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.

No comments: