"What is the number one mandate for the follower of Christ?" I posed to a group of students at a Bible college renowned for its high view of scripture. Their response was without hesitation. "Evangelize!" Hmm. Is that what the scripture really says is the top priority for the people of God? I could see their bright young minds working as I probed about this obviously familiar theological territory. "Make disciples!" one young man offered a slight modification to the group's impulsive first response. Head nods registered a general consensus. "But what did Jesus actually say was the first and greatest command?" Back through their Synoptic Gospels and New Testament Survey courses they mentally scanned and yes, sure enough, Jesus in several places had said that the first and greatest command was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. One student displayed his knowledge of King James by quoting: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, mind, soul and strength and thy neighbor as thyself."
Was it agreed then? Was loving God and loving one's neighbor - commands enjoined like the two sides of a coin - the highest order in the hierarchy of Kingdom values? "On these two commands hang all the Law and the Prophets," another student quoted out of Matthew. This certainly did seem to be what the scripture was saying.
If loving God and loving neighbor is the most important mandate of our faith, and I agreed with the students that it was, then coursework on applying this teaching to practice should be a major emphasis of a college committed to preparing Christian leaders. Right? Again their minds were racing, reviewing the core curricula of the Biblical Studies and Ministry majors - English language and literature, sociology, an entire department of evangelism, histories of various sorts, a good assortment of Bible and theology courses, even Greek and Hebrew for the really serious. But a course on loving one's neighbor?
"Who teaches Neighboring 101?" I pushed. Stone silence. Surely a doctrine of such central importance to the Christian faith must be part of their curriculum. Effective Neighboring? Neighbor-care Strategies? Cross-cultural Neighboring Relationships? Ethical Issues in Neighbor Involvement? There were only puzzled looks and blank stares. No, nothing of this sort was being taught at the college, the students assured me.
"The problem with this Bible college is that it is just not biblical enough!" I challenged. Their gasps were almost audible. I have not been invited back.
Of course, Bible colleges and seminaries are not the places where most of us Christians receive our instructions for daily living. Most of us learn the practical applications of our faith through sermons, Sunday school classes and small group Bible studies. Only our clergy and certain of our ordained church leaders receive higher-level theological education. Now here's a chilling thought: What if all of the seminaries and Bible colleges that train our spiritual leaders were as devoid of "great commandment" teaching as the very Biblical one I visited? What would be the trickle-down effect on the church?
Come to think of it, I can't seem to remember the last time I heard of a Sunday school curriculum on loving our neighbor! Or a sermon series!