The Great Omission
by Mrs I'Ching Thomas
All of us are familiar with Jesus’ last words to His disciples: “And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Also recognised as the Great Commission, it was the official passing on of the ministry of redemption and reconciliation, which Jesus initiated on the cross, to His disciples.
Similarly, Paul in writing to the church in Corinth, reminds her of her calling and purpose: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21)
Both of the passages we have looked at, along with many others in the gospels and Paul’s letters, speak of who we are and our purpose on earth - we are a new/transformed creation, called to be Christ ambassadors to preach and teach the message of reconciliation so that many would become transformed disciples of Christ.
Unfortunately, there is a common oversight when we approach the task of the Great Commission. We have been assigned to “make disciples of all nations” but we often think that it is merely about evangelism and getting people to convert to Christianity. Philosopher Dallas Willard calls this the church’s Great Omission, where Christians have responded by making “Christians” not “disciples.”
However, the call goes beyond evangelism – it is about teaching others in order that they, too, would become disciples or followers of Christ as we are. Clearly turning to the saviour in repentance and faith is necessary but disciples do not stop at conversion. They grow in their love for Him and as a result, grow in love for others and become more and more like their saviour.
The genius of God’s plan of redemption is that it is not merely about saving “souls” but about transforming lives and all of life. It is about us, His followers, participating in His work of redemption of the rest of His creation – morality, culture, work, economics, arts, etc.
Paul’s illustration of our calling as Christ’s ambassadors is very apt. We are sent by the risen Christ and commissioned to operate on His behalf in a particular cultural setting – in our case, our home, our workplace and the public square. The gospel has supernatural power to change lives, and those changed lives can change the world in which they find themselves.
Just like the ambassador of any given government or nation, we are assigned to accurately communicate the position and policies of the government, we represent so that the people to whom we speak and among whom we live will be brought into, and kept in a good relationship with the one who sent us.
To qualify as an ambassador, as we all know, one must meet a set of minimum requirements and possess certain essential qualities. However, being Christ’s ambassadors is a much heavier duty that is to be taken much more seriously as it has eternal consequences.
We will briefly look at some of the characteristics of an ambassador of Christ’s kingdom.
1. He loves
An ambassador must love the nation which he represents. In our case, we must love God. And God has very clearly commanded how we should love Him: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
And in the New Testament Jesus underscores the commandment given and specifically stressed loving Him with our “mind”: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
This is a challenge for us today where there is often a misconception that faith is blind – “blind act of the will independent of reason and regardless of the evidence.” However, this is a flawed understanding of the Christian faith. The idea that we leave our mind behind when we become Christians is blatantly unbiblical. Instead, the Biblical understanding of faith is “a trust that we have reason to believe is true.”
There is also modern tendency to denigrate thinking as non-spiritual. However, the biggest battle going on today is to win the hearts and minds of people. We need Christians, who are able to refute the errors of flawed thinking and philosophy. People are waiting for good reasons and arguments to believe in God.
Hence, to love God with our mind is to be committed, not just to read His Word, but to study the Scriptures, reflect on scriptural truth and develop a Biblical worldview.
Social commentator Os Guinness reminds us that: “Failing to think Christianly, evangelicals have been forced into the role of cultural imitators and adapters rather originators. In Biblical terms, it is to be worldly and conformist, not decisively Christian.”
Notice that loving God is only the first part of the greatest commandment – the second is loving your neighbour as yourself. This love is the natural outworking of that love for God. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
It is also this love for one another that will be the distinguishing mark of this kingdom that we represent. How are we doing here, we must ask ourselves? No one can say that he loves God and yet does not demonstrate any love towards others. No one can say that he loves God and yet do nothing when he sees racial prejudice or sexual or class discrimination.
2. He is informed and engaged
It would be strange if an ambassador to China does not appreciate nor know much about Chinese art or enjoy Chinese food. Even more strange if he is not out among the locals to promote his government. An ambassador is expected to be able to promote the relevance of his government to the people he is sent to. What about ambassadors of Christ?
As the gospel is never communicated in a political or cultural vacuum, there is a need for us to be informed of the environment in which we work – what are the questions, the concerns, the issues, the conflicts, the confusions?
Armed with such knowledge, we need to actively engage others on those issues and concerns from a Biblical worldview.
On the need for Christians to be involved in the public square, Greg Koukl writes: “Informed Christians’ involvement in the public square is essential because the concept of justice that grounds good government can be twisted by evil men in power. If the Church doesn’t stand in the gap giving substance to the words “good” and “evil,” then nothing prevents leadership from reversing the definitions, praising evil and punishing good.
“When we are pushed out of the public square, there’s nothing left to talk about but pure sectarian issues: manner of worship, methods of baptism, music in the sanctuary…”
As a result, we can speak of nothing that has anything to do with the real world – at least in the minds of those we are trying to reach. No wonder our faith is seen to be irrelevant.
He argues that political passivity often pretends that the vice of negligence is a Christian virtue.
3. He speaks the truth confidently
Christ’s ambassadors are also confident of the truth of their message. That is why they are not ashamed nor incompetent to speak the truth about the triune God, about sin, about reconciliation and redemption.
Guinness contends that if we believe that God’s Word is truth, then everything that differs is a lie. Since God alone is God, the affirmation of who He is, includes the denial of who He is not. The first duty of those who love God is to say yes to Him. The second is to know when to say no to anything else.
The result of such a conviction about truth is what Guinness calls, “God-centred relativising” – where God and His truth calls into question all opinions, customs, loyalties, and claims that differ from their own.
Unfortunately, we live at a time where there is an increasing indifference to truth and error, right and wrong. While there is so much richness about living in a pluralistic society like Singapore, religious pluralism has also helped to create “a religion of civility.”
This “religion of civility” confuses the virtue of tolerance as “putting up with errors” for “accepting all views to be true.”
However, being tolerant in no way excuses us from resolving conflicting claims to truth. One can be tolerant by respecting the rights of others to hold alternative views while still be firmly committed to one point of view as true.
In such a climate, to speak of truth will offend or frighten some people. Some believe that people who claim to know the truth about anything, and especially about moral matters, are fundamentalists, fanatics or old-fashioned. For example, if you state that it is immoral for a man and a woman to live together before marriage, you will be deemed backward. Or, if you claim that it is morally wrong for men to have sex with each other, you will be labelled as insensitive, or worst, a bigot.
Interestingly enough, those on the other side of the debate over social issues such as legalising sodomy or abortion make moral truth claims all the time. They assert their point of view with no less confidence and no more doubt than one finds on the other side of the fence.
They proclaim that people have the right to have sex with whomever they want and other strong and controversial moral claims. The question, then, is not whether there are truths about such things but rather, what is true?”
In Singapore, we are easily tempted to adopt a merely pragmatic understanding or speak only of practical considerations in addressing the pressing social issues of our day. But we must resist this.
Instead, we must have faith that truth will ultimately triumph. If we bear witness to the truth, say, marriage and the sanctity of human life – lovingly, respectfully, passionately and meaningfully – and if we honor the truth in advancing our positions, then perhaps those who now find themselves on the other side of these issues will come around.
However, reasonable positions cannot be effectively advanced and defended if we are unwilling or unable to engage moral arguments. The challenge for us then is to rededicate ourselves to reflecting, understanding and making sound moral propositions regarding pressing issues of the day that are worth the unbelieving public’s consideration.
Often, this absolute moral demand would make us uncomfortable and alienated. Perhaps, it should as nothing is more alien to the user-friendly, feel good sentiment that passes for theology in modern evangelicalism.
As such times, Guinness asserts, we need to feel the force of God’s warning to Isaiah: “For the LORD spoke thus to me with His strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12-13)
Finally, as a community of Christ’s ambassadors who dare speak the truth, we offer society what Jacques Ellul calls, “sighting points”. These are look-out places from which Christians can interpret events according to their true meaning, hold their contemporaries accountable to truth and right and wrong, and hence play a redeeming role in society.”
However, we are only able to be an effective ambassador for Christ to the extent that we ourselves are following the one who sent us. We are only able to provide sighting points for the world if we are sighting God ourselves. We can only do any of these things to the degree that we are loving God.
Love is the final expression of truth, just as loyalty to truth is the vital test of love. May we who call ourselves by the name of Christ be found true to the likeness of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
(This talk was given at the GCF Issachar Forum “The World Through Christian Eyes” on 15 March 2008 at GCF-FES Centre)