“go ye” and Gandhi

Gandhi greeting a little one


 Jarrod McKenna‘s Wednesday’s with Gandhi: “May it not be that ‘Go ye unto all the world’ message has been somewhat narrowly interpreted and the spirit of it missed? It will not be denied, I speak from experience, that many of the conversions are only so-called. In some cases, the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach.”

-Speeches and writings of Gandhi: p.336, Feb. 14 1916

Gandhi’s reflections come out of his horrible experience as a child in India seeing people convert to Western ways in ‘Christian drag’ and not to Christ.

Some thought on mission and ‘go ye’

  1. Have others too experienced people “Go[ing] Ye…” but not making disciples, that is, students of the nonviolent way of Jesus?

Gandhi 'going ye'2. The biblical passage which Gandhi is referring to is Matthew 28:18-20. In part it reads, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. Is it the ‘mission’ of the God revealed in Jesus if we are not teaching people the practicalities of what Jesus taught? If we teach a theory of atonement and neglect to teach ‘converts’ to live Jesus’ way have we really made disciples? If we don’t teach giving to the needy in secret (instead of calling a press conference), to pray for God’s will of justice,peace and joy to be done (instead of our will or the will of our nation), to seek first God’s transforming presence (instead of careers or our agenda) to first remove the plank from our own eye (instead of judging others) and to love our enemies (instead of bombing them) have we really made followers, students, disciples of Jesus?

3. Gandhi talked about “so-called” converts where the appeal has gone not “to the heart” but “to the stomach.” In your experience do evangelists today invite people ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus in the way of love come what may? Or simply appeal to peoples stomachs?

4. What might it look like to prayerfully seek to embody an alternative to the “so-called conversions”, the “appeals to the stomach” and “go[ing] ye” without calling people to obedience to the ‘royal law’ of Love?

For going deeper:

what difference to mission might it make if we were to spend time meditating on Matthew 28:18-20 inlight of Matthew 5-7 while praying for a ‘conversion of the heart’. Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount daily for his mission, how much do we for Christ’s mission?

14 thoughts on ““go ye” and Gandhi

  1. Hi Jarrod, Here are a couple of responses…

    First, I think it is a great indictment on the nominal afrikaan church that it refused to show hospitality to a soul such as Ghandi when he flirted with Christianity…

    …But it is an equally great indictment that Ghandi embraced the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount but refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord who brings in the Kingdom of God. Ghandi denies the deity of Christ.

    Ghandi writes in his autobigraphy:

    “my difficulties lay deeper. it was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who belived in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us are His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the World….” and so on….

    Jarrod you are right to provoke nominal Christianity, Jesus does that in Matthew 6. It seems you risk having a rose coloured Ghandi if you don’t apply that same critique to Ghandi’s relationship with Jesus. He wrote enough to work out what that was like.

    Further, I come from a conservative tribe, but it seems to me that you have set up a straw man and called him “A conversionist.” Perhaps you could focus the target you have in mind for me, there are plenty of expressions of nominal Christianity that may deserve this. Authentic Christianity even the conservative strains of it have always called for the transformed life and discipleship to accompany new Birth, new life, etc…. Likewise the dominant imperitave in the Great Comission is “make disiples” not “Go”. These are disciples taught and baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” I don’t see Ghandi encouraging trinitarian discipleship.

    I will check the log in my own eye and get back to you !


  2. I’m tired and its late… so there is an excuse to dismiss my comment

    Two points.

    1. Its only Western Christianity that has such a strong focus on Jesus as the only incarnation of God. I prefer a broader interpretation of “incarnation” that includes all of us. In reading Eastern Orthodox writings I am lead to the conclusion that While Jesus of Nazareth is the supreme incarnation, since his incarnation we are all in some way incarnations of the Living Presence. So in way I am agreeing with Ghandi’s critique but with a slight twist. Because God has entered human history in Jesus of Nazareth… we are all now incarnations of the same God. Big “I” and little “i”s if you like… but no less real.

    2. Our western obsession with the crucifixion of Jesus as payment for our sins is a problem. The crucifixion event is so much more than a payment for sins…. we need to open our eyes to the complexity and richness of it. Read widely among the many Christian traditions outside our own narrow little world and you will soon see what I mean. Ghandi has a point. Our obsession with our narrow penal interpretation of the cross is a problem.

    Go Jarrod. Keep up the good work.


  3. Hey Russel

    The cross may be more than payment for our sins, but it is in no way less than that. The texts that say that this is a central plank of the cross are numerous. The book of Hebrews sounds more obsessive about it than any Western Christian I’ve met!

    Consider this:Penal substitution makes the leap from the OT into the NT, and not simply as an afterthought, but there in antitype (as in type/antiptype), imagery, and fulfilment language

    God seems to have gone to a whole lot of unnecessary bother setting up a shadow/reality system – “a death in our place” paradigm – if in the end it is simply a minor part of the picture and an unhealthy obsession.

    But since we’re on the subject – can anyone tell me what is actually so repulsive or wrong with the idea of P.S.A? I just don’t get why so many people get so worked up and angry about it!

  4. Reflections…Certainly there are many aspects to the colonial missionaries that are repugnant. Converting people to Christ by force by becoming THE power structure in the land is certainly not the way that Jesus taught. And, we know from history that European expansionists who did so in the name of our Lord were not concerned for the welfare of the conquered but for the material wealth that could be gained. Many of us often seek to assuage their own guilt by justifying terrible atrocities by blaming it on a god who we claim told us to. The Living God is no different to this slander.

    According to two disciples of Jesus, Paul and Peter (and backed up by Jesus’ conversation with Pilate), governments were given by The Living God in order to commend those who do right and punish those who do wrong in order that all might live in peace in the land. In a fallen world, with a fallen people, this is a difficult balance to maintain. And, I pray for all police and government because this is not an easy task, dealing with the putrid darkness of our society in a manner that glorifies God.

    It is a temptation to imagine that various cultures around the world were happy-go-lucky people until those damned Christians showed up. But, that would be a mistake. We all need to be absolutely convinced in our hearts of the message that we are all part of one family (in all our wonderful variety), created and loved by one God, and that love is demonstrated by what Jesus did on the cross.

    In obeying Jesus’ mandate to make disciples there are two potential problems involved, the one who makes the disciples and the one who is being discipled.

    We who endeavour to make disciples must ensure that we are convincing people to follow Jesus and not us. We must love people to the point where we have a deeper desire to serve the kingdom more than our local church, denomination, or our reputation, ego, or stomach.

    We who are being discipled must ensure that we truly long to follow Jesus in his entirety; to be fully immersed in who God has revealed himself to be, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit AND to be taught in EVERYTHING Jesus commanded. I heard a brilliant preacher once teach that in his experience, most people long for a heaven without God. We want all the promises of God without a relationship with God, let alone a relationship that places God as Lord of our entire lives. We must be grown to the point where our heart absolutely trusts God with our whole lives and not just follow after a god who just fills our stomachs.

    Certainly Matthew 5-7 is quite descriptive of a disciple who does exactly that. I just pray me and those who I am called to reach as Jesus works through and in us reach that standard.

    Cheers Jarrod

  5. I can’t even compete with you guys! I dont have all the fancy words, and I dont have an essay to write, but just a simple perception.

    What I know of Ghandi is that he was a good bloke. He put into action what we Christians should be putting into action – but that in no way meant he was a christian. I agree with Gavin but I can also see what your trying to get across Jarrod. He is a good example to follow, but he shouldn’t be our only example – that should be christ.

    I know your not trying to put Ghandi up on a huge pedestal, higher than God, your just “informing us of a radical guy”

    I might be way off…Im sorry, but that is how I view the whole thing.

    also, long time no speak hey Jarrod? 🙂

  6. Wow a lot of rich stuff coming up!

    I’m working in the our community garden today but just quickly in response:

    Gav and Bek,

    G’day! Yep, to clarify I’m not holding Gandhi up as an orthodox Christian or someone who’s theology we’d want to copy or someone we should look at uncritically but as someone who doesn’t share our faith who we’d find it fruitful to be in dialogue with for considering mission.

  7. Russel and Steve, G’day!

    While I know what you mean about gospel simply being reduced to “sin management” I think we can react in the opposite direction as well. I’m totally with Steve (I think you might be as well?) when he says “The cross may be more than payment for our sins, but it is in no way less than that.” (very N.T. Wright by the way Steve 😉 ) Steve I don’t think there is anything wrong with substitutionary atonement (you’d have chop out a bit of the N.T. to get to saying it’s ‘wrong’!) but when it’s not the only understanding of atonement in the New Testament and has got a history of being distorted with some horrific ethical implications and can leave God the Father looking like being completely different in nature to the Son (which is to leave orthodox Trinitarian theology . That said we shouldn’t ditch it, just work on our explanations of atonement so they do Jesus justice. Their is a great “Four Views” book Called “The Nature of the Atonement” with Gregory Boyd, Joel Green, Bruce Reichenbach and Thomas Schreiner”. Other big influences on me are people like N.T. Wright, René Girard, J Denny Weaver or have all raised really helpful questions for me.

  8. Lance, G’day!

    think you raise some good stuff. Your comment “in us reach that standard”. I have a whole series of workshops on the practicalities of the Sermon on the Mount where we recover Jesus’ teachings from ‘ideals’ that we have to strive for to practices we have to learn if your interested. Here ends the adds . 😉 Here’s a link to an article I wrote that is soon to be published on this topic:


  9. Hey Jarrod

    With you on the reductionist thing there – Wright has been helpful to me on this too. Wouldn’t want to take away the other achievements of the cross.

    BTW you’re the second person in a month or so who has said to me “very NT Wright” – do you think we could be related? We are both bald and old!

  10. He’s in the pantheon with me too Jarrod. BTW Hamo I’m sure you can think of worse things to call me. Maybe we can talk about that some time!!

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