Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Great Commission Beyond Evangelism, Wright p. 284

The version of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel tends to have pride of place. It has certainly functioned as a driving text in the modern missionary movement. Unfortunately it has not always been read for all its content.

In another of those sad dichotomies,... the Great Commission has sometimes been portrayed exclusively as evangelistic mandate to go and preach the gospel everywhere, when actually the single and central imperative verb in the text is "make disciples". Now of course, making disciples requires evangelism, and the first added instruction, or step in the process of making disciples is "baptizing them". Baptism presupposes the preaching of the gospel and a response to it of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But the second added instruction- the Great Commission Line Three, as we might call it- is "teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you". And such teaching is of the essence of discipling. 

Basically, the New Testament was written by disciples, for disciples, to make disciples. Yet our emphasis has often been on getting decisions, claiming converts, making Christians. Actually the word Christian occurs three times in the New Testament, whereas the word "disciple" occurs 269 times. 

The Great Commission, along with all the practice of the New Testament church, tells us there is mission beyond evangelism....

We should not treat the Great Commission as a ticking clock, just waiting for the last people group to "hear" the gospel before the Lord is, as it were, permitted to return. That kind of thinking has transformed it into a "job to complete", "an unfinished task". But with its command to disciples to make disciples, it is a self-replicating mandate that will never "complete"- not in the sense that we can never reach all the nations (we can and we should), but in the sense that the making of disciples, and the rediscipling of those who have formerly been evangelized, are tasks that go on through multiple lives and generations.

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