Our problem with the Great Commission is really quite simple. I know most of you are familiar with the passage, but let me cite it, highlighting three words we have trouble with.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
First, Jesus has “all authority,” and we are to teach others to obey everything he commanded us. The problem, once again, is simple. We don’t obey what he commanded, and we have no intention to obey what he commanded. Here are four clear, easy examples.
- Sell your possessions and
- Give to the poor.
- Give to him who asks of you, and
- Do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
So, Jesus has all authority, and we reject that authority. I know there are ways to wiggle out of the commands I listed. What I’m focusing on is the simple fact that we don’t obey these commands, and don’t intend to obey them. Our disobedience, whether because of sheer refusal or because of inability, is nearly universal. We read that all authority has been given to Jesus, but we make covenants that allow us to reject his authority. We don’t exhort one another to observe these commands, and usually discuss them in order to explain them away.
[A friend of mine described one of my posts as a rant. That was troubling. I know it’s easy to rant. I’ve done it often enough, although I try to avoid it here. I take seriously the goal that our ministry to be edifying and encouraging. So please bear with me.]
We agree that fulfilling the Great Commission is our overarching mission, yet we don’t obey what we’re supposed to teach. Our mission falls under the rubric of the Great Commission, we supposedly want to bring the world under the authority of Jesus, but have marked out various areas where we have no intention of accepting the Lord’s authority ourselves.
The Edifying and Encouraging Part
I hear people who genuinely want to see revival in the church. Some of them (United Methodists) talk about wanting the United Methodist Church to become more a movement and less an institution. They want spiritual fervor and growth to characterize the church instead of whatever it is they see in front of them.
Sometimes (not always) I hear this desire for spiritual zeal expressed in a polemical context. In polemics, some other group is the reason we don’t see the spiritual zeal we should. “If only they would 1) listen to us, 2) change their minds, 3) go away and bother someone else, or 4) decide to go away so that we don’t have to make them go away.”
It seems obvious to me that if we are concerned about genuine Christian spirituality, we need as individuals to first look within ourselves for the problem. I need to look within myself; you need to look within yourself. The only way I can constructively deal with spiritual lukewarmness is to look inward, look my own lukewarmness square in the eye, take notes, and make decisions. Then and only then can I hope to take the log out of the eye of my brother.
For example, I need to look within myself and ask, “Why am I unwilling to obey Jesus’ command to sell my possessions? Give that money to the poor? Give to him who makes the request? Not ignore the person who asks to borrow?”
I think most people object to taking Jesus’ commands “literally” because the commands are impractical. This is a lowest common denominator explanation. The explanations you generate yourself, however, will be more valuable than anything I can suggest. But along the lines of lowest common denominator explanations for disobedience: simple, literal obedience would interfere far too much with our lives to be worth it; we’ve invested too much, worked too hard, to sacrifice it all for something we know isn’t necessary or practical in the world we live in.
The reasons, excuses, and rationalizations we have for disobedience are evidence that we are not in synch with the one we call “Lord.” Jesus wasn’t joking around when he said this stuff. He was serious, and expected to be taken seriously. He also expected that most people would ignore him. “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord…'”
It should come as no suprise that we’re out of synch with God the Messiah. That’s the reason the Incarnation was necessary. And being out of synch with Jesus brings us to one of our key Christian words, repentance, or μετανοια. The fact that we do not obey and do not plan to obey these commands (not to mention live by other equally significant “implications” of his teachings) is evidence of incomplete μετανοια, unfinished μετανοια. Instead of living in the kingdom, we still live in this κοσμος, according to the values of this κοσμος, the world we live in.
The word μετανοια is commonly translated repentance, but the limited applications of that word as commonly used renders it inadequate and misleading. I think more valuable ways to understand μετανοια include
- a change of mind and heart,
- change of consciousness, and
- to think differently afterward
The μετανοια Christ preached is precisely what would enable us to obey the impractical commands of Christ.
κοσμος: The World We Live In
And why are the commands, values, and principals of Jesus so impractical? I think that question is an easy one. For many of us Jesus is impossible to obey because we are caught in an impossible web of systems: our congregations, denominations, and orders, our covenant obligations and commitments. These all comes under the heading of “world”–κοσμος. The central ideas in κοσμος are system and order–an ordered arrangement, government, and system.
Some of us have another favorite word, sanctification. No, I don’t believe “sanctification” is merely a “favorite word.” To choose the μετανοια that could further our sanctification and bring about something God would recognize as revival, we need to consider the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Bear fruit consistent with μετανοια.”
Our so-called Christian κοσμος is not in synch with Jesus’ commands. This isn’t news to anyone. Any attempt on our part to follow everything that Jesus taught will be stymied by how much time and energy we have invested in the κοσμος. Every yearning for genuine revival and spirituality will be frustrated by our divided allegiance. No one can serve two masters.