What is our primary purpose?
I picked up the October issue of ACCatalyst and read the article on Brian Medway’s booklet The Primary Purpose: Rediscovering the Biblical Reason for Church, which speaks of the Great Commission.
In May I had been encouraged to read the The Primary Purpose by one of my predecessors, the Rev. John Mallison. He directed me to the positive affirmation given to the booklet by another of my predecessors, the Rev. Dr Gordon Dicker:
“I could not agree more with Brian’s thesis. The Great Commission is the solid rock on which our calling as Christian disciples stands. We do not hold it consistently in front of ourselves and the church as a whole as much as we should. His article challenges me deeply.”
The article essentially agues that Christians in the western world have forgotten their primary purpose, which is to proclaim the gospel.
Key words in the Great Commission statements in the four gospels indicate that the primary purpose is about
- preaching the kingdom to the whole world (Matt. 24:14);
- making disciples of all nations and teaching obedience to everything Jesus has commanded (Matt. 28:19ff);
- preaching the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15); and
- preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins and being witnesses to Jesus (Luke 24:47f; Acts 1:8).
But what is that gospel?
Christopher Hitchens, dying of oesophagus cancer, was interviewed by Tony Jones on the ABC’s Lateline on November 17. Tony Jones asked him if facing death caused him to doubt his atheist commitment and what he thought about all those who were praying for him.
It would seem that Hitchens has not lost his commitment although he acknowledged if there was something more beyond he would be surprised and happy to embrace it but he didn’t believe it would be dependent on any sort of conversion or expression of belief.
He clearly had contempt for those praying for him to go to hell and even for those praying for his conversion; but for those praying for his wellbeing he was thankful even though not believing their prayers could have any effect.
I found myself agreeing with some of his criticism of the religious endeavour to convert and save people from hell or offering a promise of heaven and his words reminded me that the gospel is not about heaven or hell; it is about following Jesus, no matter what, trusting in God no matter what and knowing that is enough; knowing that, as we do we, will be about the work of God creating a different sort of world, with a different sort of energy and, whatever, always a part of the amazing Universe that has been birthed out of the love of God.
I do not believe a follower of Jesus would ever pray that Christopher Hitchens burn in hell. From the cross Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who denied him and he offered life to a criminal.
However we understand the Christmas stories, what they do is give expression to the gospel message: God who has a heart for the world, comes to the world, offers himself to the world — goes to the very backstreets — out of an overwhelming love for it and a belief in the possibilities in the hearts of those who dwell upon it.
In so doing, God provides a model for us: our place is in the world, in the community and our task is to proclaim the gospel of God’s overwhelming love for all creation and every person. This is to be reflected in our own lives, in our own optimism, our own faith, our own hope and our own belief in the world and in those with whom we share it.
This is our primary purpose; worship and bible study and social service and prayer are secondary, not an end in themselves but the means by which we proclaim the gospel in word and action.
My mother told me a story she had been told recently where the relative of a person who was dying said to the minister, “Although she has been a wonderful and lovely person I do not think my sister believes in God.”
The minister said, “Don’t worry, even if she doesn’t believe in God, God believes in your sister!”
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