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Commission or Commandment?

June 14, 2014

Here we go again with an either/or post.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

If you have spent any time at all in or around evangelical churches you probably know those verses by heart.  Matthew 28:19-20 is our “Great Commission” and has become the jumping off point for evangelism.  Jesus has commissioned us to witness.  We need to go into the entire world and bring people to Him.

The passage has been the subject of more “you ought to” sermons than anyone could count.  Of course there is not one single place in the New Testament where Jesus, Paul or anyone else used guilt as a tool to get believers to witness.  Not one.  Go ahead and look, I’ll wait.

You back?  Good.

I heard my first “you ought to” message as a little boy in Sunday School.  I wasn’t even a Christian yet but already it was being drummed in, presumably so that I’d know what to do if and when I was saved.  At the time and well into my early adulthood in the 70s that message was understood as the need to evangelize.  In the past couple of decades, in response to a host of books on “easy believism” the messages are focusing more on the “make disciples” part.  We need to do more than get them to accept Christ, we need to teach them, disciple them.

Recently the Southern Baptists have been bemoaning the fact that baptisms are down.  Predictably, a rash of “you ought to” exhortations to make disciples has been flowing ever since.  My own denomination, the Evangelical Free Church, is pretty much doing the same thing.  Pastors are being guilted by these messages to lead from example and to exhort more often.  While I can’t exactly say that the “make disciples” part is being ignored, it is surely seen as the second step.  But I am sure that, once we get everyone out there witnessing, the making of disciples will again rise to the forefront.

But I am still wondering if we have zeroed in on the right portion of that passage.  Is it possible that the real focus should be this:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:36-40.

This passage, often called the Great Commandment, is generally seen as a private exhortation.  We challenge ourselves with it, which is not an altogether bad thing.  But since the Great Commission actually says we are to teach them “to observe all I have commanded you” is it possible that the Great Commission is actually to teach the Great Commandment?  That the essence is to teach the love of God and our fellow man and, not incidentally, to do it ourselves?

I fear that much of the modern evangelical church has assumed that making disciples means giving them theology lessons; that along with our Bibles we are to carry a book on systematic theology from our particular strand of the faith.  This falls very close to implying salvation by good theology, a concept I will touch in another post very soon.

I’ve decided that my Great Commission is to demonstrate to the world the Great Commandment.  I want to live in such a way that shows I love God and that shows how loving God translates to loving others.  I know I really suck at it, but I want to do my best.

Teaching has it place.  Good theology is important.  But is it the most important thing?  I don’t think so.  Soon I will examine a passage that many think implies that it is the most important.

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