After spending three years researching how the church was serving people on the margins in Orlando, FL., Phil Hissom, the then director of Polis Institute and author of Dignity Serves made some startling observations.
The church was visibly absent in places of distress. Well, maybe not entirely visibly absent. There were a lot of church buildings. But the presence of the church body was absent, meaning, they were there as a building, but just were not present as neighbors.
Are churches good neighbors? A question asked in the Christian Community Development world is, “ If a church were to move out of a community, would the neighbors notice?”
Being a good neighbor in the Bible is of uppermost importance. Paul sums up the entire law in Galatians; “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus sums up the entire 613 commands in the Torah with just two when asked which are the most important; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We focus on the Luke 10 passage of the parable, but oftentimes forget the beauty of how Mark tells the story in chapter 12. After Jesus answers the man in what is the greatest commandment, Mark highlights how the man replies with;
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Notice what Mark includes in this interaction, “and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” What is this in reference to?
Numerous times in the OT we find God judging Israel for their false sacrifices as they have failed to love their neighbor as themselves. God had redeemed Israel out of the oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt and called them to himself at Mt. Sinai and gave them the ten commandments in order to represent His divine nature to the world. They failed miserably.
In Amos 5 we see one of the greatest indictments; “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
How many churches in our country does God look down upon and say, “I hate your Sunday gatherings. Your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring your tithes and Sunday best, I will not accept them. Though you bring your money, I have no regard for them. Away with your noisy worship, smoke machines, and fancy lights. I will not listen to the music of your drums, bass guitar, and electric keyboard!”
Noisy worship, smoke machines and fancy lights are not the problem as many people enjoy worshiping and connecting with God in that setting, but it’s the heart of the issue. It’s not the lights or the smoke machines that God is displeased with, but the false sacrifices and false worship that does not lead to love of neighbor! The true heart of worship and sacrifice is to capture God’s heart of Biblical justice for our neighbors. We as the church need to put as much energy into loving our neighbors as do into a good Sunday morning service.
The message to Israel through Amos is very relevant to the church in our country as a commentary says it like this, “God isn’t impressed with Israel’s wealth, military might, or self-indulgent way of life. He is looking for justice, while the rich and powerful are taking advantage of the poor. God is calling Israel to repent as the only way to avoid destruction.” (Commentary on Amos)
How many times has the church ignored their neighbors for the sake of comfort and Sunday traditions? Bob Lupton, founder of Focused Community Strategies and author of Toxic Charity defines these churches as, “church centric.” Church centric churches are always asking the question, how can we become healthier? He contrasts this with, “community centric,” which the church asks questions like, “What’s in the best interest for the neighborhood we live in?”
It doesn’t have to be either/or. The church is called to hold Jesus high above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
May the church stop bringing false sacrifices and false worship to our gatherings. May the church love our neighbors as ourselves and “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
So what does this mean to love our neighbor as ourselves? Here are five basic questions:
- Who is your neighbor? Do you know their names?
- What is happening in their lives not allowing them to live into the Shalom of God?
- Do they know the peace of Christ?
- Are there any unjust structures oppressing them?
- What can you learn from them as you together walk towards the freedom that Christ promises?
Dan joined the OneRace Movement team in January of 2020 as the Director of Groups and Mobilization and is deeply passionate about discipling the church through the OneRace transformational journey of knowing the story, owning the story, and changing the story. He has a Masters of Intercultural Ministries from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He’s also interested in the work of Christ in spiritual formation from Godly leaders that have been oppressed over the course of history.