A thought experiment: let’s imagine the whole world has converted to Christianity.
Every group professes the classic statement of Christian belief known as the Apostle’s Creed. There are no mosques, synagogues, temples or altars of any kind—just churches. Governments are run by Christians, corporations are run by Christians, all art is Christian. Every teacher of every school is Christian, every politician of every party is Christian, every owner of every business is Christian, every book, every movie, every event—all Christian.
A question: “How does that make you feel?” I suspect increasing numbers of Christians feel as scared about such a possibility as everyone else would. But to be a Christian should mean to strive to make this scenario a reality.
The Christians’ mandate to go to the world and convert it is based on the last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
Before He left them, standing on a hill with a handful of His disciples, frightened and disoriented by the swirl of events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus finished His call with the precious words of comfort, “Go and make disciples of all nations . . .baptising them …and teaching them.
…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Christians have dubbed this call of Christ the Great Commission.
No commandment can be more important.
Why then, inside many of us who love Jesus, does something recoil against the fulfilment of this mandate?
The most obvious hesitance comes from history. Christians have had the chance to organise communities, nations and even empires, and have been found wanting. But there is another reason that goes deeper.
The world is interdependent. A multiplicity of atoms and variety of life forms are necessary for our world to exist and function. Nobody has life independently. Without the intrinsic and intricate complexity of all life, there would be no life. Reality itself is interdependent diversity. None of us simply “exist;” we all “exist with.” Cut off the “with,” and there would be no existence for any one of us.
Every once in a while, I go to Christian conferences— places where Christian leaders explore, evaluate and equip each other for “impacting the world.”
These days, my friends and I leave these conferences increasingly empty. I think it is because we are living under the assumption that while the world needs Christians, Christians don’t need the world. There is no reciprocity or interdependence.
We don’t expect to be impacted. The world and its religions have been left out of God’s consideration to give them any significant commission to us.
Something feels utterly wrong with the claim that we Christians are in charge of God. When Jesus told His disciples “And surely I am with you always,” did He also mean “And surely I am not with anyone else”? Does my mother’s love for me depend on her withholding love from my siblings?
Does God’s saving presence among us have to mean God’s saving absence among them? For Christianity to be true, does every other religion have to be entirely wrong?
Christians and Christian churches are not exempt from the dynamics of all known existence, which allows nothing to be—let alone thrive—in isolation.
Instead of designating the call of Christ as the Great Commission that establishes us as brokers of God to the world; and Christianity as a form of God-management system, perhaps we should embrace the call of Christ as the Great Invitation.
Christians are sent to the world with an extraordinary message: the self-giving God calls humanity to self-giving love! However, instead of having a commission to bring God to the world, we are invited to the world where God already is, expecting us to bless the world with our teaching about Christ, as well as receive the blessing from Christ Who is already in that same world.
Not only to go but to welcome; not only to teach but to learn; not only to give but to receive; not only to change but to be changed. In a “great commission,”
the world needs us and we don’t need the world. In the Great Invitation, we humbly embrace our creaturehood.
The Great Commission demands conversion from them; the Great Invitation demands transformation from us all.
In an interdependent world, truth cannot be captured, portioned and delivered; it must be experienced relationally.
Christianity is a religion, a window into the kingdom of God— not the kingdom of God itself.
Jesus has repeatedly called us to enter this kingdom and sit at the large table.
As Ananda K Coomaraswamy says, “not to preside—for there is Another who presides unseen—but as one of many guests.”
God is greater than us! For me, the good news just got better!