I was at a denominational conference this week and heard a speaker say plainly, and at times quite forcefully, that there is no room for doubt in the Christian faith, that serious Christians should have pre-packaged and ready-made answers for people with tough questions, that we should stand for truth (or the speaker’s version of it) without reservation, that the church should draw more lines in the sand and be willing to stand with the kind of conviction on hot-button social issues that brings division instead of unity.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Statistics are clear — the American church is in decline. Religiously unaffiliated people are on the rise, even as spirituality is on the rise. Distrust of institutions is staggering, as exhibited in many ways by the populism (both liberal and conservative) exhibited in the recent U.S. election.
Should the answer to all this be to dig in our heels with postures and ministry strategies that clearly aren’t working, and clearly don’t reach the emerging culture? I’m not sure that the best way to reach our emerging culture is to continually drive a wedge between the church and the people we are trying to reach with Christ’s love.
I can’t even sleep when I think about it. It makes my head spin.
But I believe I have a solution to the tired notions that people can’t ask tough questions at church, that discipleship is an overnight process, and that we are somehow the dispensers of grace and the gatekeepers to the Kingdom:
We need to get back to the Great Commission.
Getting back to the Great Commission in Matthew 28 does not require some evangelism strategy that asks canned questions like, “If you died tonight would you go to heaven or hell?” I did Evangelism Explosion as a teen and it was personally formative, but I strongly believe that this approach to sharing faith is unlikely to prove highly effective in 2016.
Getting back to the Great Commission may not mean reinstituting Tuesday night visitation — you know, the program where people cold-call Sunday visitors and make a hard sell on joining the church or converting to the faith. This strategy may serve some churches well, but my hunch is, not many.
Getting back to the Great Commission certainly does not necessitate taking hardline stances on every hot-button social issue and pretending like the gospel itself is at stake if people don’t agree with us.
Think about the phrase, “The gospel is at stake!” I’ve heard it uttered by those on the left and the right to rally support for a cause. Have we forgotten the simplicity of the gospel — that great mystery of the faith, that Jesus came, died, and rose again, and that God’s grace is a free gift? Of course there are biblical truths worth standing for, but we often make this far more complicated than Jesus did.
Speaking the ancient words “mystery” and “faith” seems out of vogue in some circles. There can be no mystery for believers who must have all the right answers to life’s most profound questions. Is there any faith at all when we act like we see through the glass clearly instead of dimly?
No. Recovering the Great Commission is none of these things.
Getting back to the Great Commission may, actually, require reading the entire passage, and not just the part we are familiar with. Matthew 28:16-20 reads:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Verse 17 is profound. It seems that the Great Commission, and Christ himself, leaves room for those with doubt.
Those with doubt are not pushed aside. They are not silenced or talked down to for asking the wrong questions. They are not prevented from serving on committees or in ministries. Jesus commissions and sends out those with doubt to make disciples. They were key to the success of the early church. These worshipping doubters were not a threat to the ministry of Christ, but rather enriched it in immeasurable ways.
Perhaps recovering the Great Commission means we need to make room for the doubters in our midst, welcoming them radically on the journey of discipleship.