In the last posting, we discussed The Great Omission, in which we wondered if, culturally, we have maybe disqualified Jesus from important societal discussions. I want to continue the conversation today, January 18, 2021, which is the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King (MLK) Day. MLK Day is a federal holiday in the United Sates, set aside to celebrate the life and achievements of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, we commemorate King’s 90th birthday.
I wonder what Dr. King would have to say about the increased racial tensions evident in America today. I wonder what he would say to the Christian community about the role we have played (or not played) in addressing the racial disparities and tensions we face today…
I recently read a rather disturbing study by the Barna Group. Their research showed that practicing Christians – self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives – are no more likely to acknowledge racial injustice than they were prior to the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others this past summer (cf Barna, September 2020). I wonder what Dr. King would say to us?
Here is another interesting Barna study which I find equally disturbing in light of the Great Omission post: According to their research, over half of American Christians have never heard of the Great Commission, and over 37% of those polled couldn’t identify the Great Commission out of a list of various Bible verses. As a reminder, in what we refer to as the Great Commission, Jesus said:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20)
The Great Commission was Jesus’ “marching orders” to his followers, trickling down to the 21st Century. It’s our mission, vision and core values rolled into one statement. And half of us are unaware of its existence? I think we’ve discovered the disconnect. How are we to do what Jesus wants us to do if we don’t know what Jesus want us to do? If we don’t know what Jesus wants us to do, then we are “free” to pick and choose whatever we want. It would explain how external ideologies and rhetoric are free to affect our thoughts and actions. Isn’t it imperative that we know/discover Jesus and his desires for us as followers?
Over the years I have always pointed people to the Gospels. How else will we possibly know the Jesus of scripture? (I use the term “Jesus of scripture” in opposition to the “Jesus” of culture.) This is what is frustrating and deeply disturbing for me: I suspect a very high percentage of those who claim to be Christians have never read through the Gospels even once.* That leaves us susceptible to cultural ideologies contrary to our commission.
Prior to the inception of watermarks in our currency, do you know how bank tellers were trained to distinguish between real and counterfeit bills? They spent time familiarizing themselves with the real thing so that when a counterfeit shows up, it’s obvious to them. I hope and pray that we are willing to spend significant time in the Gospels, doing the heavy lifting necessary to know the difference between the Jesus of scripture and all the counterfeits running around these days.
Otherwise, we can be duped! And who wants to be duped?
* ADDENDUM 1/31/2023: Annie F. Downs has created a podcast that will help the listener experience all four Gospels twelve times during the year 2023. It’s called Let’s Read the Gospels. Enjoy!
5 thoughts on “The Great Commission”
Good Words Curt
Gospels=Jesus of Scripture
Thanks, Dan. Hope you are well!
Couple topics in the this post. First, what would MLK say? I like how Alveda King answered that question. He would say… “We ought to judge others based upon the content of their character.” He would also say… “Love and non-violence are still the best way because hate is too big a burden to bear.”
I can say that I have heard of the Great Commission. I am surprised at the Barna numbers that reflect that I am in the minority. The Church still has much work to do. Perhaps we begin by getting back to the basics rather than arguing about the non-essentials? Read John. Read either Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Read Acts. Read Romans. Repeat.
I am not certain that racial tension is any stronger (or weaker) than in the past. The only think that has changed is the names of the people and the speed at which they can spread their opinions. From day one, racial tension (like other sin) is a matter of the heart. The Church is in the business of working on matters of the heart. I don’t think the answer is more laws or greater enforcement – but that is only my opinion.
Bruce – I really like “Love and non-violence are still the best way because hate is too big a burden to bear.” I had heard that before – thanks for the reminder. Might need to go into my quote list. I would agree that not much has changed in the past 50 years – another indictment, unfortunately, on the churches the absence in these meaningful conversations. Curt
Great thoughts. There are a lot of areas where Christians are surprisingly ignorant of their faith.