Theology

A nuanced look at the Great Commission

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My editor for Patheos sent me a link to this blog post by Cross Examined, asking me to respond to it. It’s about why Christians should ignore the Great Commission, because supposedly it wasn’t meant for them — it was meant for the original disciples.

I read it over, and decided to turn it down — I’m not knowledgeable enough about the Bible or church history to confirm or deny, though I don’t think it’s right to say that sharing our faith doesn’t matter. As we have seen with the recent example of John Allen Chau, there are effective and ineffective — sometimes outright damaging — ways of doing this. Christians as a whole could certainly spend more time analyzing the ways that evangelism can have the reverse effect on the people they are trying to reach.

That entire story — the missionary who embarked on what some have called a “suicide mission” to share Jesus with an isolated tribe on an island near India — has stuck with me. I can’t fully condemn Chau, even though I disagree with his actions, because I know the culture that helped shaped him. I remember having the same passion and zeal for reaching “the lost.”

But I also disagree with the notion that sharing Jesus has one major purpose: to spare people from the agony of hell. I’ve written about my thoughts on hell before, and that’s not something I want to rehash here. Instead, I want to explore why people bother following Jesus at all if he’s good for nothing more than fire insurance.

Part of the whole “reason for the season” rhetoric around Christmas includes the line “Jesus was born to die.” Is that really the case? He was 33 years old when he was crucified — and of those 33 years, he only ministered for 3 of them. Why didn’t God just poof Jesus into existence as an adult, if death was his only purpose? What was the purpose behind having a childhood, an adolescence?

Furthermore, are we really to believe that Jesus serves no purpose in this earthly life, right now, except to secure our destination for the next?

My motive for sharing my faith has less to do with making converts than it does explaining the reasons behind the hope I have.

The reason I can keep going during seasons of worsened depression.

The reason I keep writing even if this blog will likely never go viral, and my books will likely never top the New York Times bestsellers lists.

The reason I was willing to risk the disappointment and potential loss of my Jewish family and friends for professing faith in this first-century carpenter who claimed to also be God.

All of that matters.

The Great Commission says to “Go and make disciples,” but at the same time, not everyone has the gift of preaching or teaching. Some of us are writers (some of us have entire memoirs explaining our faith journeys!). Others are artists, musicians, parents, and businessmen. We all have a place; we all have a built-in “audience,” so to speak, that can get to know our faith as they learn to know us.

I don’t think Matthew 10:14 (“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet”) would have been included in the Bible if consent to hear the message wasn’t important. Which is why I have many reservations about missionary work as a whole, not just Chau’s.

Since the dead can’t come back and preach, all we have before us is this current life. Yes, Jesus came to die (as do we all), but more importantly, he lived. And how he lived is just as important as his death.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
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