Simple church has led me to some unexpected places in my faith. Most recently, I have found myself reconsidering the Greatest Commandment quoted by church leaders across the globe (even here on this site) as a foundational pillar of the Church’s mission. I have encountered compelling arguments that have persuaded me that we are misguided when we hold up the Greatest Commandment as the focus of our faith.
Have you actually been able to live out this command?
Have you been able to love God with ALL of your heart, soul, and mind?
Have you crafted more laws to help you obey this one?
Have you broken unity with brothers and/or sisters in Christ regarding how this commandment should be fulfilled?
The Passage At Hand
Let’s consider the text in Matthew 22:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-24
In context, Jesus is responding to a Pharisaical grilling session intended to trap him. This fact alone should give us pause about elevating “love God, love people” to the four-word summary of the ministry of Jesus.
In addition, Jesus clearly states that these commandments are a summary of the LAW. In other words, he is saying that if you want to live under the law, then set out to follow these.
Here is the thing: a Christian is not under the Law. Jesus came to fulfill the law. He didn’t come to abolish the law or to assert that loving God and others is bad, but He set us free from the requirements of the Law by satisfying it for us. With good intentions, we try so hard to love God that we fail to truly experience His love. I am convinced that the “Great Commandment” was never intended to be the New Testament’s marching orders.
A New Commandant.
There is, however, another command that would seem to be greater according to Jesus. In what is commonly referred to as the Upper Room Discourse (the message Jesus gave to his disciples as they shared Passover just prior to going to the cross) he reiterates a “new command” a few times.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34
At first glance, this might not seem much different than the Great Commandment. For most of my life, I just thought this was essentially the same thing as the Great Commandment with just slightly different wording. I was wrong. For if it was a “new command” it can’t essentially be the same as the old commandment.
So what is new about it? When Jesus gives this new command, he gives them instructions for post-cross discipleship. The new command focuses on God’s love and receiving His love, and then extending His love to others. The days of striving and straining are over.
The truth is, you can wake each morning and strive to love God with all of your heart, mind, and soul without ever receiving HIS love for you. Alternatively, when we wake up each morning and pray, “Lord, help me to understand your love for me so that I may love others as you love me,” we open a door to a different type of Christian life–one that’s not primarily about us doing stuff to love God. The focus becomes His love. We love because he first loved us. This is the proper order. This is the greatest commandment.
What does this have to do with simple church?
Many churches, both traditional and simple/house/organic, are focused on loving God “correctly.” This leads to the creation of more rules so that we know how to get the Great Commandment right, essentially recreating an old testament way of living. In doing so we reverse-engineer a law that Jesus came to fulfill for us. The result is that a great number of Christians live under the law unknowingly.
They know they are tired and largely motivated by guilt, but they do not know why. There is certainly also a deep and hidden temptation for leaders to capitalize on this guilt in order to help a flock to do a better job at loving God and people.
If you are a simple church host or leader, you can help foster a community that can freely focus on this new command without being sucked into emphasizing the old. Could God be moving folks into church experiences with a simple family-style community lacking the layers of organizational structure and hierarchy to help them live freely without the trappings of the law?
My hope is that simple church families can truly live post-cross. Could we be catalysts for communities of faith that seek to first and foremost be connected Jesus and live out of the love God has for us, not striving to organize ourselves to love God “correctly”? There is nothing about calling something simple church or house church that makes that happen. We must become people who have this kind of relationship with Jesus and live out of His love for us in our relationships.
In my next post, I will propose a slightly new “simple church on a napkin” illustration that I think better conveys this idea within a graphic.
More to Consider
Later in Jesus’ parting words to the disciples in the upper room, he further elaborates on this new command. Read it and consider the difference between waking up each morning with our focus on this new great commandment as opposed to the old one.
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. – John 15:1-17
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