Monday, February 13, 2012

Evangelicals and the Great Mission

"Go and make disciples of all the peoples. Teaching them everything I have taught you. I am with you to the end of the world."
- Jesus (Matthew 28)

Evangelicals live by this, the Great Commission. It's where our movement gets its name from. It's why we are not a denomination, but a movement that encompasses and passes through and above and away from denominational lines. A denomination is fixed in boundaries, yet we've decided to move beyond such limitations.

This is where we get our energy from, and a part of the reason I still consider myself Evangelical.

I'm confident, though, that we are doing great injustice to the Great Commission and our own status as Evangelicals (Messengers of the Good News). I was thinking about this as I was reading Skye Jethani's article in the Huffington Post this morning. Jethani, senior editor for Christianity Today's pastor-centric periodical Leadership Journal, shares a story in which he gave a talk to a church youth group shortly after 9/11 and the pastor, finding that Skye had studied Islam in college, urged him to defraud Islam as a religion of hate. Jethani refused and insisted that 1) that's an inaccurate lie and 2) the beauty of Christ is compelling enough on its own.

The pastor, however, countered that his cabal of youth were surrounded by doubts and needed some assurance that they were on the right path.

I can sympathize with those doubts, yet, if these young men and women were to continue to follow the insecure faith of their pastor, they'd be better off with doubt. Although he's trying, in his own way, to fulfill the GC, he's acting counter to it. As is much of Evangelicalism.

The Great Commission is sadly misunderstood in two important and related dynamics. And those two dynamics are integral to how Evangelicalism has been failing the GC that we feel is core to our identity and that we cherish*.

First, we make disciples not by forcing or manipulating others to believe as we do, but by demonstrating. Jesus's words give comfort, not traditional triumphalism. It is not through war or emotional trickery, nor telling others how awful they are that we are able to demonstrate the wonderfulness of Jesus. We make disciples by focusing on the teachings of Jesus.

Secondly, we confuse the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of our religion. The teachings of Jesus are pretty simple: Love. That's the gist of it. Love. Share one another's burdens. When someone asked Jesus who is going to heaven just a few chapters before his Great Commission, he answered that those who practice love to the "least of these" - by visiting the imprisoned and feeding the hungry and comforting the afflicted - will be welcomed. Those who DON'T will be turned away. It is they, not Muslims or atheists or Catholics, who will be shunned at the door, who are called "workers of iniquity."

Jesus' teachings aren't on specific doctrines, nor how other religions suck (in point of fact, he said we should "take the log out of your own eyes before considering his or her splinter"). They certainly aren't centered on Capitalism or Marxism (although he made many, many fine points about the evils of wealth that American churches would do well to not navigate around- if we want to see heaven, that is.). Neither did he teach to be politically partisan.

In fact, Jesus taught extensively about loving our enemies - particularly those who we've been trained to hate.

It would do American Evangelical pastors some good to follow Jesus' teachings more often. After all, they've got congregants filled with doubt.

* In saying this, I want to stress that the GC is, IMO, a great thing and should be followed. But not in the way it is/has been misapplied, misunderstood, and abused.

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