The Great Commission's Subversive Wisdom

Photo by  Kyle Glenn  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28 is what many of us evangelical Christians point to as our motor for action. We recall how the resurrected Jesus “said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

It is a powerful conviction to any disciple of Jesus to go into the world and make disciples. This scripture is the basis for the mission statement of the UMC which says that we are “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The primary way of understanding this is that we are to go out to baptize, teach so that we may grow the number of followers of Jesus Christ.

However, the subversive wisdom of the great commission is not that other people are converted but rather that we are converted.

Before we can baptize and teach others about Jesus we have to go to all the nations. This going to all the nations has been used as a mission to conquer others. This is a misreading of the commission. We are not to conquer others. If we go into the nations then we would have to first leave our little nations - our bubbles of thought, theology, comfort etc.

To go to the nations means that we have to set aside ourselves, meet, befriend and come to love the ones who are not of our “nation”. When we leave our bubbles, when we leave our homelands of comfort, when we like Abraham set out to the lands unknown, we live by faith. Living by faith converts us.

Superficially the great commission is about spreading the message of Jesus Christ. However, the subversive wisdom in the commission is it is we who are converted because we discover how to love outside our nation (i.e. our enemies).

Theological Orientation of the UMC, great. Tell me about Samaria

This report has been making its way among the internet the past several days. The two main talking points are from the opening line of the report which reads:

The United Methodist Church is a big tent theologically, and people with conservative or traditional religious beliefs make up the largest group under that spreading canvas.”

This has been used to augment different arguments around the denomination about different positions. Conservatives/Traditionalists (C/T) argue that this is proof that there are more C/T and thus the church should move lightly if embracing anything that is progressive. Progressives/Liberals (P/L) say that this study also shows that we are a big tent and majorities are not always the measure of what God desires.

age structure of religions in the usa - pew research.png

Of course we forget that the average age of an United Methodist is 57 … and this was in 2014 (which was the latest that I could find in the time that I allowed myself to research this question). At the same time the clergy are getting older and there are fewer younger people in the pews and pulpits.

All I want to point out is that it is far more interesting (and relevant) to the future of the church to determine the theological orientation of non-members of the UMC.

Who really cares what the self reported theological orientation of those already in the Church is? If scripture has shown us anything it is that the theological orientations of the people of God are often wrong, misguided and susceptible to sin and corruption. One might imagine the people in the desert identifying as traditional as they desired to go back to Egypt. While others might have self identified as progressive as they melted down the gold to form their idol.

If the church of Jesus Christ is to go to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth”, then it is of greater interest to know what those in “Samaria” believe so that the Church can reach to “the ends of the earth.”

Narrow Evangelism Contributes to Church Irrelevancy

The United Methodist Church is, like many organizations, trying to figure out how to connect with young and new people. The emphasis on evangelism is good, but evangelism has become narrow and that is problematic. I believe that the narrowing of evangelism contributes to church irrelevancy. 

Evangelism is a word that has taken a beating the past decade or so. Where I live, Evangelism is often associated with a particular type of American voter. However, Evangelism means Good News, and Good News is not bound to one political party. Over the years, the Church has used the word Evangelism to describe a narrow and set of practices, namely the spreading of the Gospel to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In my lived experience, spreading the Gospel means to make new disciples and thus grow the church. This is not bad, but it is a narrow understanding of what the Gospel is and, in turn, what Evangelism looks like. 

This is problematic because when we over focus on a narrow expression of evangelism, then we overlook the other vital practices of evangelism. If we are busy making new disciples then we will have less time to grieve with current disciples or even visit the home bound or fight for justice. While not all of these actions will make new disciples, they are all acts of evangelism. They are all acts of bringing Good News to the ends of the earth. Narrowing evangelism to focus on the new overlooks the current and the past. 

Photo by  Tim Bish  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Imagine you are a doctor in a hospital and the hospital has invested a lot of resources into birthing new babies. This is a wonderful task to be sure, however there are other forms of treatment and healing that fall within the mission of the hospital. Imagine that as a doctor you are gifted in burn victim recovery. Your gifts are also important and also needed, because people get burned. The problem, from the hospital's perspective, is that they are not set up too well for burn victims only baby delivery. In fact, it might even be seen as a waste of time and resources because burn victims take a long recovery and many of them are not fully recovered. The hospital has set up their funding model and their structure of leadership training and development is based upon how many new babies are born. Those gifted with treating burn victims get discouraged and leave the hospital. The hospital gets the reputation of having a narrow area of concern, new births, that people do not go to the hospital who need to.

At what point does the hospital cease being a hospital and is now a birthing unit?

The Church is called to make disciples to be certain, however becoming a new disciple is not the only Good News of God in Christ Jesus. Good News is as much for the non-disciple as it is for the disciple of Jesus. Doing the work of evangelism is not limited to making new disciples.

Like hospitals, churches have a charge to keep that is multifaceted. And just as we would not expect a hospital to narrowly understand health care, we ought not expect churches to narrowly understand evangelism. 

Thank God this Scripture is false

The final verse in the original ending of the gospel of Mark reads:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. - Mark 16:8

But we know this is false. the women said something to someone otherwise we would not know of this story at all. So this scripture is false. Thank God it is. 

Photo by  Peter Forster  on  Unsplash

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

If my loved one was resurrected I bet that I would be shouting it from the mountain tops! There is a whole industry of books that exist that intrigue so many people. These books share stories of "near death experiences." You may not believe these books, but there is little denial that there is much fear around when people "come back from the dead." So why were these women afraid? 

Perhaps they were afraid because for the most part, stories of people coming back is bad news. The story of Zeus coming back and banishing Cronos is bad news. The Nero Redivivus Legend was the story of how emperor Nero (who had died around the time Mark wrote this gospel) was coming back. The movie depicts Harry Potter's return from the dead was one build on killing (he shot a fireball killing some Death Eaters) and revenge ("We have to kill the snake!").

It may be no wonder the women were fearful when they heard of Jesus' return/resurrection. These women were a part of the group that abandoned, disowned and betrayed Jesus. Maybe they thought he was coming back, like all others who come back from the dead, to bring death and revenge for the sake of "justice." I find it difficult to believe that it would be at this moment the followers of Jesus would have "gotten" his message, when they had yet to understand even while he was alive. I find it difficult to believe that they would have "gotten it" and believed Jesus' resurrection would be a peaceful one. I think they ran because they did not "get it" once more. 

Perhaps the reason the women did say something to someone so that we have this story, is because Jesus does not come back fro revenge or violence. His resurrection is of peace, forgiveness and love. This resurrection, unlike so many others told of old, was Good News. 

So yes, "they said nothing to anyone" is false. Thank God it is. Because if it was true that the women said nothing to anyone and we did not have this story, then Jesus' resurrection would not be Good News, but just more bad news of revenge and death having the final word. 

He is risen, indeed!