Friday, January 15, 2010

Go to all peoples…

I must confess. For some time, I was seriously disillusioned with the Great Commission. And I wasn’t alone. Many of my Christian (and non-Christian) pals found this aspect of Christian faith distasteful. They cringed at its exclusionary mentality. They scoffed at its seeming hubris and conceit. They were shocked by how unlovely a doctrine this Great Commission was, and considered it especially ironic for a religion that speaks so often about ‘Love.’

I say ‘they’ in the sentences above; I mean ‘we.’ For some time, I shared those concerns, and in many respects, continue to still. You might recall a story I’ve shared before, about a conversation that changed my life. I was chatting with a buddy in his car, when religion came up. I, wanting to be a ‘good Christian,’ decided this was my time to do what Jesus wanted- to convince my friend he needed to become a Christian like me. So I lectured him on everything I knew was true- stuff about sin, and God, etc.- and much of that sounded strange to my friend. He answered, “Shane, I gotta be honest, you sound really arrogant.” And it hit me. I wasn’t loving my friend or listening to him. I wasn’t even being honest about my own doubts and fears. Instead, I was doing what I thought my faith required, which was force others to accept a worldview that they just may not find liberating.

This experience was the final straw in my long-awaited break from the traditionalist religion I’d learned as a youth. Finally, I rejected the idea that the mission of Christianity was first, foremost and only about the Great Commission. Many churches think that. I once thought that. No longer, though, and for a while I even thought Christians should never share their faith, ever!

In case you’re unclear about this “Great Commission,” let me explain. At the end of Matthew, after Jesus’ resurrection, he tells his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Like all Scripture, that gets interpreted in many ways. But a famous and powerful interpretation is the so-called “Great Commission,” i.e. that Jesus’ final order to his Disciples was to make everyone in the world become Christian, or die trying. Some even claim that churches should spend no resources, time or talents on any other mission, until all the world confesses that Jesus is Lord.

I think differently. I believe a) our faith prioritizes loving hospitality over indoctrination, and b) Matthew’s final verses mean something very different. Indeed, something valuable Christian congregations can offer our neighborhoods these days is a new example of ‘doing church’ than focusing solely on the Great Commission. For there is another way, and I think it’s amazing! The faith in Jesus that inspires me calls for intimacy between all God’s peoples, deep respect for individuality and free thought, persistent concern for justice, and compassion for the poor and lonely. I know others who’ve been inspired, even transformed by such faith. And this good news could transform many more, if only they knew…

Thus, I’m a born-again fan of these verses in Matthew, and so I chose them as the foundation for our 2010 Congregational Theme. You needn’t believe that all the world needs to be Christian in order to believe that the world needs Christians. Jesus’ brand of faith, his life, death and new life, still have transformational power. Not for everyone, of course, but surely for many. And people should know that. Christians should be proud of that. We can speak powerfully about the wonder and mystery of our faith without being either arrogant or embarrassed. I pray we learn to do that better over the next year. And so will grow as a faith community, provide greater care to our neighbors, and discover our lives and families more invigorated by the ever-present strength and love of our resurrected Lord, Jesus. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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