Loving the Lonely Crowd

Loving the Lonely Crowd

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“What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Tina Turner’s 1984 mega-hit rock ‘n’ roll song, could easily serve as a front-page headline for contemporary Christian America. The song saw nothing enduring in love and reduced it to a “secondhand emotion.” Granted, Ms. Turner had lived for years in an abusive relationship, but surely there must be more to love than the logical and physical. I believe most of you will agree with me that Christian love for God and humankind is biblically significant and forms the scope of where we are to offer our service in the world. However, few of us would argue against the fact that we quite often fall well short in fulfilling both aims (Mark 12:27-29). If sermons, Bible lessons, and even Christian memes are any indication, then we know that our love should be abundantly obvious in the decisions we make and the actions that follow. Yet, there often exists a disconnect between our being and doing.
Friendless-ness is a common church encounter
Missiologist Mike Frost writes of the “lonely crowd,” a phrase that was coined in the 1950s by sociologist David Riesman. The rubric partly describes “collectives of people who live according to common traditions and conforming values, but who barely know or like each other.” Frost fears the church is in danger of becoming just such a lonely crowd, where faith communities are hospitable and welcoming, but too often friendless-ness flows through the fellowship. In other words, there is a spiritual blockage when we know to love our neighbor, brand ourselves as being loving and friendly, but fail to follow through in our relationships. Barna surveys indicate large number of Christians who state they love Jesus, but never again want to attend a church! Consider two ways we may create a disconnect between Christ's love command and loveless-ness in our church communities (cf. John 13:34-35).
Root causes for a disconnect
Check the source of your love. The psalmist writes, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love [italics mine], that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). God’s true love is not an emotional vapor that comes and goes, so if we hear ourselves saying “I fell out of love with the church,” or “I hate so-and-so,” or “I am miserable with my life,” then we need to check the source of the love we claim to have changed our being (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, “bears all things,” “endures all things,” and “hopes all things”; 1 John 2:10-11, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light . . . But whoever hates his brother walks in the darkness”).

Abide in Christ's love. A bit of biblical background is needed to help us make sure that we are connected (living and acting) to the sphere of God’s love and not operating out of false love (self-made understanding). First, love is the one basic ethical imperative and all other standards are to be derived from it (Matthew 22:37-40). Ask yourself if your service to God and others is fueled by steadfast love? Secondly, God offers love and forgiveness. His love is the kind that actively seeks out the sinner, just as the father sought out the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). Whose moral ugliness causes you to reject and turn away from them? Thirdly, God’s reign is understood as the rule of love (Kingdom Ethics, 327). His followers enter this reign by fulfilling their roles as loyal subjects of this kingdom. Our goodness, and subsequent good deeds, flow out of the river of God's love. In a very real sense, Christ's Spirit teaches us the way of love, so we can safely claim that those who hunger and thirst after Christ's righteousness will certainly do so beneath an umbrella of Christ's love (Matthew 5:6). We surely see the need for the right source of love and the sustained connection to it. The reservoir of Christ's love should remain filled and flowing.
Gauging the fullness of our love and its flow*
Love inspires hope. Isaiah prophesied that in the Age of Messiah, God would prevail over injustice and establish righteousness in a restored Israel (i.e., His church; Isaiah 65:17-19; Richard Hays, 20). The Church, the new Israel, stands at the crossroads, where the old age of sin and death is passing and the new age of life is dawning (1 Corinthians 10:11). This "new creation" must certainly extend beyond the personal, subjective salvation experience we have had and include the whole created order (cf. literal rendering of 2 Corinthians 5:17; See also Romans 8:18-25). Genuine church community is a redeemed collective, providing people with hope even as they wait for ultimate salvation, the consummation of our hope in the return of the Lord Jesus. Love invites people into this circle of hope.

Cross: In the Apostle Paul's writings, "Jesus' death on the cross is an act of loving, self-sacrificial obedience [italics mine] that becomes 'paradigmatic' for the obedience of all who are in Christ" (Hays, 27). Jesus' death on the cross was not an accident, nor an injustice, but rather an active sacrifice freely offered for the sake of God's people (cf. Galatians 1:3-4). It was a unique event, unrepeatable, that reconciled humanity to God. We have been called to take up this ministry of the cross (reconciliation; 2 Corinthians 5:19b). The Cross becomes, for us, an example to follow (Galatians 6:2). It serves as a metaphor for our actions (burden-bearing; see also Psalm 69:9b and Romans 15:1-3, 7) and our moral imperative to serve others in Christ's love (see Philippians 2:8, 12; Hays, 28). Christ love sacrificially serves others.

New Community: God is at work through the Spirit to create communities that foreshadow and embody "the reconciliation and healing of the world" (Hays, 32). Such communities “confess, worship, and pray together” for God’s glory and “offer the collective sacrifice of serving others sacrificially (Romans 15:7-13; Philippians 2:1-3). In the ultimate sense, an ethic of love is to be unifying, and those outside the faith who may benefit physically from our mercy projects, should benefit also from our community. Our conformity to Christ is to be expressed in our communal practice of loving, mutual service (Galatians 5:13c; 6:1-2).


A “what’s love got to do with it” spirit of the age has led to a growing sea of people who either stopped attending church or have sought another faith community because they could not find any genuinely loving friendships where they were attending. Christians shun this type of worldly love because it creates the emotional cruelty of friendly friendless-ness. Christ love is the antidote.

Prayerfully yours,
Larry C. Ashlock
*I am indebted to Richard Hays in his Moral Vision of the New Testament for writing on the various ethical themes in Paul's writings. These motifs emerge from within Christ's love. I mention three in this article. The fourth is the Centrality of Christ. Many of you will know that we often say "Christ is Center at the Center," meaning we regularly evaluate how well we are demonstrating the love of Christ in this ministry.