Pearson Johnson, Director of Student Care
I have read my Bible today, fellowshipped with God, and interceded for others in prayer—and checked social media for updates on people for which I am praying. I sat through two great in-service meetings at work. Oh… and I have been about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission.
Right before Jesus left the earth, He told us what our life’s focus should be. We call it the “Great Commission.” It’s not the “Relevant Application” or the “Tangential Consideration.” I think it could better be termed by nature of its timing, its source, and its intended impact, “The All-Consuming Commission.” Mark and Neal built the foundation for understanding the nature and implications of the Great Commission. Today I want to offer some suggestions by way of personal involvement for how we “do” the Great Commission today.
You may notice a theme.
A theme which seeks to purposefully and specifically fulfill what Jesus has commissioned us to do—everyday involvement in going and making disciples who are baptized into local churches whose leaders are trained to plant churches in all parts of the world. May God help us do what Jesus commissioned us to do!
In the previous blog I attempted to make suggestions about how the actions of Matthew 28:19-20 relate to each other (“go”, “make disciples”, “baptize”, “teach”). I argued that this text teaches that Jesus’ church must go out and make disciples, and the way they are to carry this out is to practice believers’ baptism following salvation, followed by a rigorous plan of teaching the Bible.
Now let me make a few applications about this.
As I have affirmed, the main thing the Great Commission is about is making disciples. Many would say (myself included) this cannot really be accomplished outside of the local church. The church is God’s unique creation for this dispensation to accomplish His plan. And when we begin to read Acts and see how the apostles carried out the Great Commission, we observe that they started churches.
Discipleship is only complete in the context of local church assemblies. If a person says that they don’t need to be part of a local church, I believe their Christian growth will be incomplete.
I think we could also conclude that missionaries who are not in some way contributing to the growth of the church are pursuing a truncated ministry. For example, one may serve the Lord in orphanage ministry, but without some connection to the ministry of a local church, the discipleship of the children will be incomplete.
I am not saying that no discipleship occurs in a ministry setting that does not have church involvement; I am saying it is incomplete.
A further thought has to do with baptism. Every believer should begin his or her walk with Christ in the obedient event of baptism. I would argue this “ordinance” belongs to the local church. It is not to be carried out by anyone at just anytime.
Part of my argument on this is the close connection that we see between baptism in the Great Commission and the founding of the church. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule when you look at pioneer missions where there is no local church. Obviously, you have to begin somewhere. Therefore, I would place Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) in this category.
Other evidence could be gathered from the New Testament about the connection that exists between discipleship and the local church, but we will save that discussion for a later time. The same could be said for baptism and the local church.
One Bible faculty member began a Bible study several years ago. A Roman Catholic man accepted Christ as his Savior, and he asked if the faculty member would baptize him. The faculty member said no, and explained that this ordinance belongs to the church, based partly on what I have said above. I believe his refusal was wise in many respects. This new Christian needed to come under the discipleship program of a good local church. Baptism is just part of that program.
I have one more thought on the necessity of church-planting. Although I am in general agreement that church-planting should be the all-important goal of what we do, I would also insist that there are some things that must be done to make church-planting possible.
Bible translation is a good example of this. How can churches be established without Scriptures in the language of the people? I see Bible translators as helping church-planters throughout the world. Others who assist church-planters would include Christian radio and television producers. There is a huge need for Christian programs in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, and other languages to be used to get the Gospel by way of satellite TV or internet transmission into the Muslim world—teachers, writers, etc.
But once again, it must all be tied to the end goal of establishing churches.
In closing, I would like to come back to the necessity of “going” as part of the Great Commission mandate. For the apostles, this command played out in different ways. For Paul, he sought to take the Gospel to the outer regions of the known world (Spain: see Romans 15). For James, the brother of John, it appears that he never made it out of Palestine before he was martyred for his faith (Acts 12:2). The church at Antioch of Syria sent some out, while others remained behind.
The key point is that the church must seek to reach the unreached, employing its people and resources to complete the Commission. Thus, I think that it is reasonable to conclude that my geographic commission will look different from yours.
Since many will have to cross cultural boundaries in order to fulfill this Commission, special training will be needed. This is where the definition of missions becomes crucial: “missions is the work of ministry that tends towards church-planting in a culture other than your own” (my own definition).
This definition is not spelled out in the New Testament, but is strictly practical. If your part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission is to leave the USA and serve in Zimbabwe, then you need specialized training to be effective. I am sure that this closing thought could be expanded, but I will leave it to other blog posts to tackle!
By Neal Cushman, Projects Coordinator
In the last post on our CGO blog, Mark Vowels explained why the Great Commission is crucial to every follower of Christ. It’s not just for missionaries, nor is it part of a list of various things that Christians do if they have time or particular talents. Jesus commands all believers to reach out to people and disciple them. I especially appreciated Mark’s point that we have all received a commission, just like a soldier would receive in the military. It’s a big deal.
I would like to expand on a couple of these ideas in today’s post and perhaps makes some connections that are frequently omitted in this type of discussion. As in all of our CGO blog posts, good people may disagree on some of the points that we make.
First, many discussions on the Great Commission rightly assert the primacy of making disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but they frequently misunderstand the syntax of this passage. Jesus’ Great Commission is made up of three sentences. In the first sentence, he assures his followers that he has been given all the authority necessary in heaven and on earth for them to fulfill his Commission. The third sentence, located in 28:20, provides further encouragement that whatever his disciples face as they carry out the Commission, he will be with them, even when the world comes to its final end. Few controversies occur in sentences one and three, but this is not the case in the second sentence.
The second sentence of the Great Commission may be structured as follows:
Make disciples of all nations
By means of
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Teaching them whatever I have commanded you.
There is one finite verb (“make disciples”) in this sentence, and three participles (going, baptizing, and teaching). The finite verb is the controlling verb in the sentence, so “going”, “baptizing”, and “teaching” modify “make disciples” (an imperative) in some way. Some have suggested, therefore, that the main thing in this text is making disciples (which I would agree with), but have minimized the other actions. This has led to a lack of clarity on the relationship between these three actions and the main verb, “make disciples.” Since Greek grammar requires that each of the participles must modify the main verb in some way, it is important that we identify the probable relationship.
I apologize for a discussion on Greek grammar and syntax on this blog, but it is necessary to the topic. Let’s start with the first participle (going). If you identify the relationship between the participle and the main verb as “time”, you would translate, “As you go, make disciples.” But this would not be the best choice. Rather, the participle “going” is best related to the main verb in a position called “attendant circumstance” (see the footnote above for a source for further discussion). This relationship means that the participle takes on the force of the main verb, so essentially we should translate this text “Go and make disciples.” It is important to recognize that the participle, “go,” has no less force than the imperative, “make disciples.” It makes sense, then, that out of the 26 English translations that are included in my version of BibleWorks®, only two of them avoid using an imperative for “go” in this passage.
This view is further supported by several contextual features: (1) the followers of Christ were commanded to make disciples of “all nations.” Since it is unlikely that any of them had ever stepped out of Palestine, “going” would be an absolute necessity. A “wherever you go” approach would not be sufficient; (2) judging from the different settings and chronology, there are at least five post-resurrection occasions in which Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples. On what was the final giving of the Great Commission, just prior to his ascension, Jesus spelled out the geographic dimensions of this Commission (Acts 1:8). It begins with Jerusalem, and it ends with the outermost parts of the earth. Surely “going” is a crucial part of the Commission.
Second, what is the relationship between “make disciples” and the ideas of “baptizing” and “teaching” people to observe all things that Jesus has commanded? These participles tell Jesus’ followers exactly how to make disciples. Baptism is a crucial part of the process, for it openly expresses one’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. It brings one into fellowship with all believers in God’s wonderful plan of the ages—the church. However, teaching is absolutely necessary in the process of discipleship, so each believer should be exposed to the teaching of the word of God, which presumes a nexus of edification—the church.
So this text answers the question of how one makes disciples. It is accomplished by means of baptizing (publicly identifying the believer as a follower of Christ) and a thorough teaching program that covers everything that a believer needs to know to walk with God and successfully serve him.
To be continued…
 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 645.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.