Ialong with tens of thousands of others, became involved with Cru because we are passionate about helping to fulfill the Great Commission. Bill Bright's words still resonate with me and our staff! In fact, Cru Inner City's strategic plan is centered on a goal of creating 1,000,000 gospel engagements for non-believers by 2023. We want everybody to experience the transformation and eternal joy that can only occur through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
...we believe that confronting injustice is not only an integral part of biblical discipleship — it actually facilitates evangelism.
That's why we care so deeply about a biblical understanding of the Great Commission, one that values the necessity and interrelatedness of evangelism and love for our neighbors that includes acts of justice.
Recently, some Christians have suggested that conversations around issues of justice, especially racial justice, are a distraction from the Great Commission. On the contrary, we believe that confronting injustice is not only an integral part of biblical discipleship — it actually facilitates evangelism.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
– Matthew 28:18-20
In the Great Commission, Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations [ethnic groups]. Simply put, a disciple is someone who follows Jesus and obeys his commands.
A few chapters before the Great Commission, Jesus tells us what discipleship looks like when he boils down all of God's commands to a couple of sentences, commonly referred to as the Great Commandment.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
– Matthew 22:38-40
This is what "whole-person discipleship" looks like. It recognizes the primacy of the vertical aspects of our faith (connecting with God through Jesus) without diminishing the importance of the horizontal aspects of our faith (loving our neighbor as ourselves). When you bring them together, they take the shape of a cross.
Jesus modeled this whole-person discipleship for us. He submitted to God's will and prioritized a spiritual life of prayer, learning and teaching the Word, fasting, and spending time in the Father's house.
His love of God is precisely what led him to fulfill the second half of the Great Commandment, which he says is "like the first." He attended to people's physical, spiritual and social needs as if they were his own.
The Great Commission is an invitation to a Great Commandment lifestyle. Jesus didn't separate the two. It's a great misunderstanding to think we should.
The decision to become a whole-person disciple means that you choose to love God with your whole being and that you minister to your neighbor's needs as if they were your own.
Scripture provides concrete examples of what God-inspired, whole-person love for our neighbors should look like: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, and clothing the naked are just a few well-known examples.
But we can't forget that loving your neighbor also includes advocating for justice. In Luke 11:42 (and Matthew 23:23) Jesus chastised religious leaders for this very reason:
"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
– Luke 11:42
They had been precise in tithing according to the law but were "neglecting justice and the love of God." He wasn't discounting the importance of tithing, but instead helping them see that love, justice, and stewardship are the principles at the heart of the law.
Jesus' insistence that justice is an integral part of whole-person discipleship was rooted in his deep knowledge of Scripture. The Old Testament is full of verses that reflect God's heart for individual and systemic justice (see Deuteronomy 27:19, Isaiah 10:1-2, Psalm 94:20, and Micah 6:8 for just a few examples).
When we walk closely with God, his concerns for our neighbor's well-being become our concerns. As a whole-person disciple, when God shows a great concern for community justice, shouldn't we as well?
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern
– Proverbs 29:7
At the beginning of Acts 6, we find a New Testament example of Jesus' followers wrestling with questions of justice within their community.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
– Acts 6:1
Some widows were receiving preferential treatment over others. And it was related to the cultural divisions that existed within the community. The conflict jeopardized the spread of the gospel. It was a pivotal moment for the early church.
The disciples didn't neglect the problem, try to hide it, or criticize the Hellenistic Jews for pointing out what was wrong; they recognized the risk of inaction. Allowing injustice to continue endangered their commitment to whole-person discipleship. And they knew that leaving their commitment behind threatened the early church's entire witness.
Addressing injustice within the community didn't distract from the Great Commission — it became an opportunity for more effective evangelism.
So the disciples didn't make excuses or walk away; they stepped into the problem. They appointed a diverse group of men that were full of "faith and of the Holy Spirit" to address the injustice head-on.
The results were notable:
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
– Acts 6:7
Addressing injustice within the community didn't distract from the Great Commission — it became an opportunity for more effective evangelism. The deeper we follow Jesus into whole-person discipleship, the more compelling our witness becomes.
As someone who's been doing ministry in the inner city for more than 35 years, I can tell you that most people I serve today experience the injustice of racism baked into some of our systems on a regular basis. As research has shown, it's one of the key factors that help create conditions that lead to poverty, incarceration, unemployment, and health disparities,
As a whole-person disciple, if I'm not addressing the issues that most negatively affect the lives in my community, I won't be living out my call or reflecting Jesus to them. Our inaction is a threat to our ability to carry out the Great Commission.
For many people, learning about how some systems have harmed people of color can feel uncomfortable. But avoiding the conversation won't make the division go away inside the church. Inaction isn't the answer.
Instead, we must follow Jesus in all that he commanded, including the work of justice. For many of us, the first step in this process is to listen to each other and engage in real conversations surrounding racial injustice, always remembering that Christ is what unites us as believers. After all, Christ is the unbreakable bond in even the hardest conversations. And Christ is the one who calls us to love him, make whole-person disciples, and address injustice.
Cru Inner City
Milton and his wife, Cynthia,
have been married 36 years.
They live on Chicago's South Side.
©1994-2022 Cru. All Rights Reserved.