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the Great Commission

August 1, 2011

Scripture first:

Mat 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

My initial reason for writing this post is the observance that it does not say “get all the nations to ‘say the prayer’ or ‘ask Jesus into their hearts'”. Yes, making a conscious decision or acknowledgement that Christ has done a saving work in their lives is implied by the “baptize them” part, but I’m convinced the great commission is about more than just a “head count” – numbers of people in the pews and numbers of people baptized last year. No churches I know of actually put it in those words, but functionally that’s how a lot of churches behave. I also think its more than getting to know our neighbors so that we can relate to them and pray for the moment we can tell them about Jesus.

The main emphasis here is teaching. We are to teach the people of all the nations how to obey all that Christ taught us. My question is, “does it matter the order that we do it in?” That is, do we resist the teaching to obey part waiting until they are baptized? Can we not teach people as if all those we are teaching are part of the elect (even though they may not know it), and the baptisms that arise from it are a sign that we’re doing a good job teaching?

What might this look like in real life? Picture someone from a church teaching a group of people who have responded to a community ad about learning to be a better parent or succeed in university or high school, or learning how to take control of finances. There are aspects of all those things that Christ has taught about. If we take seriously the idea of the national soul, we can teach any truth that Christ taught about for any reason to anyone who might never have thought about it in that way before and we are obeying the great commission. Instead of doing a “community service seminar” as some sort of bait so we can “give the gospel message” at the end hoping that a portion of those people will attend our church and make a commitment to the Lord, I think it would be more appropriate to state something at the beginning like this: “As you know, this seminar is sponsored by my church, but I’m not going to ask you to become a Christian at the end. That’s because we believe that you can’t chose to follow Jesus – He has to choose you, and if what I’m about to teach you concerning keeping healthy (or whatever) is objectively right and true, and you see its value and desire to stop doing all the wrong things and start doing what is right, then that may be your sign that Christ has chosen you already. If you’re already a Christian, then this is also for you because you know that you are to do whatever is right and strive for excellence in all aspects of your life, including this one.”

I think the teaching to obey part of the great commission is valid before the baptism part in the same way that a fetus is as much a human person before birth as after.

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