The Real Great Commission

Concepts in one (religious) tradition don’t fit neatly in others. For example, take the Christian concept called the ‘Great Commission’ where Muktinath says “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Every faith has some concept similar to this. Otherwise everyone would have following the same faith/theology/philosophy/doctrine from time immemorial. This is very true in Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya, as I pointed out in my critique on Balagangadhara

Though every bhakta should do her part in fulfilling the Great Commission of Muktinath, all are not called to do it in the same format. Each bhakta is called to do her part faithfully, leaving the rest with God. 

But the tragedy is that the Great Commission is interpreted as ‘converting’ people from one religious community to another. Even in this the conversion is not limited to personal faith but includes the sociological dimension. And Christianity, at least in India, promotes ‘conversion’ from one sociological community to another. In this they are not making any improvement or progress in those issues which they claim to be bad in Hindu society, such as caste.

In other words, people are called to change their camp without giving up what they find wrong in our society. And the converts too, thinking that they are escaping from the ‘devil’, jump in the deep sea, without anyone there to rescue them.

The Hindu approach is this: give personal freedom to choose any sadhana (spiritual discipline) that will help one to make progress in her spiritual aspiration according to her aptitude. It demands that each carries out one’s personal dharma inspired by the result of that personal sadhana. 

Let me explain this in my own way. Having become a bhakta of Bhagavan Muktinath, I need to do my dharma (social duty) as per the teaching of my Guru and Acharya Muktinath. For this I have to stay back where I was born rather than shifting camps and blaming others about all the shortcoming and failures. Through my personal life, seva, and sadhana I have to do my part in fulfilling the Great Commission. And in that, God will use me as per the gifts I received from Him as well which I received as my inheritance.

A plain reading of the (religious) text without thinking what are the intentions behind its teaching leads to blind faith. In the Great Commission when Muktinath says “Go and preach the gospel and make disciples”, Christians take the two words ‘preach’ and ‘make’ seriously, while forgetting the crucial aspect of ‘disciples’. When the Muktiveda allows a Hindu to become a bhakta or disciple to the Lord and also remain in her birth
family and community (I Cor. 7:17ff.), what the Christian does in the name of Great Commission is what the Lord says in Mt. 23:15:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one convert; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Though I have my reservations about the ‘illegitimate interference‘, I agree with Gangadhara about ‘proselytization’. For me ‘witnessing’ about the transformation that I received by the Lord is not an ‘illegitimate interference’1 since I never persuade anyone through coercion to change their religious tradition.

Although it is annoying to Christians, I say that even keeping my Hindu religious tradition as the frame, I can live as a bhakta of the Lord. Since pluralism is the Hindu reality, our Hindu religious tradition is broad enough to accommodate any kind of faith expression. At the same time, this pluralism never demands or expects any sampradaya to compromise or become syncretistic in doctrinal issues. Allowing for doctrinal/theological exclusivism, it provides inclusivism within its religious tradition. 

To my dismay what I see in Christianity is pluralistic exclusivism. Dismissing every other ‘denomination’ as heretical, it accommodates all kinds of denominations within one tradition in the name of Christianity. So in pluralistic inclusivism (Hinduism), one can openly and proudly remain a ‘witness’ for her faith and bhakti. Whereas in pluralistic exclusivism (Christianity), ‘proselytization’ is promoted in the name of Great Commission.

According to my understanding the Gospel introduces new values and respects old truths that help me do my dharma as a Hindu. The Great Commission should be centered on the noun ‘disciple’ rather than the verb ‘preach and make’.

 

22-4-15

 

Notes


1. “The Semitic self-description contains a universal truth claim, which gives rise to a dynamic of proselytization. When the biblical God reveals His plan, it covers the whole of humankind. Those who receive this revelation should try to convert the others into accepting the message in this divine self-disclosure. That is, proselytizing is an intrinsic drive of Islam and Christianity. The pagan view, on the contrary, implies that every ‘religion’ is a tradition–that is, a specific set of ancestral practices–characterizing a human community. The traditions are upheld not because they contain some exclusive truth binding the believer to God, but because they make some community into a community. Any attempt at interfering with the tradition of a community from the outside will be seen as illegitimate, since all traditions are part of the human quest for truth….– S.N. Balagangadhara, Reconceptualizing India Studies, New Delhi, Oxford, 2012, p. 209.

  • James Snapp, Jr.

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    It sounds very much to me like you are trying to put new wine into old bottles. Set aside man-made traditions and man-made philosophies, and make a fresh start, seeking no more and no less than to possess and express the faith that the apostles shared. Maybe you can keep man-made religious traditions, just as maybe you can run a marathon chained to a 50-pound weight. But you don’t need to, and your faith, to whatever extent it is faith in Christ as proclaimed by the apostles, will be better without them.