LESSON #27: Failing the Great Commission (DON’T DO IT)
Currently, we are taking about 20 guys through what we call a discipleship boot camp. It is a return to what are called “First Principles”, the basics, Christianity 101, the foundation of our faith. Some might consider our material too simplistic, focusing on “milk” rather than meat. In the short time that I have been a pastor, I have learned that the basics are where most Christians, and the churches they build, go wrong. Too often they want to run ahead on meat, only to try and choke down a theological rib-eye their stomachs are not prepared for. Though they may be able to get some nourishment, most of the meal they have to spit out and thus, end up malnourished. And though they talk about the glories of big theological steak meals, they don’t in fact grow, and neither do the babies around them they are supposed to feed.
All that to say, our first study was on the GOSPEL—the kerygma—the proclamation of WHO Jesus is and WHAT He did. Knowing that Paul in 2Corinthians said that there is,”…another gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit…”, it’s a good idea that we get the right one. In our second study last night, we discussed BAPTISM as it related to the Great Commission. We took the Great Commission, Jesus command to His disciples in Matthew 28.16-20 which says:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
For anyone that has been a Christian for any amount of time, the Great Commission should be a familiar passage. Unfortunately, it seems that Christians, and their churches, have become so familiar with the Great Commission that the heart of it has been lost. This “death by familiarity” has resulted in churches forgetting that the Great Commission is not good advice for godly living, rather, it is a command from God. At the heart of this passage is Jesus command to make disciples of all nations. Jesus doesn’t leave us to figure out what “making disciple means” but gives us somewhat of a formula: GO PREACH, BAPTIZE, and TEACH. As Jesus could have said so many other things for us to do as His disciples, it is crucial we understand why he commands this.
Curiously, it seems like Christians and their churches typically forget emphasize all aspects of the Great Commission. If we do this, we I believe we fail to fulfill the Great Commission as God intends. And, if it is a command and not just advice, we must be careful that our failure is not simply rebellion. Failure can look like one of three things:
- We GO & BAPTIZE but do not TEACH: These people and churches are highly evangelistic, but fail to establish disciples beyond basic belief (milk). This can result in churches that teach little more than spiritualized-psychology and focus all of their energies on gathering a flock. Similarly, their disciples they make are so focused on counting conversions, and on the gospel going further to more hearts, that they never wrestle with the hard truths of Scripture and the gospel never goes deeper in their own heart. Making disciples is a numbers game.
- We GO & TEACH but do not BAPTIZE: These people and churches are usually very engaged in culture, almost to a fault. They fail to emphasize baptism because they choose to deny the centrality, authority, and importance of the church. As a result, they build “faith communities” that are highly individualized, emotional, and ultimately unstable. At the heart of their denial of baptism is a rebellion against all authority, the church and Scripture itself. Typically, these groups will spend times arguing on the non-essential aspects of faith that are usually quite controversial. But, with a few truths in their hand, their communities become full of disciples who love Jesus, hate His church, and ask a lot of questions about truth without ever coming to conclusions. Making disciples is an ambiguous relational game.
- We BAPTIZE & TEACH but do not GO: These people are usually doctrinal sound but relationally retarded. They guard the purity of gospel-doctrine and emphasize the importance of being “the church”, but they separate themselves from the world. Their disciple making emphasizes teaching and knowledge. They deny Jesus command to “GO”, figuring they have already arrived where they were sent, and maintaining “the church” itself becomes the mission. Though they may send a check to missionary in a foreign country, they are not missional where they live. The church invariably makes disciples full of knowledge they do nothing with. Making disciples is a private game.
While I am sure there are other more accurate descriptions, it is clear that we can easily fail to follow the Great Commission of Jesus. Jesus commanded us to go AND baptize AND teach. Baptism is, according to Jesus, the first thing that someone who believes should do. It is not belief itself, but it is the first act of obedience that visibly declares in the body what has already happened invisibly in the heart. In other words, baptism is much more than just getting wet—for both the individual who is being baptized and the church that is baptizing. It is a comprehensive commitment to several things including:
1. Commitment to the Triune God: The formula given by Jesus is specific. The triune God is unique to Christianity. In baptism, the disciple is committed to the one true God and opposed to any other so called “gods” at the same time. In baptism, the individual is identifying with Jesus, his death and resurrection, committing to walking no longer as a slave to sin in rebellion, but a slave to God in worship.
2. Commitment to the church: Similar to circumcision in the Old Testament, the disciples were baptizing people into a people. It was NOT just an individual experience but a communal one. Jesus death brings us into His family, the church, where we experience community and serve as a member of the family. Baptism is the act of committing oneself to following Jesus as the bride that He loves. You cannot declare a love for Jesus and not be a part of the bride that Jesus says he sets His love on.
3. Commitment to making disciples: One final commitment we make as newly baptized disciples is of making more disciples ourselves. The Great Commission was not only given to a group of “leaders”, but to all future disciples. There is both an individual and a corporate responsibility to be disciple makers, people who preach, baptize, and teach. In other words, beginning with your family, you make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
Let us never forget that fulfilling the Commission is not just for pastors, it is for ALL who would identify themselves as disciples. This is what disciples do. I pray that we will be disciples who make disciples who build churches full of disciples who fulfill the Great Commission only to do it all over again…and again.