Some of the most difficult questions I face on a weekly basis are some of the most basic ones to ministry.
- “Who is God?”
- “What is the Church?”
- “What is Church for?”
- “What are people supposed to do with their lives?”
- “What are Christians supposed to do?”
I think often about what Langcliffe is being called to do this week, month, year, and decade. One thing is clear: there’s a lot to do. But what does God want our church, specifically, to do here and now in Avoca in 2016? People say the Bible is the instruction book for things like this, I respond that even Ikea does a better job at making clear instructions. I spend a good portion of my time reading and re-reading Bible passages, and it’s very hard to figure out what to read, why I’m reading it, and what it can mean for my life and the life of our church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for a complex and deep set of scriptures – they remind me that I’m serving a complex and infinitely deep God. But I don’t think anyone needs a Ph.D to read the Bible or follow Christ. There has to be a simple way to figure out what God wants.
Simplicity is alluring, and therefore dangerous. The desire for simplicity often leads us to stop thinking. This is the height of pride, especially when it comes to faith in Christ. We cannot say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” That is the same as saying, “I always have the right opinion” or, “my interpretation of the Bible is the only interpretation.” The kind of simplicity that tells us “the Bible is black and white” is dangerous. These kinds of simplicity are not what I mean. I just want a place to begin. I want to find out what it close to the core of faith and work outward from there. And every bit of scripture I’ve read, all the good theology I’ve read, all the experiences I’ve had, and everything I know about the way the world works point to two core things in Christianity that lie at the center of all other beliefs.
The two most important things about Christianity are the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.
The Greatest Commandment (in one of its forms) is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The Great Commission is this: “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 [Jesus] have commanded you.”
What if church was centered around obeying the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission? What if we respected differences of belief and opinion and worked to help each other love God and our neighbors in our beliefs and opinions? What if Christians were allowed to doubt and ask questions as they struggled to know God better, out of love? What if we stopped trying to make converts, as if people need to say magic words to get tickets to heaven, and started making disciples who were marked by submitting to the discipline of loving God and their neighbor as themselves?
This, I think, should lie at the core of our belief and practice. Do my beliefs line up with the requirement to love God and my neighbor? Do my practices make me a better disciple, do they help me honor my baptism? Things still get complicated, and very quickly. But both of the GC’s help me keep my focus on God in any situation. When confronted with a controversy of faith, my questions start from the same place: How do I encourage discipleship in this situation? And how do I obey what Jesus commanded: how do I love God and my neighbor in this situation? The answers may vary, and they may well be wrong. But the GC’s are a good place to start.