“Amo” or “Credo” by L. Willard Reynolds (1968)

May 3, 2013

I have been rummaging again in the Friends Journal archive. Access to back issues is a terrific benefit of a subscription. In the June 15, 1968 issue (page 296) I found this gem, “‘Amo’ or ‘Credo’?” by L. Willard Reynolds, then a pastor in Nebraska Yearly Meeting (FUM).  His piece–could have been written today–follows.


 Robert Frost, in an exquisite little poem, pictures two roads meeting in a wood. He chose the less traveled one, he says “and that has made all the difference.”

This is only another version of the “wide gate” and the “narrow gate” of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said it was the less-traveled way that leads to life; he also said that the choice makes all the difference.

What is this “less traveled road”? And what is its wide but tragic alternative?

Jesus’s great word was “love.” The great word of the church has been “believe.” As two roads may diverge by imperceptible degrees, so it has been with the chosen path of the church. It may seem incredible to suggest that the church has from the beginning taken a wrong turn. But this can be seen, I believe, when we look at two similar incidents in the Biblical records of Jesus and Paul.

In Luke 10, a lawyer tests Jesus with the question “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In Acts 16, the Philippian jailer asks Paul the same question in only slightly different words: “What must I do to be saved?” Note the contrasting answers of Jesus and of Paul.

Jesus draws the reply from the lawyer’s own lips n the words of the great commandments, the love of God and neighbor. Love God with all your being, he says, and your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live. To make his meaning crystal clear, he gives us the magnificent story of the Good Samaritan. It is made unmistakably plain that to love God in terms of loving service to one’s neighbor is the way that leads to life. The key word is love.

Turn now to Paul’s answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The key word here is believe. Here the church has chosen to follow Paul rather than Jesus. And this has made a world of difference.

Endlessly the church has repeated, “Believe in Jesus! Believe in Christ!” This would not have diverged from the way of Jesus if the church had spelled out its meaning in terms of love. But it has not been made clear that to “believe in Jesus” means to believe in the way of love. Instead it has meant innumerable other things: vicarious atonement, the virgin birth, miracle-worker, transubstantiation, second Person of the Trinity, second advent, avenging warrior on the white horse, the Apostles’ Creed, orthodoxy, Biblicism, and so forth. This road has led us into the jungle of so-=called “faiths,” where all too often love is almost forgotten and, as Tennyson says,

Christian love in Christian churches/ Looked the twin of heathen hate.

Some of the most warlike nations in the world today are those where belief in Christ has been most widely professed. It was “Christian” America that developed the atomic bomb and used it in war. Believers in Christ line up with the “hawks” as well as the “doves”—possibly in greater numbers.

Of course the church has not rejected the law of love. It includes it in its gospel. Multitudes of its members have walked in the way of love. In spite of the misplaced emphasis of the church, the gospel story itself has steadily borne witness that God is love and that he who would love God must love his neighbor also. But all too often this has not been the major emphasis of the church.

Currents of change are stirring throughout the religious world. People are concerned for the renewal of the church. They are calling for the gospel to be made relevant to life. A good place to begin would be with the commandment to love. Preach love. Teach love. Study love. Talk love. Honor Christ by practicing love. He will not be dishonored by saying less of “Lord! Lord!” if we are more concerned to do what he says. And this is his commandment “that you love one another.”

L. Willard Reynolds of Grinnell, Iowa, a member of Nebraska Yearly Meeting, has been a pastor in a number of Friends churches within Friends United Meeting. He has remained actively connected with the work of the American Friends Service Committee ever since he served that organization in France in 1919-20.

Also posted on River View Friend.

Views: 254

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 4, 2013 at 8:15am

My first reaction to this essay is that it poses a false dichotomy: either belief or love, but apparently not both at once.  Love is a value which calls for further interpretation before it can be implemented.  How does one know what is loving or unloving without some criteria for making such judgments?  And where are such criteria to be found?  For me and many others, such criteria are to be found in the Bible and in Christian faith.

I think that love and belief are inextricably bound up with each other, and cannot be pulled apart without doing violence to their meaning.  Doctrine without love is surely not the way of Christ.  On the other hand, love as an abstraction without specification of what it means in terms of Christian faith can lead to dangerous consequences.

I read not long ago that the charity in our country with the highest level of per capita giving is Christian Aid Ministries.  CAM is the conservative Anabaptist alternative to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and its supporters probably score almost off the scale in terms of their Biblical orthodoxy.  In the real world, Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul represent one Gospel, not two divergent ones.  The Atonement is the ultimate expression of the real meaning of love!



Comment by Doug Bennett on 5th mo. 5, 2013 at 9:00am

It does seem like a false dichotomy, doesn't it, and like most dichotomies, probably is false once we understand the matter deep down. After all, Jesus tells us "Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47 NIV).

What fascinated me about this piece is, first, that it sounds like it could have been written as a blog post just last week, and, second, that the author was a long-serving pastor in an FUM church. Much of the FUM world is coming down pretty hard today on the 'belief' side of the false dichotomy.

So how should we to understand 'love' and how should we understand 'belief' so that we are not led into this trap? More pointedly, if your neighbor is drawn through prayer and worship to have specific beliefs that diverge from yours, what does love ask of us?

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 5, 2013 at 4:31pm

Doug Bennett wrote: "Much of the FUM world is coming down pretty hard today on the 'belief' side of the false dichotomy."

And I reply: Western civilization has marginalized Christian faith and ethics over the last several decades.  This is true even in the Society of Friends in America and western Europe. So, it really shouldn't surprise us to find that "belief" has come into sharper focus among Friends, and that it generates lots of strife.

If one stands up to the liberal Quaker establishment, one can count on substantial opposition, including bullying.  I am "Mr. Quaker nobody" and even I have been vilified many times as a "fundamentalist".  For many liberal Friends, anyone who is orthodox in faith is a "fundamentalist", and they don't bother making distinctions or qualifying their judgments!!

My wife and I were disfellowshiped in 2002 by an OYM local meeting.  We took refuge in a conservative Mennonite fellowship that was starting at that time in our county.  This mission group is affiliated with the Southeastern Mennonite Conference, which grew out of a schism around 1970 in the more pluralistic Virginia Mennonite Conference.  The Southeastern Conference has a high degree of consensus in faith and practice.  Consequently, conflict resolution is not something I have had to worry much about!!!  Sounds like a rather dull life, doesn't it?

Were I faced with trying to find my way through the Ohio Yearly Meeting theological thicket, I would turn to the scholarship of Willard Swartley.  His involvement at Eastern Mennonite College overlapped with mine, and I listened to many of his sermons at chapel.  Willard is a first class Bible scholar, and has written several books on the Bible and Christian ethics.  Try Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpret....  Also, take a look at Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment .  Or, check out Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.

Bill Rushby



Comment by Howard Brod on 5th mo. 5, 2013 at 10:06pm

Thanks Doug.  I loved the old Friends Journal article.  Of course, what else would you expect this long-time liberal Quaker to say  :-)

As I grow older I am ever more certain that as I lay dying one day, I will be brought comfort by dwelling on those I have loved, those who have loved me, and the love of God that has brought meaning to my life.  I won't give a damn about belief.  And I don't "believe" in my heart that Jesus will either.


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