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, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”
While Heckel got it right, he also got it wrong. These commands come through Moses, not Jesus, although He did endorse them. Heckel also neglected to give Jesus’ new command, which validates our message. “Love one another as I have loved you that the world will recognize you as my disciples.” It was a new command for a new covenant—a new order for a new order.
The church’s three dimensions. Can we agree our mandated mission is obedience to the three fold Great Commandment—1) to love God, 2) to love our neighbor and 3) to love one another? Some leaders, like Pastor James MacDonald, stress the vertical dimension, loving God. Others focus on the second, loving neighbors. But few acknowledge this vital, third dimension. It’s been neglected or confused with loving our neighbor. Loving our neighbor (the stranger) is very different from loving one another (our family).
The first church’s amazing success was largely because she followed this strategy of Jesus. These believers didn’t just preach a gospel of love, they modeled it by the Christ-like way they treated each other. In the 2nd century a writer characterized the Christian movement this way, ”Look at those Christians, how they love one another.”
We call this missing dimension “the horizontal church” and offer the following for dialogue:
- Christ’s promise is true. It’s our brotherly love that validates our message. The world will take notice if we begin to truly practice love among ourselves. They will ignore us if we don’t. To truly love our neighbor means we want them to come to Christ. To come to Christ, they must see the gospel, not just hear it.
Practical steps must be taken by church leaders. Three we advocate are: 1) promoting deeper koinonia in their flocks through small groups; 2) cooperation with nearby congregations in outreach projects; 3) lead their people to pray, with Christ, agreeing with his plea to the Father, “may they be one, ….let them be one so the world may believe…may they be brought to full unity. Then the world will know that you sent me. “[John 17 Our translation] Notice, this prayer is repeated three times. It must be very, very important.
If love is our mission, then Christianity is about right relationships. If we aren’t right in our relationships within the body, our creeds have no value. Is there any higher doctrine than Christians loving God, neighbors and one another?
We could do it again 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?