Quick break from Letters to Rae.
Yesterday I met with several brothers in Christ to discuss the principles of abolition, specifically the idea that Christians have a duty with regard to the abortion holocaust. I might write another post to sort my thinking out on various nuances, but for now I’m going to reblog the following post from my friend Rolley Haggard of Breakpoint, which was spinning through my head the entire discussion.
The Greater Commission
By Rolley Haggard
There is no higher calling of God upon the church and the individual believer than to proclaim the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission. Right?
There is a Greater Commission.
It is generally referred to as the Great Commandment, and it has two parts: To love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourself. When Jesus laid down these two “love commandments” He emphatically declared “there is none other commandment greater than these”.
Not even the Great Commission.
So why is it so many Christians, including first-rate scholars, bristle at the mere suggestion that there is something more important for the church than the Great Commission?
Why is it that, despite vivid, in-your-face, impossible-to-misunderstand, unforgettably-plain statements like the one of Christ just quoted, church leaders and pew-sitters alike take exception to the idea that there might be a “commission” greater than evangelizing the lost?
Volumes could be, and have been, written in answer to that question. Those new to the debate will find the defenses elaborate and perhaps even impressive.
Some, however (present writer included), find them unconvincing instances of religious overthink wholly unable at the end of the day to explain why, for example, America is headed into its 41st (!) year of legalized abortion-on-demand. For if, as these defenders of the status quo maintain, “it is only when the church is doing something other than engaging in social justice missions that it actually shapes members ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God’ (Mic. 6:8)”, then where, pray tell, are all these members that are supposed to have been shaped to do justice and to love kindness? In light of the bold affirmations that keeping the so-called “main thing the main thing” will produce these culture warriors in droves, their actual paucity is nothing less than astonishing.
Clearly, something is seriously wrong with the extant missional formula.
It’s no mystery what that something is. Jesus told us what it is. Paul told us what it is. James told us what it is. John told us what it is. It isn’t complicated: We’ve simply got our priorities reversed. We’ve put ministry ahead of love. We’ve failed to differentiate between the church’s primary mission and its exclusive mission. We’ve put the Great Commission ahead of the Greater.
This isn’t a word game. It isn’t just semantics or some academic exercise that ultimately adds nothing to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, or worse, does positive mischief to it by raising a needless distraction.
It matters and it matters hugely. I would argue that lack of clarity on, and priority to, the church’s Greater Commission is the single most significant factor to account for why we are living in a culture of death today. I would argue that it is the chief reason there has not been more effort by the church to try and end abortion and many other social evils plaguing our world.
The corollary to Farmer’s brilliant insight is that nothing is more important than people –any people, all people. Nothing, not even evangelism. That’s why Jesus made love for our neighbor our first priority after loving God. Indeed, John the apostle said we prove our love for God whom we have not seen precisely by loving our neighbor whom we have seen.
Ideas have consequences. Just as evil inevitably ensues whenever we get the idea that some people are more important than others, so does it when we regard a thing –anything– as more important than people. There is nothing more important than people. If we don’t get that, we really don’t get the whole point of the cross of Jesus.
Yet we, the church, stumble over this daily, globally, when we prioritize the Great Commission ahead of the Greater Commission. We inevitably wind up acting as though human lives matter less than the proclamation of the gospel; that words, doctrines, ideas, campaigns, causes, programs, and ministries are more important than people. It’s a subtle difference, but one that has stunningly profound implications, as 55 million murdered infants could testify – if they could testify.
The church, regardless of intent, in reckoning the Great Commission its first priority, makes the activity of evangelism more important than the people it is evangelizing. An inexpensive tape-recorder could dispense the word if dispensing the word was all that God wanted done. But He wants us to love people. Tape-recorders can’t do that.
There is no question God wants us to dispense His beautiful words of life. But He wants us to do it the way He did. He did not merely speak the word to us, He became the Word in His body. And in that living, breathing, sweating, aching, bleeding body He loved us more than His own comfort, more than His own convenience, more than His own life. That is how God in Christ “proclaimed” the gospel of His saving love. He incarnated it. His word was an incarnate love sonnet written in crimson hemoglobic ink on human vellum. He valued people above all things and gave us salvation’s narrative “not in word only, but in deed and in truth.”
Surely, if we have learned anything from the sorry history of mankind, and, yes, of the church as well, it is this: That when it comes to human sin, what can be will be. If it is possible for us to evangelize without loving people we will do it.
The apostle Paul said it is indeed possible, and what else can we make of our actions since Roe v. Wade? On pretext of delivering “what Christ most wants from His church” we’ve turned a blind eye to the ruthless slaughter of almost 20% of our population while, with infinite irony, spieling on about the love of God like so many soulless tape-recorders.
Jesus deliberately put love above evangelism, purposely gave us a Greater Commission, not only to keep us from valuing things above people, but also, paradoxically, to insure the effectiveness of our evangelism. Remarking on human nature, English Puritan Richard Baxter observed that, “If they can see you love them, you can say anything to them.”
Putting the Greater Commission ahead of the Great Commission as Christ intended is a win/win proposition. Priority really is everything.
Back to Basics
Addendum By Nate
This is like, Christianity 101 stuff. How do people not see this? How have we fallen this far? I can’t help but wonder what Jesus or the apostles would say to the American church after speaking so incredibly clearly on the importance and nature of love. I imagine their rebuke would sound a lot like the following:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
— Hebrews 5:11-14
I’m just as guilty of believing Satan’s lies as the next guy, but that’s why God gave us His word — to uproot the false ideas that are destroying our lives, and those of the people around us. I only hope that we have the humility to change when the Lord reveals those bad ideas, and the concrete practices of our lives where we don’t reflect His character or His love.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Further Reading: Gospel-Centered