Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Greatest Commandment and the Greatest Sacrifice

In conjunction with the Decalogue Conference (previously, I mistakenly called it the Wheaton Theology Conference, which happens in the spring), Dr Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., president of Calvin Theological Seminary spoke Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Wheaton College’s chapel, in the Staley Lecture series. In keeping with the Decalogue, Dr Plantinga spoke about the Greatest Commandment, and the second which is like it.

Because the lecture series started before the Decalogue Conference commenced, occurred in the Edman Chapel instead of Barrow Auditorium like the rest of the Conference, and included the whole student body of Wheaton College, Dr Plantinga’s remarks were less academic than those restricted to the Conference. Understandably, the majority of his audience was not made up of scholars and conference attendees, so he tailored his presentation to fit. In all, it seemed out of place next to the rest of the Conference papers, but it was still valuable in its own right.

I watched Dr Plantinga’s messages from Barrows Auditorium, where a live feed was broadcast. It’s amazing how easily one disconnects from the presentation when the message becomes a televised event. At the end of Dr Plantinga’s first message, he invited the audience to stand for his prayer of benediction. Instead of participating, I found myself, initially, watching. If you’ve ever watched a preacher on television pray, you know the experience. Have you ever prayed with them? After some hesitation, and looking around at a few others already standing, I too stood, bowed my head and engaged as a participant instead of as an observer.

Dr Plantinga offered one brief but valuable metaphor toward the end of his second address to Wheaton College that I really appreciated. He was speaking, on a brief tangent, about giving one’s life in the cause of the Good News. It may have been in reference to Matthew 5:11 and the persecution mentioned there. He said, “We do not know if we will have to make the ultimate sacrifice because we are followers of Jesus. Before we learn calculus, we must learn arithmetic. We must first learn to show hospitality and love our neighbor in simple, daily practice.”

At Wheaton, the mind inevitably jumps to Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian and the sacrifices they made. All believers, I think, at one time or another ask themselves whether they would sacrifice their lives if put to it. But how much do we neglect to ask ourselves about the lesser things! Am I willing to love my neighbor or honor my parents? Am I willing to do less than give my all, and do that every day?

It is something like this idea that it seems Calvin may have been thinking when he argued that the Decalogue prohibits not just these terrible sins like murder and theft, but also “lesser” sins like anger and selfishness. And perhaps too, we are spurred toward this thinking too when Paul reasons that to break any part of the Law is to break the whole thing. And why Jesus says, you who are angry with your brother have already committed murder in your heart, you who have lusted after a woman have already committed adultery in your heart.

Perhaps the next time we ask ourselves whether we would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, we would do better to ask whether we are willing to give up something less? I fear I already know my answer.

No comments: