Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Who Got It Right . . . Reformers or the Pope?

By George W. Sarris
It’s been repeated so often . . . by so many people . . . on so many different occasions that its truth is no longer questioned. It’s simply assumed.
I recently heard it mentioned in a sermon, with most of the congregation nodding approval as if it came straight out of the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve seen it referred to in print as an unquestioned fact. And I’ve even stated it as an assured truth myself on several occasions.
What I’m talking about is the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
That certainly sounds profound. In fact, it’s almost poetic in the way it’s phrased. It even has two parts . . . as if it’s highlighting aspects of the two great commandments.
But when I heard it this last time, something wasn’t quite right.
It’s not that glorifying God and enjoying Him forever is wrong. It certainly isn’t. It’s just incomplete.
Two . . . Not One
The problem is that there are two great commandments, not one.
Those who wrote the catechism summarized the first commandment very well. We are to love God – or glorify Him – with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
But enjoying God forever does not summarize the second great commandment!
Loving God with all of our being would certainly result in our eternal enjoyment. But God has given mankind a second great purpose. Not only are we to focus on our vertical relationship with Him . . . we are also called upon to focus on our horizontal relationship with our fellow man.
The second great commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Man’s Chief End?
On November 19, Pope Francis tweeted a short phrase that actually captured the heart of mankind’s chief end remarkably well. Noting that the Saints were not superhuman, he said,
They were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others.
Sincerely loving people lies at the center of what mankind is supposed to do. It’s had and will continue to have lasting implications on how we interact with the rest of the world.
Perhaps we should make a subtle change to the answer to that all important first question in the catechism so that it reads:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God . . . enjoy Him forever . . . and share that joy with the rest of the world.
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