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!
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.