What is the primary role of the church in God’s mission?
Calvin University philosophy professor James K.A. Smith suggests that the primary responsibility of the church is to live God’s story for the world. If so, we must then ask: What does it look like to live God’s story, and how do we do that more and better? Could we have learned the answer already in Sunday school? It looks like Jesus! Our role is to be disciples who are being formed more and more into the likeness of Jesus and thus discovering and participating in what Jesus, by the Spirit, is already doing in the world.
But how? God’s very nature is love—unconditional, inclusive, eternal love (1 John 4). And love, as Jesus taught and lived it, is always about the other, always extending itself. In other words, love is missional! And to be missional is to love—to give like Jesus, to be like Jesus, and to do everything as God in Jesus did: for the sake of the other. In Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” One might rephrase that as “What is the most important thing that the people of God are to be about?” or “What is the primary role of the church in God’s mission?” Jesus’ answer, illustrated with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, is to love our neighbors. Paul declares that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). James calls it “the royal law” (James 2:8).
What a commandment! Jesus’ answer is straightforward: Love your neighbor! What if this is our primary role, our primary challenge, calling, and commitment? But—thanks be to God—it is not up to us alone. Jesus has not only shown us the way, but made the way and is “the Way”. God loves our neighbors more than we can or ever will. Yet I wonder what would happen—how our communities and perhaps the whole world might be changed—if we all joined Jesus in loving our neighbors Jesus’ way?