From Matthew’s Gospel:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 22:34-40 – July 7, 2012)

Disclaimer: I adore the Summary of the Law! If there was one thing in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church that just grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go when I first encountered it as a high school freshman, it was the Summary of the Law. And if there is one thing that disappoints me about the 1979 American prayer book, it is the removal of the Summary of the Law from the standard Sunday service of Holy Communion. So this is an admittedly biased suggestion. ~ A few days ago I responded here to the Episcopal Presiding Bishop’s proposed budget for the church’s next triennium, noting that she had created it around the Anglican Communion’s five “Marks of Mission.” That’s a good idea. My response suggested that something lacking in the five marks is any specific mention or theological reflection acknowledging that those marks are based in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A reader took me to task noting that at least the first two imply a Christian basis, and I agreed. But the third, fourth, and fifth do not; I think the church should explicitly say how those marks contribute to the spread of the Gospel. ~ Here’s a simple suggestion for testing the ministries of the church, its structures, its programs, everything it says and does: test them against the Summary of the Law. For example, let’s say the church budgets $500,000 to promote “environmental justice”. Fine, that seems to fit the fifth mark of mission, which is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” Next question: In what way does a program to promote “environmental justice” evince the church’s love for the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind? Or how does it encourage and enable the church’s people to do so? And if it doesn’t . . . let’s move to the second question: In what way does such a program enhance our love of neighbor as self? ~ In parishes, especially as parishes develop vision and mission statements, set goals, and adopt budgets, we are often encouraged to test our programs against our goals. Does this parish activity support the vision, mission, and primary goals of the congregation? If not, can it? And if not, can it! It seems to me the national church could test its budget and programs in the same way, not against some vision committee’s product, but against the vision and mission set by our Founder: the Summary of the Law together with the Great Commission. Unless someone can lay out a simple apologia for a budget item, making it plain how that expenditure gives witness and support to love of God or love or neighbor, or contributes to the making of disciples, that item ought to be challenged. ~ Structure the budget around the five marks of mission, good idea. But test the structures and programs in the budget against the vision and mission of the Founder: love God, love neighbor, make disciples! A summary of the budget ought to pretty well track the Summary of the Law.


Father Funston is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.