Several years ago Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert co-wrote a great book on the Great Commission, arguing that the mission of the church is the Great Commission– the making of disciples in all nations. Anything a church spends its time and resources on is secondary to that mission.
Surprisingly, to me, there was a lot of pushback and debate surrounding the thesis of that book. A lot of the debate had to do with things like whether or not caring for the poor and loving thy neighbor was a part of the Great Commission. DeYoung and Gilbert argued that though loving your neighbor is a distinctly Christian thing to do, it is not distinctly Great Commission. They distinguished between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The argument from the other side goes something like this: “The church must care for the poor in order to fulfill the Great Commission. When you lead someone to Christ, don’t you teach them that one of the things followers of Christ do is care for the poor? Therefore, caring for the poor is the Great Commission, just as preaching the gospel is the Great Commission.”
There actually is something compelling to this line of reasoning. Christ’s followers should not just preach Christ, but live like Christ. If we preach Christ and him crucified, but live like Christ has not been raised, then our mission efforts will be weakened.
However, we must distinguish between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. There is an eternal difference between, “Repent and believe in Jesus” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Once you say, “love your neighbor” is the mission of the church, all of a sudden it gets hard to decide what the best way the church should spend her money. Do we spend it on missions or on being a good steward of our building? What’s the difference? All of a sudden it gets hard to decide how to use your property (if you have one). All of a sudden it gets harder to see the difference between a Christian church and a Christian hospital. All of a sudden it gets hard to see the difference between “Trust in Christ” and “Do good works.” If you do not guard that distinction passionately, it will not necessarily lead you to liberalism, but it might with the people you influence.