What is our mission? In the 1970’s, during a controversy over the church’s mission, Dean Heckel, a highly placed layman in the United Presbyterian Church, addressed the issue at a worship service. “Why do we debate the church’s mission?” he asked. “We all know what it is.” He paused and I leaned forward so as not to miss it. “It’s the love commandment of Jesus Christ, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself.”
I believe Heckel got it right, but he also got it wrong. These commands were given through Moses. not Jesus, although He did endorse them. Heckel also neglected to include the Great Commission and Jesus’ marching orders to his followers. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35, NASB). He laid down a new command for a new covenant—a new order for a new order.
God’s Dream for His Church. If we want to know God’s highest calling, we need look no further than Christ’s pleas to the Father, repeated three times, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, that the world may believe.” (John 17: 21-23, NIV) Isn’t our mission to obey the Great Commandment and fulfill the Great Commission? According to John the apostle, if we love God, we will love one another. According to Jesus, if we love one another, we will reach the world Christ died for.
Some leaders, like Pastor James MacDonald, stress the vertical dimension, loving God. Others focus on the second, loving neighbors. But most tend to overlook loving one another or we equate it with loving neighbors. But it was obedience to this special new law of Christ that characterized the first church.
We call this missing dimension the horizontal church and offer the following thoughts for conversation.
- Is Christ’s promise true? Will the world take notice if we begin to practice mutual love? Jesus said it would. So, if we truly seek to love our neighbor, leaders of the church can take steps to implement Christ’s new order. These could include promoting deeper koinonia in their flocks, cooperation with nearby congregations in outreach and lead their people to pray, with Jesus, for greater love and unity in His church
- One Command, Three Expressions. Loving God, loving one another and loving our neighbor is one whole command, a kind of trinity. They are interconnected. Although they are different, they are equal. If we remove one, we remove the whole.
- The Highest Doctrine. If love is our mission, isn’t Christianity more about right relationships than right creeds and doctrines? Is there any higher doctrine than obeying the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? What would happen if we took Christ at his word and began to put our traditions, doctrinal disputes and denominational ties on the altar of unity in Him? Can we doubt it would honor Christ, please the Holy Spirit and allow the church to accomplish great things once again?
Please join the conversation.