“Let us do good to all men, but especially to believers, fellow members of God’s family with you.” (Gal 6:10 )
What is our mission? In the 1970’s, during a controversy over the church’s mission, Dean Heckel, a highly placed layman in a Presbyterian denomination, addressed the issue at a worship service. “Why do we debate the church’s mission?” he asked. “We all know what it is. 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.”
Heckel got it right, but also got it wrong. These commands did not come through Jesus but through Moses, though our Lord endorsed them. Heckel also left out the great commission and Jesus’ neglected mandate,
“A new command I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34, 35). He laid down a new command for a new covenant—a new order for a new order.
Some leaders, like Pastor James MacDonald, stress the vertical dimension, loving God. Others focus on the second, loving neighbors. But many overlook loving one another or they equate it with loving neighbors. Because early believers obeyed this command, they successfully reached their neighbors and the church grew exponentially.
Can we expect to reach our neighbors when our reputation is divisive and judgmental?. According to Jesus, if we love one another, we model the reality of God’s love to the world. We might begin to do this in our own fellowships by forgiving past slights and hurts, by showing honor to and encouraging one another. We could also reach out to neighboring congregations to find ways we might work together.
God’s Dream for His Church. If we want to know God’s high calling for his church, we need look no further than Christ’s pleas to the Father, repeated four times in his high priestly prayer, “May they all be one, Father as you and I are one, that the world may believe.” (John 17: 14, 21-23, NIV). Jesus prayed for our spiritual unity. This can come only by showing love for each other in practical ways. Institutional unity, such as the ecumenical movement promoted, accomplishes little. But what miracles we’d see if local churches made it their goal to heal their divisions and put doctrinal and denominational differences on the altar of unity for his sake!
Unity through love we believe, is the missing dimension in our churches. We call this The Horizontal Church. We celebrate our vertical relationship with God through prayer and worship, but how do we know if we’re truly loving God. John tells us. ”We can’t see God, but we can see our brother. When we show love for our brother we are loving God also. (1 John 4:12). Later in that chapter John added that if we don’t love our brother we can’t say we love God.
The following thoughts are offered for conversation.
- Is Christ’s promise true? Will the world take notice of our message if we model and practice mutual love and seek ways to work together? Let’s assume they would. What practical steps might church leaders take? They could seek to promote deeper koinonia in their flocks, make small groups a priority, cooperate with nearby congregations in outreach projects and lead their people to pray for greater love and unity in His body. What divides us? Some beliefs are more important than others. But do we have to agree on everything before coming together in cooperative efforts? Can we put the mission of the church ahead of doctrinal preferences, placing them on the altar of Christ’s love?
- One Command, Three Expressions. Loving God, loving one another and loving our neighbor are not three separate commands. They are a kind of trinity, different but equal. If we remove one, we remove the whole.
- Our Highest Doctrine. Is there a mission statement greater than this, “Let us demonstrate our love for God, for one another and for our neighbor? If we hold to an evangelical faith, can we justify doctrines, such as how we do baptism and communion ahead of obeying God’s high command? Wouldn’t that honor Christ, please the Holy Spirit and allow the church to accomplish great things once again?
O God of mercy and grace, shine upon your church today. Forgive our divisions. Make us great again by our true obedience to your law of love for you, one another and our neighbor.
Please join the conversation.