Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rethinking the Great Commission: Reclaiming Disciple Making Everywhere

Jesus said, “Everything has been given to me, therefore, as you live your life, make disciples, teaching them to go into their world and demonstrate the Good News of who I am to all whom they come in contact with, baptizing those who believe, so that repentance for the forgiveness of sins will come to all people everywhere, and teach them to live their lives in the same way I did, so that many will witness to my life in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. You can do this, for I am with you always, everywhere you go, to the very end of the age” 

Well not exactly in those word, at least the way it's recorded. 

This is a compilation of five Great Commission statements taken together. Did you know there were five Great Commission statements in the New Testament? There are others in the Old Testament but that for another post

When you think of the Great Commission most of us probably think of the passage in Matthew 28:18-20. Some might know Acts 1:8 but do we know what Mark 16:15 or Luke 24:47 say and if you read this blog hopefully you are familiar with John 20:21 (if not, look at the banner). 

The other day, I had one of those “ah ha” moments when I heard a statement to the effect that there are five Great Commission statements given in the four Gospels, plus Acts, and that they run in sequence that when considered together shines a greater light on how Jesus was instructing his disciples to live. 

The above is my attempt to synthesize Jesus statements starting in Matthew 28:18 and ending in verse 20 , which sandwich Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47 and John 20:21 and Acts 1:8. 

All that Jesus wanted us to know about the assignment he was giving his disciples, needs to be considered between these two “all” statements Jesus makes in the Great Commission. 

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus begins the commissioning by stating that “all” authority had been given to him. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus concludes by stating that he would be with us for “all” time.  In between and in conjunction with the other statement of the other 3 Gospels Jesus instructs us on how we are to live. By living this way, Jesus message of repentance and forgiveness would flow everywhere people live. 

The problem we have however is that too few actually live this way, so many are left without this knowledge. How do we reclaim the life Jesus meant for us to live? 

It’s vital we understand the beginning of the Great Commission is in Jesus. By telling us that all authority had been given to him, we can know that the assignment Jesus gave us can be accomplished. 

It’s vital we know that Jesus wasn’t giving us a task that was too difficult, something we couldn’t do. His presence makes the assignment not only possible but practicable and profitable – for God’s purposes. It is after all God’s mission! 

What the Church has focused on, with respect to the Great Commission, has been primarily two things. First, there are those who understand the Great Commission as a call to missions, which primarily is defined as overseas or “frontier” missions to the “nations.” It is that but more.

Others see a call to teaching, “teaching them to obey” a moral standard or at least attempting to do so. To become better people is the goal. The result is we dismiss God’s mission in the world, thinking we simply need to live “right.” Missions is for others "called" to forsake all and follow Jesus. 

These understandings set up a false dichotomy between missions as a special calling and the life of the average Christian. Neither of these, alone, is what Jesus was commissioning his church for. 

Last week I blogged about the Great Omission of the Apostles Creed, about how the Church Fathers who gave us this Creed missed a vital part of the life and ministry of Jesus. 

Another problem you will note in the Apostles Creed is that it doesn’t mention making disciples. But making disciples is what the Great Commission is all about, for every Christian, everywhere, all the time, as we follow Jesus in what he began doing. 

In his book, “The Great Omission – Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teaching on Discipleship,” Dallas Willard has this to say (I’ll be blogging more through this book in future posts): 

“We need to emphasize that the Great Omission from the Great Commission is not obedience to Christ, but discipleship, apprentice to him. Through discipleship, obedience will take care of itself.” Then it’s not about teaching them to obey, to become better people, but rather to do just what Jesus taught.

And, the Great Commission is not only about being on God’s mission to the “nations.” While it is certainly that, the point of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Jesus in all that we do and everywhere we go, as a natural outflow of who is with us. Jesus designed his movement as an ‘organic’ growth process that would be self-perpetuating as new disciples were taught to “obey everything” he commanded – and then taught others. 

The problem is, as Professor Willard redirects our attention, was that the Church omitted this discipline, of making disciples, which necessitates we reclaim it.  Willard tells us…

“…the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciple – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom on the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Professor Willard suggests that, “on its own scale, there is no greater issue facing the individual human being, Christian or not…” then to become disciples, apprentices and practitioners of Jesus Christ.  

My friend Darrell, who I mentioned in my previous post, stresses this point of learning, becoming students, to live as disciples. I stress this point in my ministry of mobilizing workers for reaching the nations among us, through what I call a Prayer-Care-Learn-Share lifestyle. Others might call it “missional.” Whatever we call it, it's time to GO do it! 

If you want to know how, click here.

The good news is there is a movement taking shape toward that end, right here in the USA. But it’s not just about learning, it’s about living and helping others live like Jesus. It's time to reclaim making disciples, wherever we are, the way Jesus did - for Living Sent Today.

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