On the heels of my recent take on John 3:16 seemed like a good time for a closer look at how the designation, interpretation and application of the so-called “Great Commission” has shaped Americanized Christianity.

These parting words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel — that call for taking the good news to ends of the earth — became the distillation of what much of Americanized Christianity considers its mission and duty.

Get saved; get others saved; go to heaven. Oh, and being nice and supporting institutionalized expressions of Christianity are good too.

These words of Jesus have long, and rightfully, fueled the evangelistic and mission efforts of Christians from a variety of backgrounds. The rendering most familiar to many of us reads:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJV).

Jesus charged his followers to not keep the good news to themselves but to spread it around to whatever people and places they can reach. Unsurprising, these verses picked up the “Great Commission” moniker.

Years ago, I was having an interesting conversation (as if there’s any other kind) with author, minister and teacher Barbara Brown Taylor. I raised a question about the dual callings of the “Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission.”

Quickly, she noted that the former was assigned its designation of greatness by Jesus while the latter was called so by those well after the biblical revelation.

The primacy of the so-called Great Commission had been so engrained in my evangelism/mission-focused, Southern Baptist-bred understanding that I’d never taken note of that distinction.

When finally doing so, it became easier to realize how greatly overlooked in much of Americanized Christianity is what Jesus actually deemed great.

Is that significant? Only, perhaps, if the greatness assigned to those closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel overshadow or exclude Jesus’ dual command — that his followers are, first and foremost, to love God with all one’s being and other persons as if they are beloved neighbors or even oneself.

There’s no conflict or competition between the two, however, if one considers the fullness of these commissioning words from Jesus. Because the so-called “Great Commission” includes what Jesus called the “Greatest Commandment.”

The three-point charge is to go and make disciples; to baptize them as an expression of faith; and then to teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded. It’s the latter charge that often gets dropped or refashioned by those seeking a form of Christianity without the hard edge of self-denial and inclusive love.

Therefore, missions and evangelism are often reduced to gaining converts who are recruited to do likewise and to support the institutional efforts of Christianity.

The two-fold commandment Jesus stated as the greatest, however, cannot be rightfully detached from what others have long called the “Great Commission.” Because that commission calls for “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.”

There are many mysteries in the Bible. But among them is not what Jesus considered as the primary, encompassing and greatest call upon the lives of his followers.

In response to a question about “the greatest commandment,” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV).

So, why do so many Americanized Christians keep coming up with lists of so-called essential beliefs — often masquerading as a defining “biblical worldview” or other human-composed doctrinal statement — designed to advance the politics of white nationalism and male authoritarianism? The end of that question provides the answer.

I’m sticking with Jesus on this one — allowing his prioritized perspective to be the lens through which all else offered as “truth” is viewed. That’s a preferred option, though not often the most popular, to defining Christianity by whatever someone else thinks fits Jesus and them better.

The result of an isolated and stripped down “Great Commission” is evangelism without ethics and missions without cultural considerations. It’s a way of advancing the “cause” without ensuring that one’s cause aligns with Jesus’ cause and calling.

There is more to Jesus’ charge than sending missionaries to save perceived “heathens” from hell — those very diverse persons who so often are not welcomed in our neighborhoods and churches.

During a recent visit with a minister who lovingly and remarkably shares the good news and shows the love of God and neighbor by caring for vulnerable migrants from many places, he offered this insight: “God told us to go, but we never went. So, God is bringing them to us.”

One doesn’t have to go far these days to fulfill the calling to love God and neighbor more fully and to share the good news. And Jesus never called for loving from a distance.

Our choice is whether to accept Jesus’ priorities for loving God and neighbors or devising our own — including a commission that leaves out the commandment on which Jesus said all laws and prophecy rests.

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