As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training. Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you. At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me. I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”. So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”
I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”
When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to ask some different questions. I want to ask:
“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?” “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?” “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”
You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost). When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise. It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire. I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.
Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned? Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?
I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages. I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point.
I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.
I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on. I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous. (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions. Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.)