The Great Commission
This week at the Gathering we will welcome Sarah Henken, a mission coworker from South America; more about her later. In honor of her joining us, we are going to spend some time with that well-known missional charge, Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission.
For me, the Great Commission is the best closing for any of the Gospels. I like it because it puts the reader in the position of answering “now you have heard the witness, so what are you going to do about it?” I think I like that because it is a strong reminder that Faith and Action go together. In other words, just because we are saved does not mean that we sit on our hands and do nothing. This reminder that our faith is not supposed to be passive challenges us to go beyond our comfort and attempt to connect with people through sharing God’s love.
Unfortunately, The Great Commission, in the past, has been abused. Though many people do not know or remember, this statement was used as a justification for many hideosities including colonialism to genocide. While not part of most mission now, the taint of its use and the horrible aftermath helps us to see why so many show a hesitancy to accept Christian missionaries and Christianity. We also see this abused as we explore religious wars and discrimination.
The abuse of The Great Commission comes from a reading that suggests it is the duty of Christians to convert and baptize. While this is true, the passage does not suggest that it is our role to do the conversion; rather, our role is to share, and God will bring them to belief.
This means that The Great Commission is not a justification or even a call to forcefully bring people to faith, but it is to spread the loving message of Christ to the world. The inference is that this message of Love is so compelling that they will desire on their own to accept.
For denominations like ours, missions of love and compassion were central for our understanding of the Great Commission. This is why, rather than handing out tracts, most our missions are connected to the question of how we help a community become better. Though with the cloud of colonialism, even at that we take a further step back to ask what the needs are and how do we best witness to God through our works and love.
Historically we have seen the Great Commission put into work through making our community better by establishing everything from public school systems to many major hospital networks. Today, we live out the Great Commission by recognizing that the church is part of the mission of God in our community, and it is therefore a beacon of light and hope to our communities and place where we share Christ’s love so that they may come to believe.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen