CPx: The Great Commission
In our second week of CPx, we had a guest speaker come and spend several days laying out a method and structure for church planting simple churches in such a way to spawn movements. He started by digging into the “Great Commission”:
Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
To do this we broke it up into specific commands contained within it and juxtaposing them with what the western church tends to do.
The first command we see in the great commission is to GO! It is a commissioning requiring movement and not one designed to feed into our tendencies toward complacency. More often than not, our tendency as a church (universal) is to stay. We’ve fine tuned the process, in fact, and church is little more than an event or club we head to one or two days a week. The greater body of believers has little to no sense of going in their lives. I read a stat some years ago that said that over 95% of Christians, after having been a Christian for 7ish years or more, knew zero non christians. That’s incredibly sad to think about — Jesus explicitly commands us all to go to them, yet we choose to stay while the world goes to hell around us.
We also tend to mix up the GO! command with a COME! command. We require attendance to do something as simple as sharing the Gospel. It wasn’t ever about attendance in Jesus and Paul’s time, as we see in the book of Acts. Paul and the disciples showed up in synagogues and other third spaces, going directly to the people rather than making the people come to them.
In traditional church settings we also have a tendency to send others rather than ourselves. We miss that the command to GO! is broad and extends to us all. And so, we get these people called missionaries and send them to the ends of the earth (which is awesome — don’t miss the point!). People everywhere need Jesus though, be it an office place — a health club — anywhere else you can think of. Moving far away isn’t an automatic. More often than not, we are called to GO! right where we are at. I had just as much a responsibility to share Jesus where I was before coming to Africa as I do now that I’m here.
Another tendency in some church settings is also isolation. We insulate ourselves with people that are just like us and stay in our own little shells, never coming out to GO! as Jesus commands.
The second command is another very important one — Jesus commissioned us all to go and make disciples of Jesus, teaching them what He has taught us. But does the western church do this? If we took a serious look at the church landscape, is disciples what we would find?
More often than not it isn’t, particularly in the American context. We make consumers much more often than disciples. Reducing the Gospel to a simplistic transaction has instilled it with the same value as that of buying expensive computers. We find something we like and tend to stay loyal to the brand but if something new or cheaper or in some way flashier comes along — it really isn’t anything to switch. Much about the seeker and attractional models tend to reinforce this. They are built around entertaining and capturing attentions and get flashier and crazier and more gimmicky with each passing year. Anything to get them in the pews, though, right?
And speaking of that, all to often discipleship gets lost in the quest for crowds and numbers. If we draw them in by the drove, week after week, that must be good right? Well, Barna research would tend to indicate otherwise:
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.
Many professing Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
60 percent of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
82 percent of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse.
12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.
Six out of ten Americans reject the existence of Satan.
Four out of ten Americans believe that when Jesus Christ was on earth He committed sins.
Five out of ten believe that anyone who is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life will earn a place in Heaven.
Four out of ten believe that the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.
Seven out of ten born again Christians said they do not believe in moral absolutes.
Only one out of ten Christians base their moral decision-making on the principles taught in the Bible.
Those stats speak volumes to me about the nature of discipleship within the American church. We are great about making members though. And programs. And events.
Of All Nations!
The third command is really an extension of the last — and its the drive to go and disciple not just individuals but nations. All to often its about the individual and not the nations — the object we are going after is much grander than we might necessarily think.
When brainstorming the common approach to discipling nations, we discussed the tendency for discipleship to be homogenous (we go to the “same”) rather than being heterogeneous (intentionally going to the “other”). I think this begins to get at the heart of incarnational living — Jesus is for all tribes, tongues and people. It is our job to take Him to them, bleeding His life, death and resurrection into the cracks of their culture. In this way, entire cultures can enter into the kingdom of heaven.
This is one of those things that excites me quite a bit and really gets me going.
Baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
Baptism is an important thing but it’s not THE thing. That’s Jesus. It’s not some magical or esoteric event either. Rather, it is a public declaration of who is lord of your life. It’s placing a stake in the grand that says, “my life now and forevermore belongs to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.” It’s also a symbolic act — an identification with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as He died, was buried and rose again to new life, so we die to our old lives, are buried beneath the water, and rise again to new life in Christ.
That it is a command of Jesus just solidifies its importance (if its prophetic stance of identification and allegiance hadn’t already gripped you). But do we do this (and do it well)? Do we baptize into the trinity? It’s easy to say yes! But we often baptize into religious affiliations, into denominations and into doctrinal statements. They take prime importance and are the grid through baptism is decided and administered. I remember a friend some time ago discussing baptism in a church they were attending and it was all dependent not in the trinity but the particular doctrinal stance of the associated denomination. All to often we get caught up in those details.
Another trap that’s easy to fall into is relegating baptism solely into the realm of choice: it’s a personal decision and we can decide whether or not we do it or not. It’s true that salvation itself isn’t dependent on baptism. But Jesus is quite clear that it’s something we are to do, and probably as we are able to. It feels like their is immediacy in the words of Jesus — that’s it’s important enough to Him to command it and not just suggest it.
Teaching Them to Obey
This is one category that can raise some tempers. The question begs a close examination of the nature of the sermon and what it gets across. Thinking high level — what exactly do we teach? Perhaps getting more specific, does the sermon if that is your primary mode of teaching fulfill the command of the great commission to teach disciples to obey everything that Jesus taught.
That is an interesting question. In sermons, preachers have the tendency to just talk at people rather than teach them. I’ve sat through many lessons where the pastor gets up and passionately spends time going through this 30 minute lecture and I come out and 3 hours later have no clear recollection of what went on. Is that teaching? If there is nothing to obey and especially nothing of Jesus to obey, is that really fulfilling the command of Jesus? And this happens often week after week.
I’ve preached in a traditional setting once and found it to be a fascinating experience. I honestly much better like “preaching” in house church settings where it seizes to be about me on the stage with a headset and instead becomes all of us circled around discussing the scripture and coming up with real and practical ways of applying the scripture together in everyday life.
And I haven’t gotten into the content of a lot of sermons. Are they scriptural? I’ve heard way too many that read like a self-help/motivational sermon and NOT Jesus’ Words to obey in everyday life. Cultural relevancy and self-esteem all too often trump the Bible and sometimes (probably more than we are willing to admit) church culture trumps it as well (I’m thinking of all you Baptist who can’t do anything fun, like dance). I’ve also heard many that read like magic formulas to get God to obey us: say this prayer and the genie will grant your wish — do this thing and the genie will do this — and so on. That’s not teaching to obey all that Jesus has taught us either.
And we’ve got to be careful of the flipside of the watered down/neutered Gospel: teaching to know and not to obey. Knowledge is a seductive drug. It’s easy to get caught up in the knowing and having your systematic theology ducks all in a row. But if all we do is know and not obey, then it is no better to us and we ignore the teaching of Jesus.
I Have Commanded
I think we kind of covered this above but we have to make sure that we are chasing after Jesus and His Word while not getting caught up in man made dogma and doctrine and everything that the church commands (that Jesus often might not).
In looking at these verses, there is one other thing I noticed that I find important: the commands of Jesus in these verses are bracketed by the presence of God. It is with the authority of heaven and earth that Jesus gives this commission. It’s in this authoritative presence of the Word of God that it’s given and, as the verses end, it’s in His presence with us til the end of the age that we walk in them and carry them out.
I find it exciting and challenging and incredibly rewarding to be invited to partner with Jesus in seeing every tribe, tongue and nation come to know Him, as well as challenged to truly walk in His commission and not the world’s, or the some church’s or some man’s. After working it out, here’s to living it out…