Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Commission

Jesus gave his apostles a clear mandate before he ascended to his Father’s right hand. The essence of that mandate, or Great Commission, is to “go and make disciples.” This mandate continues to define the mission and identity of the church today. However, a certain portion of the evangelical church misunderstands and misapplies this mission in two primary areas, the goal of the mandate, and the centrality of the church in fulfilling the commission.

First, Jesus' intention is clear, “go and make disciples.” but too often the command is heard as “go and make converts.” Am I quibbling over words, or is there a real difference here? It is relatively easy to make a convert in the evangelical church, all one needs to do is encourage one say a prayer, sign a card, or walk an aisle. You can count converts immediately. The sad reality is though, that many, if not most, of those who have a “conversion experience” will return to their former pattern of life before long. Was this Jesus' intention in the Great Commission? Jesus did not ask for converts, he demands disciples. Discipleship is not a once-for-all act; it is a lifelong process. It cannot be easily and quickly determined, it is a long, arduous process of submitting the entirety of one’s being to everything Jesus' commands. Seeking converts, not only takes the easy route, it is a basic misunderstanding of Jesus' desire.

Second, Jesus never intended this commission to be fulfilled outside the pale of the church. He makes this clear by emphasizing the necessity of baptism for the process of discipleship. What is baptism? It marks the entrance into God’s family, the rite of admission into the community of the church. This can only be fulfilled under the auspices of the church. No individual and no ministry has a right to perform this act under its own authority. Yet, without baptism, the mandate cannot be fulfilled. Too often people speak as if they were, individually or as a para-church ministry, fulfilling the Great Commission, but this is not possible. Jesus never intended this mandate to be fulfilled independently of the church.

None of this necessarily makes seeking true, Biblical conversions or pursuing para-church ministries illegitimate; but it does call for clarity on the nature of these ministries. As much as these activities are good, and in some instances even necessary, they are not in themselves fulfillments of the Great Commission.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reading for August 2007

  • “Anatomy of a Church Plant” New Horizons (July 2007).

Centering around Home Missions, the issue discussed and highlighted the church planting work of the OPC. An article also explained the history and work of the Chaplaincy Ministry in the OPC. Riddlebarger’s book The Man of Sin was reviewed, along with a work by Grudem and on the Sabbath.

  • Epistle to the Philippians- John Calvin (Translated by John Pringle), 1548.
Calvin’s commentary is full of the wise, careful discernment of a scholar with the heart of a pastor. Lacking in many of the minute discussions which are a hallmarks of modern critical commentaries, Calvin’s rich insights more than make up the lack. Throughout the commentary, Calvin gives glimpses into his struggles, not only theologically, but hints at his own personal struggles in his office as pastor in Geneva.

  • “Report on the Seventy-Fourth General Assembly” New Horizons (August/September 2007).
The feature article reviewed the work of 2007 General Assembly. The major issue confronting the Assembly was the Proposed Revision of the Directory for Public Worship, which was not completed. Reflecting on Jerry Falwell’s death, Larry Wilson wrote a piece on the church and politics. Following traditional patterns, Wilson argues that the place of the church is limited, while the individual’s role is much larger. Fesko’s Last Things First was reviewed, along with a book outlining Christian principles applied to dating.

  • The Teeth of the Tiger- Tom Clancy,
Set after the end of the Ryan Presidency, the book focuses on an clandestine agency set up by President Ryan to take action on intelligence data. Run by a former Senator, the agency recruits to brothers to serve as its hit men, while Jack Ryan Jr. comes on as an intelligence analyst. The brother, later along with their cousin Ryan, travels to Europe to assassinate members of a terrorist cell responsible for attacks on four American Malls.

  • A History of Prophecy in Israel- Joseph Blenkinsopp, 1996.
Second edition of the work, Blenkinsopp discusses Israel’s prophecy in roughly chronological order. After introducing scholarship on the prophets to date, he discusses the earliest forms of prophecy in Israel before the writing prophets. The greatest strength of the book is showing the literary connection and development discernable in the prophets. Even though dividing Isaiah into three separate compositions, he is careful to note the literary connection of the final book as a whole. Another strength of the book is the connection made between the prophets and the social/political situation in Israel/Judah. The author makes clear that the institution of prophecy itself evolved over times, and that evolution is discernable in the text.
  • Out of the Depths- Bernhard W. Anderson, 1983.
Out of the Depths is a popular level introduction to a form critical analysis of the Psalms. After opening with a general introduction to Psalter and other poetic portions of the Hebrew Bible, the author examines the Psalms according to type. Psalms are divided into Salvation-history, thanksgiving, hymns, individual and corporate laments, creation psalms, wisdom psalms, royal psalms and others. Anderson continually notes the parallels between Hebrew psalms and those found in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, while being careful to highlight the faith which distinguishes the Biblical psalms from others.