For hundreds of years the evangelical church has pushed the “great commission” as a numbers game, a contest to see who can “save the most sinners”. Our commission is clearly not to “save” people, rather to disciple them, which refers to a relational process of leading by example.
How in the world did we mix up community for conversion?
Somewhere, the evangelical church decided that “getting into” heaven was the ultimate purpose of man, and all of our “gifts, skills, and abilities” should fight for this one goal. This ideal radically changes the pursuit of ones daily life as well as their interaction with God, their father. If, for you, heaven is the goal then why would you bother caring for your neighbor, growing in integrity, or fleeing from random sexual encounters with someone who is as equally as fragile as yourself? You wouldn’t. You would simply tell the people you come in contact with that they are a wretched, rotten sinner and if they died today, they would burn in an eternal barbecue pit… Or maybe, you would say this same thing in the form of a manipulative question… So, if all you had to do was tell people they are going to hell, unless they let you lead them in a prayer, why would you change the man/woman who you stare at in the mirror?
I can say this, because I didn’t…
My reformed, evangelical theology taught me that heaven was the goal, and everything up until then could be viewed as preventative maintenance, because the salvation that I had obtained by an echoed prayer could never be lost. Now, there was of course a pressure to stay in alignment w/ Jesus, a pressure that I believe was well intended, much like the religion of the Pharisees. An attempt to keep the heard in line, which of course is the role of a pastor, however, as many of us know, some shepherds stray further than their sheep. Some churches that I have attended had massive facilities, flashy entertainment equipment and deep employee structures, which of course must be funded, by you and I. And so, a little guilt would be used in a sermon, just enough to make you a faithful attendee because alongside of the guilt, a glimmer of grace would also be offered… It’s much like an abusive relationship, your significant other tells you how bad you screw up and all of the things they don’t like about you, or your role in the relationship, but in Casanova type fashion follow-up those words with flowers or “I’m sorry, I love you” statements.
I think you see the picture.
What if our ultimate purpose is to understand, experience and respond to God’s perfect, unending love? What if the great commission really means, “go and duplicate yourself, in whatever part of the world you reside, do this by allowing people the opportunity to witness how much your God loves you and the amount of joy and freedom you are able to live in, then baptize them and encourage them to live like you, as you live like Jesus.
That makes my heart feel different… It makes me feel alive, to know that the purpose of my existence isn’t to guilt people into “going to heaven” by bringing a message of death and decay, but rather I get to say, “Jesus has set my heart ablaze, now watch me burn and live life as I live life!”
Once we understand, as a people, that there is more to this life than trying to get to another… because maybe, just maybe, receiving the gift of eternal life isn’t as regimented as we’ve made it, because maybe, it actually lies within the balance of God’s grace and judgment, not ours… and if this is true, we will finally see at least one nation run back into the arms of their Father and respond to Him by living a glorifying life, led by grace and not guilt that others can watch and follow.
I am going to end with these words that have been shared with me by a man I trust more than most people who have ever lived… he says,
“You get Jesus for free, but Christ will cost you everything.”