From the Archives: The Covenant of Mission
By Maurice Caldwell
“But to each other and to God eternal trueness vow” is a line from a song which celebrates a covenant. When we sing the songs of our pioneers, we echo the covenant concept which permeated their lifestyle. Their songs and their writings contain the authentic accent of covenantal relationships.
Our ancestors understood, also, the purpose of their covenant. They talked about “circling the globe with the truth.” In every generation the church has poured out into the world a multitude of people who have caught the vision and the spirit of God’s mission. Church of God outreach into sixty countries today is based upon the continuing desire to be faithful to clear New Testament guidelines.
On different occasions, Jesus spoke about a great commandment and a great commission. We are instructed to love our neighbor. And we are told to go make disciples. Is one teaching more important than the other? Are they identical? Or do they belong together?
It was my privilege to participate in Bible studies led by an English Christian, Dr. John R. W. Stott, at the “Urbana 76” Student Missions Convention. An articulate Bible expositor, he was one of the framers of the Lausanne Covenant (1974). In his conferences and recent books, Dr. Stott is helping this generation to grasp the deeper meanings of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, and their inseparable relationships.
Mission and love
Is it possible that some Christians have given too much attention to the Covenant of Mission, and neglected the Covenant of Love? Certainly we all agree that the whole church is under obligation to share the whole gospel with the whole world. But we should not consider the Great Commission as the only instruction which Jesus left us. He also stressed the obligation to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and called it “the second and great commandment.” It is second in importance only to the supreme command to love God with all our being, and is more fully treated in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus insisted that in God’s vocabulary, our neighbor includes our enemy, and that to love means to give ourselves actively and constructively in meeting human need.
The Great Commission adds a new and urgent Christian dimension to the requirement of neighbor-love and neighbor-service. If we truly love our neighbor, or course we will share the Good News with that person. We cannot claim to love others if we know the gospel and keep it from them.
An equal demand is that if we truly love our neighbor, we shall not stop with evangelism. It is an incomplete gospel that shows concern for the soul only, or for the body only. It is a handicapped gospel which attempts to consider the body-soul in isolation from society.
As Dr. Stott states, “God created man, who is my neighbor, a body-soul-in-community. Therefore, if we love our neighbor as God made him, we must inevitably be concerned for his total welfare, the good of his soul, his body, and his community. Moreover, it is this vision of man as a social being…which obliges us to add a political dimension to our social concern.
“Humanitarian activity cares for the casualties of a sick society. We should be concerned with preventative medicine or community health, as well, which means the quest for better social structures in which peace, dignity, freedom, and justice are secured for all men. And there is no reason why, in pursuing this quest, we should not join hands with all men of good will, even if they are not Christians.”*
Jesus spoke frequently about love, and about its expression in self-giving service. The gospel lacks visibility if it is reduced to verbal proclamation only, an it lacks credibility if we fail to apply it to people’s total needs. The basis for our acceptance of the social dimension however, is not to give the gospel visibility or credibility, but simply to express Christlike compassion.
The Great Commission is found in all four Gospels and in Acts. The cumulative emphasis seems to be placed on preaching, witnessing, and making disciples. But the commission indicates an obligation to teach converts everything Jesus had previously commanded, including social responsibility.
Called to be servants
Our mission, then, must be one of service. Too often we North Americans tend to be bosses rather than servants. As servant people, we can find the right combination of evangelism and social action. The recovery of the radical biblical tradition will bring about the integration of spiritual and social renewal.
Another aspect of Jesus’ mission which we must parallel in our mission is being sent into the world. Dr. Stott observes, “He did not touch down like a visitor from outer space, or arrive like an alien bringing his own alien culture with him. He took to himself our humanity, our flesh and blood, our culture…. And now he sends us ‘into the world,’ to identify with others as he identified with us (though without losing our Christian identity), to become vulnerable as he did…. We seldom seem to take seriously this principle of Incarnation….”**
The implications of Jesus’ example are inescapable. As the Lausanne Covenant expresses it, “We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this call for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world.”
Maurice and Dondeena Caldwell gave their lives to missions in the Church of God, serving in Mexico, Brazil, and Spain. Among other notable pursuits, Maurice also taught Spanish for Anderson University for twelve years.
Article originally published in the August 6, 1978, issue of Vital Christianity. Article republished by permission. Across the United States and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Give life! Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.
*John R. W. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975).