VM20_05 The Theology of the Love Commandment • Vision Magazine

VM20_05 The Theology of the Love Commandment

Leonard Evans, ,

[10] Vision Magazine, no. 20, Mar - Apr 1977

The Theology of the Love Commandment.

Leonard Evans

I came to Christ 41 years ago in a classic conversion with an experience of Christ's love and a passion to preach. My wife wanted me to go into banking, but I was young, theoretical, and hopeful. Over the years 1 had seen the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives, and 1 passionately wanted to serve Him. After spending World War II in the Navy, I went to North-Western University and struggled with the problems of existentialism and the Kantian critique. I entered a doctoral programme at Princeton Theological Seminary, and studied the current thinkers. It dawned on me that the tremendous theologies of these great men had somehow missed something essential. When I left seminary, I took two small, rural Presbyterian churches.

If seminary has its special agony, rural churches have an exquisite type of agony peculiar to themselves. At the installation dinner, the man who installed me said, "Leonard, you do not have a church, you have a country club." I quickly discovered that many of our churches are not really ordered around the gospel of Jesus Christ or His power to transform, but around a routine of liturgical forms and meetings.

Paul says in Romans 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the gospel It is the power of God unto salvation." On paper that is very good; in the average church, it is a riddle. I faced two problems: how do you communicate the gospel so as to penetrate the facade and defences of your congregation, that they become spontaneously alive personalities in Christ, and how do you so motivate your people so that they become creative persons in the Lord? I lost both battles.

I became angry with prophetic anger. I wanted to see my church reach the acme of all my ideals. So, with logic, with simplicity, with the Word and with the gospel, I attacked them - Sunday after Sunday - with a vicious love.

My wife began to sing a little ditty which brutalized me: "I am the good shepherd, I beat my sheep." (To say the least, she lived at some analytical distance from my preaching). I came to have two goals: first, to produce the church; second, to create in my wife a spiritual personality that would adorn my ministry. Betty is beautifully and stubbornly independent, so much so that I lovingly call her "Hardhead". She was determined that whatever goals I had for her, they would never be realized.

To the Inner City

After that country parish, I turned down several tempting offers and moved to the inner city of Newark, NJ. I leapt in with all my vigour of learning and dedication and messianic psychology. I was a member of a committee that analyzed inner-city problems, and closed our own churches with delicacy, and worse, sold them to Pentecostals. Added to this was the polarity between what we call "the evangelicals" and the "liberals." Both were saying something that I knew was essential and from the Word of God. I identified with those who wanted to serve their fellow man, and with those who wanted to promote the cause of Jesus Christ. I felt like a man between two camps.

Intellectually, I moved into a profound despair. I would not permit emotional despair, but intellectually, I lost my faith in the hope of the Church. In that despair - more than 13 years ago -1 threw myself on the study floor of the

[11] Vision Magazine, no. 20, Mar - Apr 1977

Roseville Presbyterian Church in Newark and asked God to take my life. I wanted out. Being a devout coward, I gave Him an option: if He could possibly offer me reality, whatever that was, I would take it.

Very quickly, I heard about the healing ministry of Jesus Christ from a man who testified to a healing through Oral Roberts. (He was not Princeton, and that irritated me greatly). I didn't understand the man's story, but I began to study the New Testament, and saw that healing actually happened, not just among the bathrobe and beard set but also (possibly) today. Later I met an elder from a Presbyterian church who pointed out three remarkable women who, he said, "prayed in the Spirit." It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing, and I went home and studied the Book of Acts carefully. Later, God led David du Plessis to me in a marvellous way and he was able to answer many of my questions. This was the beginning of a search which eventually led to my receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

At first my wife did not know what had happened, nor was she particularly impressed. Neither was my congregation. The Full Gospel Business Man's Fellowship International was impressed, and I "itinerated" for 11 years around the country speaking to various FGBMFI gatherings. But I always had to come back to Roseville, and Hardhead. It was not as glamorous as those large congregations with hungry people. My church loved me and my wife loved me, but it is very difficult to live with messianic personalities. Betty suffered terribly under my great drive to win men to Christ and change the world.

To Canada

I began to feel that perhaps I needed a change and asked Presbytery for a leave of absence. I went to a church in Canada where everyone had had the charismatic experience and where I thought I would be with the swingers. We would have no one holding us back, hallelujah! They were a marvellous congregation. Their prayer meetings were different from the Presbyterian church services. So were board meetings: we actually got down on our knees and prayed for an hour before we did business. That congregation could pray and pray and pray.

At first, I was enchanted by this whole new charismatic dimension, then I began to notice things that rather frightened me. They all spoke in tongues and occasionally there was a prophecy, but they wouldn't cross the street to help too many people. I knew they had something elusively missing. I thought, "Lord, is this what I've been searching for?" I began to have questions, severe questions - and they did, too.

The honeymoon was about over. The congregation and I began looking at each other wondering what was blocking the flood of blessing. They already knew - Me! They said it in looks rather than words. The impression they gave every time they passed me was, "We're praying for you, pastor."

They said, "Pastor, you need the anointing." I said, "I don't know what it is." They said, "Yes, but you need it." I tried, but I never got the "anointing." They kept saying, "Pastor, you have to be filled with the Spirit." I finally went to God and said, "God, please, teach me what it means to be filled. I

[12] Vision Magazine, no. 20, Mar - Apr 1977

don't pretend to be intellectual at this point, to be a child is enough for me." I entered the happiest period of my life soon after that.

To Scripture

About three months later, in my study, I came across 1 John 1:3 (it is like Beethoven's Ninth: it's worth going over again): "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. " I knew that this fellowship was tremendously exciting and alive for the early church, and for John who wrote it. I thought this fellowship should be exciting and alive for us too, but even among my charismatic brethren, fellowship often seemed to be dead.

I continued to study the Scripture, seeking an answer. I went to 1 John 1:5-7 and began to hunger for the fellowship he talks about there. The loneliest place in the world can be the ministry. I never realized before how utterly alone I felt, how lonely in Presbytery, how lonely in committee, how isolated from real fellowship with my fellow clergy. We did not communicate or share at a level that was deep; we rarely prayed at a level that was real.

I came to 1 Peter 1:22: "Having purified your soul by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. " \ began to sense that here was something which had eluded me all my life, even in the charismatic. The goal of the gospel and the purpose of Pentecost is not to make me a lover of God (that's easy), but to make me a lover of my brother. In 1 Thess. 3:12-13, I found again that the thrust was not toward intensification of religious experience, but toward real relationships and real fellowship. God is the infinite faucet of love. By faith, we hook the hose of our life up to Him. Then we make the mistake of trying to shoot the water back to the faucet, rather than to our fellow man.

I was becoming very excited. I began to ponder what would happen if we loved this way. In the systemization we did at seminary, we had answers, but the world is looking for people who will demonstrate the power of the love of God.

To the Beginning

I said, "Father, I don't know where to begin." He said, "Do you have any ideas?" I said, "'I have a hunch - You mean with Hardhead?" I had looked for God inside myself and in the world around me, but the one place I had not seriously looked was across my kitchen table. I looked at Hardhead again and said, "God You wouldn't?" You wouldn't hide Yourself for 20 years there? Lord, I've been trying to be a theologian." He said, "Forget it. For six months wash her feet, love her to death." I said, "Father, You can't impress people with this." He said, "No, not really, but go ahead. She deserves it."

It was fantastic what God did. My wife had fought the baptism of the Spirit for four years. I loved her for three months and she came into it. When I looked at Betty, she did look different. When we looked at the children, they looked different. We started to enter a romantic period in which we are becoming ever more irreligious, praise God. Jesus said, 'If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. " I think we have to get free even from some superpietisms and over spirituali/ations plaguing us. Give me a man who can make his wife happy, and I will how you a Christian who will endure to the end.

To the Church

After this the Lord spoke to me again. (I don't hear voices, but I get messages from the Word). "Have you ever tried loving your church?" I said, " You don't love your church Lord, you lift them." I said, "That's sneaky, Lord, that's really sneaky." He said, "Try it." I did, and it worked. The only thing He hadn't told me was that He would change me. I fell in love with my congregation.

My church is a little evangelical church, very orthodox, far right of centre, pure gospel. They wouldn't merge with Methodist because Methodists were part of

[13] Vision Magazine, no. 20, Mar - Apr 1977

[photo caption: Rev. Leonard Evans & Rev. Alan Langstaff during the conference]

what is known as the World Council of Churches. At my candidate sermon, I preached on Jesus' command to love one another, and said, "If you would like to walk with me this way, it can be terribly exciting, but extremely dangerous, because love knows no limits." When they called me as their pastor, they said, "We like your love message, Pastor. What do you believe about sanctification?" I said, "Pardon?" They said, "What do you believe about holiness?" I said, "Pardon; I think I believe in it, but riot the way you do." They looked at me very strangely, but they said, "We think we like you."

I came and I began to preach. I preached "love one another" for two years. The whole church board began to meet with me at least every six weeks to say, "Pastor, unless you change your message you have to leave. There's more to the gospel than loving one another," I said, "Perhaps. When I find it, I'll preach it." They got angry: they were sure I was a humanist-liberal in sheep's clothing. They watched me with a seriousness that was dreadful. They were frightened to death.

One day I met a beautiful Roman Catholic priest at a Full Gospel Businessmen's conference and asked him to come down some time and speak to our people. He said: "Sure. Next Sunday?"! said., "Ouch." I had an idea what this was going to mean. The priest arrived on Sunday with six young people, a monsignor and three other priests. My people stared those priests down the aisle; it was the first time their territory had been so invaded.

When he stood up to preach the congregation exhibited the sobriety attached to dangerous situations; their throats constricted, the musculature was playing on their faces. They saw the danger of the Reformation being upended: all the things of the past were in absolute confrontation. He began with words that could absolutely not endear him to the congregation, "I am a Roman Catholic priest." The silent screams went through the roof. He said, "I come from a family of 17 priests, and I intend to remain a priest." All hope for his conversion died, and despair settled in their hearts.

He leaned across the pulpit, sensing their tautness, and said, "You have to love me. Why don't you relax?" They did, like cats on a hot tin roof. They were measuring everything he said against their theology. But as the Holy Spirit spoke through him, they melted and melted and melted. By the end of the evening, we had survived the first ordeal. God began to do the most powerful ecumenical work in that little congregation that I have ever seen in my life.

To Joy

My chief elder fought it, saying, "Leonard, there is more to the gospel than loving. If you don't change we're going to have to ask you to leave." I loved him, and stood with him, toe to toe, for two years. Meanwhile, the church was growing so fast it was bursting out at the seams.

I went on vacation, and when I came back my tough chief elder met me in the back of the church, grabbed hold of me and hugged me. When I tried to back away after a decent embrace, he grabbed me again. He said, "Leonard, I've been reading the Bible to prove you wrong, but love is on every page, isn't it? Praise God. We are going to do it." He did a 180-degree turn, and the church soared out of all

[14] Vision Magazine, no. 20, Mar - Apr 1977

dimension. People began to come in droves. This tough elder now puts men's heads on his shoulders and cradles them in their need. People are being saved and changed and healed. There is a dimension of love I never knew one could have in a church.

Preaching used to be such a terrible thing. The congregation would sit in dire sobriety: "Oh, the Good Samaritan again. Can't preach it like Dr. Jones did." Now I preach to 450 to 500 people in a little church with only 175 members. The kids are winking, the adults are looking with such love, that all I do half the time is grin at them. While we are grinning at each other, people get hungry for God.

We do not need programmes for the young people when we have adults that love. We don't even try to be spiritual anymore. We don't have to. I believe more and more that the walk in the Holy Spirit is a down-to-earth thing - a practical laughing, an easy supernaturalism that is electrifying, winsome, attractive, in which the word of God is immensely powerful. "You just love them," the Lord said, "and while you're loving them I'll save the, I'll heal them, I'll bridge the gaps, I'll heal the marriages."

I may not be theologically astute, but I am just about the happiest pastor on the face of the earth. I'm falling in love with people, not charismatics. God forbid we live in any kind of ghettos anymore. I want to fall in love with the whole mankind.

Leonard Evans is a minister of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. A well-known speaker at charismatic conferences.

Copyright Reproduced with permission from "New Covenant" magazine. For enquiries regarding Australian subscriptions to "New Covenant" write to Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, Box 91 P.O. Red Hill, Qld., 4059.

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