation – it’s less costly than the real thing.
At the Last Supper, Jesus told His ministry team,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
This is the real thing! If the church fails to love, the church fails to be the church. We as pastors know that it is costly to love as Jesus loved. It costs money/time/energy – physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. We love those we don’t like and love those who don’t like us! Real agape love, real Jesus love costs us our lives.
Because real love is so costly, so dear, because it demands so much of us, we have created imitation versions of Christianity even as the manufacturers of ice cream developed imitation ice cream. The imitation contains inferior, less expensive ingredients and masquerades as the real thing – and demands less of us. Here are some imitation versions of Christianity.
We have a SENTIMENTAL version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ loving feelings. It hears Jesus say something like…
A new commandment I give to you, that you should have feelings of love for one another as I have feelings of love for you. By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have feelings of love for one another.
A lot of people buy into this version. This type of Christianity doesn’t require or expect real-time obedience, only inward emotional stirrings. This version attracts those who desire to do all for Christ, but end up doing nothing for Christ. This variety of Christianity states that if you are emotionally moved, that is enough to demonstrate spirituality.
We have a LEGALISTIC version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ solo performances of heroic purity. Here is how we read this subconsciously:
A new commandment I give to you, that you should be holy as I am holy. By this, all men will know that you’re My disciples, if you are holy.
Many think that a life of virtue and purity will convince the world that they are His disciples. Another version: Let’s get serious about God. Al-Qaeda is serious about God.
We have a CONSUMER version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ promises of happiness.
A new commandment I give you, that you prosper and have a great sense of overall happiness. By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you prosper and have a lot of material good and never get sick.
This Christianity makes no demands because it aims to please. God is into your happiness. The best thing I can do to spread the gospel is to be healthy and wealthy and thus demonstrate the faithfulness of God. I don’t have the time or energy to love you because I am all caught up figuring out different ways God can prove His love to me.
We have an PSYCHOLOGICAL version of Christianity – it seeks to prop up the sagging self worth of pitiful human beings. Here we hear Jesus say –
A new commandment I give you, that you love yourself and feel good about yourself and have a great self-image. By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you love yourself and feel good about you.
We are told that we can’t love others unless we love ourselves and so we spend a lot of energy thinking about ourselves and how good we are. Or this just becomes an excuse, “Since I don’t love me very much, I can’t love you very much.” This imitation flavor of Christianity still does a brisk business.
We have an INDIVIDUALISTIC version of Christianity… it is self-focused/self-centered/self-consumed.
A new commandment I give you, if you can’t find the perfect church and people who don’t bother you, that’s OK, float from church to church. By this all men will that you’re my disciples…if you float from church to church and never really love anybody, but intending to if you find anyone worthy of your love.
Love demands connections. Love cannot be demonstrated by people not connected to one another. When we float, we disconnect, and one of the greatest evangelistic persuasions is lost.
T. Austin Sparks writes:
The cause of delayed maturity is that people are merely going their own sweet way. They are butterflies, simply flitting from one thing to another w/ no corporate life, no related life. A butterfly is quite a pretty thing as it flits about, but there is all the difference between a butterfly and a bee. A bee too may go from one thing to another, but it does so to very good purpose. The bee’s life is a corporate life, the butterfly’s is not a corporate life; it is an individual life.
There are a lot of butterflies twitting about the Church of Jesus.
Finally, we have an ACADEMIC version of Christianity – it contents itself w/ doctrinal profession. Jesus is imagined saying,
A new commandment I give you, that you believe the right stuff. By this all men will know that you’re my disciples…if you believe the right stuff.
I think that the Sentimental and Academic flavors of imitation Christianity are the most popular. This version says, “I may not love you, but at least I believe all the right stuff about Jesus and the Bible.” Many eat this and say, “Yum!”
This is from the FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL CODE 39212.
If a trade name is used on any vehicle which conveys, or any place where imitation ice cream or imitation ice milk is sold, the words “imitation ice cream” or “imitation ice milk”, shall be the same size as the largest letters used in the trade name and as conspicuously placed. In no case shall the letters in the words “imitation ice cream” or “imitation ice milk” be less than six inches high.
Can you imagine something like that on our church buildings, or over the entrance doors?
This church does not practice real Christianity, but several different imitation forms.
What will loving one another look like?
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor… Rom 12:10
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Pet 4:8
Let’s be broken by our failure to love and not pained by the failures of others to love us. Dr. Larry Crabb
Am I perfected in love? Those of you who know me know the answer to that question. I am not perfected in love, but I’ve tasted the real thing enough to know when an imitation is being passed off as the real thing – by myself or others. Brothers, let’s keep the real thing before us and not settle for the imitation.
Good stuff Tim, thanks!