“The church is always more than a school …. But the church cannot be less than a school. Its faith, hope, and love all express themselves in teaching and confession.”
Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), 1
There is always a desire to give a soundbite for what it means to be disciples of Christ. One of the most popular ways that I’ve encountered to describe the faith is, “Love God; love others.” This sounds great at first. It is neat and simple. It is based on what Jesus named as the two greatest commands (or teachings or suggestions, etc.). All I need to do is love God and love others and I’ve got this Christianity thing licked. Sometimes we can get it further simplified by demonstrating our love for God by loving others. Usually the loving of others is some vague idea of being nice to people. In other instances, it may be that we do some real good for people, particularly the homeless, by providing meals, clothing, shelter, etc. These things are, indeed, part of loving others, but it almost seems in these instances that we alone are providing for these people. It can easily become a way of patting ourselves on the back. We will talk about how much we have learned or how we have seen God in these people. However, we rarely seem to give much time to what it truly means to love God and love others. We think it should be self-evident, but it’s not. Fertility cults could also claim the mantra, “Love God; love others,” but for them that love would be of a different sort. One that we would say, rightly, is not at all in line with the Gospel.
This is why it is important to know that the church is both a school and more than a school. There are deeper meanings behind our faith, hope, and love. It is more than a tagline when Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV). There is long tradition of teaching behind those words, and there is a long tradition of teaching that follows. Jesus points us in this direction when he goes on to say, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (v. 40). These two commandments help to point us into a proper understanding of Scripture, but we must also remember that Scripture gives content to these two commandments. It is in the ongoing school and tradition of the church that we come understand what it means to love God and love our neighbors.