I Question the Great Commission

great commission

Because I know I am prone to misunderstand, or make assumptions, or naively follow popular opinion, I question everything.

Well, not everything. But things like . . . the Great Commission.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”

Matt 28:16, 18-20 {see also Mark 16:14-18}

Everybody thinks the Great Commission is the mission of the church.
Everybody thinks the Great Commission is directly applicable by Christians today.
Everybody thinks I have the responsibility to obey the Great Commission.

Me? I’m not so sure. Right now, my thoughts look something like this:

Jesus “commissioned” eleven people. Not all Christians for all time. At least that’s not what it says, and I tend to think that’s not what it intends to imply either. Whatever happened to “the end of the apostolic era”? We can’t perform miracles or speak in tongues anymore, but we must continue the work of the Great Commission? {Okay, maybe that last part is a bit weird, but that’s what my brain said.} At any rate, what we’re reading is narrative. This so-called “Commission” was given at a specific time and place to a specific group of people. I’m just not sure we can place ourselves in the apostles’ shoes . . . and keep wearing them . . .  {If we’re going to, let’s at least be consistent because, let me tell you, Jesus instructed his apostles to do a lot of things.}

Jesus gave no “pass-it-on” instruction. He never said, “Now be sure to tell your children and grandchildren to do the same. You can’t make disciples of all nations in your lifetime, so Christians from this point on will have to keep the mission going.” Yeah, none of that. So either he assumed they knew {questionable, since he was constantly pointing out how much they didn’t know}, or perhaps this was a unique instruction for the small group of men who stood in front of him. Exclusive. You’re not invited.

The “Great” Commission is not so “great.” As in, “grand” or “important.” The Great Commission isn’t the most important thing out there. Or in the Bible. Or for the church. How do I know this? Because it’s mentioned less than a handful of times. Actually, in two out of four gospels. And that’s it. If it merits the massive amount of attention we tend to give it, surely the Scriptures would lead the way.

The church was never given the Great Commission. Jesus talked to a lot of people during his time on earth, but this “Commission” was directed exclusively to the eleven, with no instruction to include the broader church. Letters to the early church abound, with no reference to the “Great Commission.” In all the descriptions of the church and instructions to its members, there is no mention. Does that not seem odd?

And so I question the Great Commission. I wonder if it’s really supposed to be the “mission of the church.” I wonder if Christians today are really supposed to apply the Great Commission directly as though it were given to them. And I wonder if I’m really supposed to obey it.

don’t wonder if I’m supposed to “go and make disciples,” because I read this:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom why have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Rom 10:13-15, 17

don’t wonder if I’m supposed to “baptize them,” because I read this:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of yours. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39

And I don’t wonder if I’m supposed to “teach them,” because I read this:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. Col 3:16

I just wonder about the Great Commission, that’s all.

It’s a thought.

 [image credit: pixabay.com]


38 thoughts on “I Question the Great Commission

  1. I’ve had the same thought, actually. The question is whether “teaching the to observe ALL I have commanded you” includes this command to itself, which it might.

    Like you, I don’t question that we should go and preach the gospel, but I do wonder if everyone is called to do it to the same degree. Ephesians says that God gave some to be “evangelists,” “preachers,” “teachers,” etc. Maybe not everyone is supposed to be an “evangelist.”

    It’s also a thought. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooo, that’s a good point about observing what he has commanded them. How did I not see that?

      As for the evangelist issue…I have lots of questions. I think I see the difference between a preacher and a teacher, but what’s the difference between a preacher and an evangelist? And then, what’s an evangelist? If I evangelize, does that make me an evangelist?

      For me personally, I love evangelism, but I’m not sure I would consider myself an evangelist or possessing the *gift* of evangelism.

      Another interesting thought: I share the gospel on a regular basis, but I’m not sure I share out of obedience to the Scriptures, but rather because I have a burden to see the lost know the truth, and I feel like I can’t keep the Answer to myself. The Great Commission, or any other passage about evangelism or “missions,” doesn’t seem to be the culprit behind my evangelistic efforts, at least not directly.

      Anyway, such interesting thoughts! I’m glad I posted this article after all. I debated for a good while…

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  2. {Please read this comment coming from a place of humility and sisterly love, not pride or arrogance.} Interesting post, but I have to be honest. Your theology and interpretation is all wrong. I can’t think of any pastor or church leader (most of whom are highly educated in scripture and theology, devoting a majority of their lives to studying it) that would ever question the relevancy of the Great Commission and it’s purpose and effect on the church so how you came up with this is incredibly disturbing. My husband is actually a Mission Pastor and has earned two master degrees and is currently working on a ThM in missiology so he is well versed in the scriptures relating to the Great Commission. It is something we are very passionate about. I would also need to question your consistency because in your post “The Main Thing” you state the following:

    What He has told us is important. After all, this is God speaking.

    If He’s told us something once, it’s important. {Read that again.}

    If He’s told us that thing twice, it’s perhaps more important.

    If, in fact, the Great Commission is only mentioned twice (which it’s not), then by your own standards, it should be “more” important than something that was only mentioned “once.” And if everything that “He has told us is important,” then the Great Commission should be “important.” Do you have a pastor or church leader that you have discussed these “thoughts” with? Did they agree with you?

    I truly admire the purpose of your blog and that you desire to go deeper with God but I would humbly caution you to be very careful in how you present your interpretations of scripture to your readers. It’s one thing to seek after the truth and come to an answer based on the authority of scripture, but to boldly question the intentions of Jesus’ commands with a limited theological education is something else. If you are really seeking the truth and would like to understand the theology and doctrine of the Great Commission, please just let me know and I will gladly share it with you.

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    1. Kimberly, thank so much for sharing your concern! I so appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to share them.

      First of all, I recognize that I may have been misleading in my article. I did not intend to imply that we should not obey the *message* or *truths* of the Great Commission. The teaching of the Great Commission is given to us as believers (and to the church as a whole, perhaps) elsewhere in Scripture. But the Great Commission was a particular command given to particular people (11 of the apostles) for a particular time. And so I am questioning whether we should apply *it* directly.

      It seems there is a difference between instructions given to the church and believers as a whole, and instructions given to a specific person or group. Perhaps the former are to be directly applied by us today and the latter are to be indirectly applied (they are still “given for our instruction” and we can certainly learn from them…and may end up applying them because of other direct instructions). So, for instance, we don’t apply most of the OT laws today because they were written for a specific group of people (that’s one reason we don’t apply them directly, at least). We learn from them and perhaps apply their principles, but we don’t read them as though they speak directly to us. There are plenty of passages in the NT that work the same way. In Mark 6:8-9, for example, Jesus charges his disciples to take nothing for their journey – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. Are we supposed to do the same? And if we’re supposed to apply the Great Commission directly, why not Mark 6:8-9 as well? Jesus tells his disciples to do all sorts of things that we read past because we recognize that it’s a story we learn from, not a command we obey in exactly the same manner. Anytime we read a passage, we deduce one way or the other, and so I wonder if the Great Commission itself falls into the “indirect” category.

      Also, just a side note – if we’re *all* supposed to be applying the Great Commission, we’re failing miserably! Apparently we should all be making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them just as the apostles did!

      Yes, I have personally spoken with one solid, highly-educated, well-respected, pastor/church leader who has come to this same conclusion, and I have conversed with a number of other believers on the topic, and they have responded positively. And again, this viewpoint by no means detracts from a passion for evangelism and missions in myself or in those who are considering this same explanation. It rather seems to increase our desire, as we feel like we are able to better understand Scripture and Jesus’ teaching.

      As for “The Main Thing” article, yes, the Great Commission is important (or even “more important” than other things 🙂 ). I’m not denying its importance or suggesting we should ignore it. I’m just seeking to understand it in its proper context with the proper audience in mind. Many other passages support it, and it is those passages which we follow directly as they speak specifically to all believers or reference such. Perhaps I draw a silly distinction – it’s just that this topic has troubled me for some time! Actually, this discussion has helped clarify things for me, so I’m so glad I posted it! And I am truly sorry if it has caused confusion. I hoped rather to draw my readers to the passage and to encourage them to think on it.

      Finally, I just want to clarify – I write as one who deeply loves the Word of God and desires to impress on others the joy of studying it and knowing God through it. I do not pretend to be a scholar or to be theologically equipped. I am simply sharing tips and tools, questions and thoughts, and I hope my humble standing is clear enough that my readers will receive it as such.

      Anyway, I am happy to answer any more questions or to receive any more helps and advice! Thanks again for taking the time to express your concern. It is deeply appreciated.

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      1. Lydia, thank you for clarifying. However, if we use the standard of teaching which you put forth, then nothing in the Bible would be relevant because the time in which the scriptures were written is nothing like it is today. We can not, and should not, choose which scripture is relevant for today and which is not. If God chose to put it in the Bible, then obviously He expected it to be relevant to us as well, or He would have specifically stated that it would only be applicable to the current audience only. To interpret that *some* scripture is irrelevant or inapplicable just because our culture is different than when it was it was written is foolish. The correct approach to any scripture is to view it in it’s original context (who is the audience, what was the intended purpose, etc.) and then apply it correctly today.

        Take your example of Mark 6:8-9 for instance. {And there are missionaries serving around the world today who obey Mark 6:8-9 literally. Many becoming martyrs for the faith.} In this specific context, Jesus is sending the disciples out and telling them not to take any material possessions with them because He will provide for them along the way. The purpose in Him saying this is two-fold. One~ It allows the disciples to fully trust in His provisions along the way. And two~ it gives God all the glory because only by His doing will their needs be met. This is the epitome of faith in action. So yes, we are to *obey* Mark 6:8-9 every day of our lives.

        As to the *highly-educated counsel* you are seeking and the positive responses you are receiving, I would have to question whether they truly understand what you are asking and/or conveying. No preacher/teacher that is versed in scripture would ever accept these thoughts as truth.

        Like I said, I do applaud you for seeking to know the scriptures deeper. I do as well. Perhaps asking the question “Is the Great Commission relevant today?” and then offering a platform for learning by sharing the results of intentional theological study with your readers would have be more prudent {and wise} than offering your *thought* suggestions that a portion of the Bible is not applicable just because you *feel* it’s not relevant today. I am reminded of the scripture in James ch3, verse 1, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Whether you acknowledge yourself as a *teacher* or not, {here again, one would have to interpret His definition of “teacher”} but because you are sharing your *knowledge* with your readers and through that they are *learning* to approach or interpret scripture based on your examples and references, you are by all definitions considered a *teacher* even if it’s loosely applied. I also blog about faith, and at times do consider myself a *teacher* but I am extremely careful in how I present my thoughts so I won’t confuse my readers in any way. That is why I humbly suggested that you approach this style of sharing with extreme caution. It’s okay to question something in scripture, but how you respond to that question is what makes the difference. One would not want to be responsible for teaching something that goes against scripture, even if it was completely unintentional.

        I hope you receive this in humility as my only intention is to help you understand this better so you may grow and strengthen your walk with Christ. All scripture is God-breathed and relevant to each of us today and I pray you are encouraged to dig deeper to find the truth on the Great Commission as it is in scripture. 🙂

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        1. Hi Kimberly, I actually really appreciate what you are expressing here. You’re challenging my understanding of things, and I am always glad to be challenged, because I obviously want to be thinking correctly and to make changes where necessary. I don’t feel like I have this fully figured out honestly (maybe none of us do), but I’m hopeful that together, with God’s help, we can come to a correct understanding of how to interpret passages like these with their context in mind. I picture us as all on the same team trying to work together toward unity of understanding. 🙂

          First, I doubt any of us would feel comfortable taking every verse of Scripture as literally for us to follow. For instance, When Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every city,” I’m sure God didn’t intend for everyone who would read that verse to go and appoint elders. It was an instruction specifically directed at a leader whose job it was (at least in part) to appoint elders. That Scripture is helpful to us in putting together a picture of what the structure of leadership in the church ought to be, and very likely implicitly tells us that missionaries should appoint elders. But it’s not intended for every Christian to live.

          I do want to be careful here, but I wonder if the great commission is similar. It was directed at the original Apostles (big “A”), and maybe (just thinking here) carried on through the apostles (small “a”) that came later, and maybe ought to be applied by the apostles (or missionaries) of today. Maybe it gives us an idea of what the job description of a missionary is supposed to be (at least in part). BTW, I use the words “apostle” and “missionary” interchangeably because our English word apostle comes from the Greek “apostolos” and missionary comes from “missio” which is the latin equivalent of that Greek word “apostolos.” Maybe, like Paul’s instructions to Titus, it’s not supposed to be directly applied by us all (though, we have no less responsibility to be sharing the gospel with people.)

          Supposing it IS supposed to be applied generically to all believers (and I’m still open to that possibility), I have a little bit of a hard time with “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Is it really the job of every believer to baptize new believers? Maybe it is. But I would think that it’s more likely the job of an apostle to baptize them. Can you see how it would seem funny to me to take that command personally? How to interpret passages like these in light of their original audience is an honest question I have a lot of times, and something I would like to understand better. I think there is danger in personalizing everything in Scripture. But I also realize there could be danger in “un-personalizing” too many things as well. I’d be happy to hear any additional thought either of you have on this subject. 🙂

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        2. Kimberly, this is so helpful, thank you! I am sorry that I have been misleading in my explanations. I struggle to explain myself sometimes, and it is slightly frustrating! I’m afraid I’ve led you to think my belief holds some Scriptures to be relevant and applicable, and some not. That is the furthest thing from the point I am trying to make (or am questioning, rather). I believe the Bible is 100% relevant and applicable to us today. The question is *how* we apply it.

          I agree with you 100% when you say, “The correct approach to any scripture is to view it in it’s original context (who is the audience, what was the intended purpose, etc.) and then apply it correctly today.” That is exactly what I am seeking to do with this passage. I am simply suggesting that perhaps we are not to apply this passage directly as the apostles would have. Rather, to apply it correctly is perhaps (1) to learn more about Jesus and the plan he implemented to make his name known after his departure, (2) to understand Jesus’ desire that all would know him and follow his commands, (3) to live in light of these truths (to put it generally 🙂 ). (Those are my initial thoughts on application – I would certainly have to think on it more!) Some may apply it by following the apostles’ example and literally going to other nations to make disciples. Others may live their lives in a myriad of ways while they reflect Jesus and his work. All of this is what I am calling “applying this passage indirectly.” If we applied it directly, we all would “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded,” just like the apostles did. I’m not sure that’s the mission of every believer.

          I recognize that some people may apply Mark 6:8-9 directly, but most of us are going to apply it indirectly, for which you gave a perfect explanation.

          So I wonder if you and I are actually trying to say quite the same thing, but it’s just coming out as though we strongly disagree. 🙂 Or maybe I’m missing the flow of the discussion altogether!

          Those with whom I have had this discussion are quite versed in Scripture and have recognized what I’m saying as a plausible explanation. This is not to say that I am definitely correct in this matter. I have never pretended to be. I am simply asking questions and encouraging discussion.

          Some have hesitated at first until they understand my questions better. I do admit I wrote this article in such a way as to grab people’s attention. I do “question the Great Commission.” I do not question its truth, its importance, its relevance. I simply question *how* it ought to be applied. (Yes, in this article, perhaps it sounded as though I was questioning *whether or not* it should be applied. I apologize for the miscommunication. I truly intended to use those terms as a writing device to draw attention to the issue at hand.)

          On that note, I do want to thank you for cautioning me in my approach to my writing. I am always evaluating the presentation of my writing, including every word I say, because I take it all very seriously. This discussion has helped me to see the possibility of misunderstandings and how I might be able to speak more clearly in the future.

          I would encourage you to read other articles I’ve written, as those may help in gaining an overall view of my approach and my passion in writing and in desiring to know the Word more deeply. Also, I will mention that several commented on this article when I shared it on Facebook. Feel free to go to my Facebook page and read their feedback. I did copy and paste a bit of my response there to my previous comment to you here, as I thought it might be helpful to our discussion as well…so you will find some repetition there.

          Again, thank you for your time! This discussion has been most helpful, and I hope we can have more in the future! 🙂

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  3. Hi Laura Anne! Yes, we’re all on the same team, just walking through scripture together. 🙂 Like I had mentioned earlier, all scripture needs to be approached in context, so of course some if it may not be *applied* in exactly the same way it was when it was written. And some of scripture is obviously not going to apply to every individual (some directed at men, others at women, etc) BUT, all scripture is relevant today in our *context*.

    The best way I can explain the Great Commission is this….. if you are a believer, than you are a missionary and the Great Commission is a command from our Lord and Savior that you must obey. You may not travel the world, but you can cross the street or talk to someone at work. Our sole purpose as believers is to be a witness to what Christ has done in our lives and to share the gospel with everyone He places in our path. We are not responsible whether or not they accept Christ or not, that is between them and God. We are just the messenger.

    The purpose of the Great Commission is to share the gospel and expand the Kingdom. How would that not be relevant today? It wasn’t given just to the “A”postles, but to every believer. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” If the apostles were to teach us ALL that Christ commanded them, wouldn’t that include this command as well? This passage is the climax and major focal point not only of this gospel but of the entire New Testament.

    Let me put it this way: When a person genuinely confesses Christ as Lord and Savior, he is immediately saved, immediately made a disciple, and immediately filled with the Holy Spirit. The truly converted person is filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new nature that yearns to obey and worship the Lord who has saved him. Don’t you think the Holy Spirit desires to share salvation with those who are lost? Why would it only be certain people who could or should do that? Yes, there are those called to be preachers, teachers, prophets, etc. But everyone is called to testify to what God has done in their lives. That is the Great Commission. We don’t have to baptize them ourselves, although you don’t have to be qualified to do it. It literally means to be immersed in water. It’s an outward expression of the believer testifying to the inward change that Christ has done in their lives. The believer stands in the water as the *old* self (prior to salvation), then is *buried* in Christ’s likeness (dead to the old self) and raised up in the newness of life (a new creature in Christ). (See Romans 6:3-4) The *baptizer* themselves has no special qualities or power. However, in our culture (context for today), most baptisms are performed in a local church by an overseer, such as a pastor. But it is still being done so the command is being fulfilled. As a messenger (missionary) we are to *disciple* the new believers (share the commands of scripture) so they can obey ALL that Christ commanded them. They will then need to become part of a local church where they can be discipled further, and to be able to obey the command of baptism.

    Just to be clear ~ when Jesus gave the Great Commission to the “A”postles, they were the “church” of their day. The commands in scripture were given to the “church,” which if you are a believer, you are a part of. Therefore, any commands given to the church, we as believers are responsible to obey them. Every Christian is not gifted as a teacher, but every faithful Christian is committed to promoting the ministry of teaching God’s Word both to make and to edify disciples of Christ (new believers).

    I hope this answers your questions and explains the purpose of the Great Commission. If I haven’t explained it well enough or you have more questions, please just let me know. My only intention is to *disciple* you with correct theology on this topic and if I don’t know the answers to these or any other questions, we will search for them together. 🙂

    BTW, my daughters name is Anna Laura….she’s named after my husband’s grandmother. 🙂

    Blessings,
    Kimberly

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    1. Kimberly,

      I love your daughter’s name! So funny that our names are basically opposite!

      I think in all practicality we agree. I recall, when I was just newly converted, one of the big tell-tale signs that I had truly become a believer, was that I had a new desire to tell others about Christ! It certainly makes sense that we would want to spread this great news! And I think we all ought to be doing that, and will naturally do that. At this point we’re probably just nitpicking about details when how we apply the general truth is the same: the only real difference is how direct of an application we would call it, as Lydia’s most recent comment explains. We really agree completely! . . . almost.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! This discussion has helped me grow a bit in my understanding of things and I’m sure I’ll be mulling it all over more in the days and weeks ahead.

      Laura

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  4. Miracles, healing, unknown tongues, prophesy, dreams and visions did not end with the Apostles, but continue because Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday, today and forever. I personally pray much in other tongues, as it is a prayer language and also a worship tongue. We see miracles happen at our church – – yes we are Pentecostal or Charismatic, and believe the Bible to be true today as it was yesterday. Each of us is responsible to minister the great commission, to our own personal world. Just be led by the Holy spirit and take courage to move out and reach out where He tells you. Thank you for sharing your interesting post with us here at Tell me a Story. http://letmetelluastory.blogspot.com/

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  5. Some interesting questions but also a lot of assumptions that may or may not be correct. First of all we are told in scripture that it is useful for teaching and admonision. If it is in scripture (particularly the NT) it is relevant and God wanted us to know it. We just need to ask how does the cross effect things we find in the OT. Secondly I don’t see any where in the bible where we are told that speaking in tounges etc are to cease. These gifts were given to the disciples (and us) to equip them in their personal spiritual life and advancing God’s Kingdom. You question if this commission is directed at the whole church or just the 11 disciples. I would say both. At the time it was for the disciples because they were the beginning of the early church. Obviously as they spread the gospel they would teach and direct others to do the same. Collectively we are all the church and work together to advance God’s kingdom on earth. Finally I look at how Christ considered the 9 lepers who didn’t go and spread the healing they had received and who did it with others. The one leper who did return to Christ was instructed to go and tell. Although I do believe the great commission instructs us to advance the gospel message around the world this can be done in a manner of ways, either going ourself or enabelling others to go, today we can also use technology just like your blog to impact others on the other side of the planet. Anyway that is my take on it, spread the good news to all you can. God Bless.

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    1. Thanks for pointing these things out. I’ll offer a few clarifications.

      I agree that ALL Scripture is profitable for teaching, is relevant to us today, and is something God wants us to know.

      I also agree that the Bible never says gifts such as speaking in tongues have ceased. There are varying opinions on the issue (some of them based on Scripture), and I’m honestly not sure what mine is yet. I mentioned the gifts in this article only because I know many who would throw out speaking in tongues, healings, etc., but who continue to practice the Great Commission, and this seems inconsistent to me.

      I guess one of my questions is, Can we really equate the apostles with the early church? It seems to me that there should be a pretty strong distinction.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  6. Thanks for being brave enough to write this post! I understand what you mean, and I think that the Great Commission is not meant as an explicit direction to most of us Christians today–it was a direction to the Apostles that still has an important role in inspiring us now to share the Gospel in the contexts in which we are now.

    A few years ago I heard an excellent sermon about “The Great Commission vs. the Great Commandment” in which the priest was saying it’s important not to let our zeal to convert others take a higher priority than following the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The Great Commandment *is* meant for all humankind, and it is about what we do within ourselves rather than what we talk others into doing, and it is our reminder that LOVE always comes first. So many missions historically, and even today, have caused harm by reaching out to people with force or fear instead of with love. Loving your neighbor as yourself can mean doing a lot of listening before you begin to speak about Christ, so that you understand your neighbor’s heart and soul and mind and come to love her self as you love your own self (which may be very different) and you begin to see what aspects of Christ are going to reach her best, and then you start with those instead of starting with what means the most to you but might totally turn her off. I thought about this recently when a woman started proselytizing at me without even asking if I am a Christian already–I am, but her approach was really off-putting, like she was trying to save my soul to trade it in for cash!

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    1. Thanks, Becca. You make some really insightful points. I’m posting an article tomorrow on evangelism as a bit of a follow-up post to this one, in case you want to come back and check it out. Thanks for the reminder about loving one another. I agree – love should be the driving force behind everything we do. Blessings, friend!

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  7. Interesting point. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and that the second was like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself. It seems to me we’re fulfilling these commands by carrying out “The Great Commission.” While I acknowledge freely that the term “Great Commission” is not found in the Bible, I do believe the commands therein are applicable to all believers. For example, while I wasn’t privileged to hear the Sermon on the Mount in person, I don’t question whether I am responsible for following the Jesus’ teachings from this sermon. Thanks so much for sharing, and I think our hearts are probably quite similar (missions, loving God) on this issue even if our exact views on terminology differ. We’re glad you joined us at the #LMMLinkup. Come back soon!

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    1. Thanks for chiming in. I’m afraid I was a bit misleading in my post. I don’t mean to say that the Great Commission is not relevant or applicable to us today. The question is *how* it should be applied, and I think not directly. We may do the things mentioned in the “Great Commission,” but it should be because of other passages that are directed to us, not because of Matthew 28, per se. Hope that helps to clarify my thought. If you’re still confused by what I mean, I apologize (I sometimes struggle to explain myself)…and one suggestion is to read the other comments (because quite a few were asking this same question!) – perhaps other responses will help to clear it up.

      Also, I think the difference between the Great Commission and Sermon on the Mount is… the GC is distinctly a command to a limited and selective number of people; whereas, the SOTM is *teaching* to a broad number of people which could be compared to the church as a whole.

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  8. Hi there, Lydia! Visiting from Grace & Truth. 🙂 You know I’m a fan of your writing, so I hope you’ll receive this with an understanding of my genuine care for you, my sister in Christ. I must confess that I’m a little confused about this post. You state that you accept the responsibility to go and make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them – so what part of the Great Commission do you question? Is it the “go into all the world” part? I certainly don’t believe – and I don’t think anyone believes – that God intends for every Christ-follower personally to go into every part of the world. That would be quite impossible, wouldn’t it? But I do believe God intends for the Gospel to reach the ends of the earth, and for each of His followers to play a role in that endeavor.

    If you’re a Gentile, as I am, then we ourselves are products of a world mission endeavor, because the Gospel was first preached to the Jews. Thanks to the Great Commission, people brought it to us. 🙂 As hearers of the Gospel, we’ve been given a sacred trust and one we’re responsible for stewarding well by sharing it freely, especially with those who have never heard it before. There are several ways for Christians to participate in world missions – by educating ourselves about the needs of the world and sharing that knowledge with others, by praying for foreign missionaries and for souls to be saved, by giving to world missions, by going on short-term trips, by serving in a foreign country on a long-term basis, and by offering encouragement to foreign missionaries. Not every Christian will complete all of these, but God’s desire for His glory to cover the earth is consistent with the Scriptures from cover to cover. Can we truly be His followers and not share His heartbeat?

    Perhaps Paul’s letters to the various local churches don’t specifically mention the Great Commission, but aren’t the letters themselves proof of the Great Commission in action? The book of Acts mentions numerous times that Paul was sent out by local churches – each of those is an act of obedience to the Great Commission. The members of those churches prayed for him, they supported him, some of them went with him – all fulfillments of the Great Commission. Those believers who received him in each city – providing him with food, housing, and encouragement – were fulfilling the Great Commission in their support of a foreign missionary. The provision and care offered by those who supported Paul enabled him to complete the work God to which had called him, and enabled the sending churches to share in the fruit that resulted from the joint efforts (Phil. 4:17).

    I appreciate any thoughts you’d like to share in clarification. You’ve prompted me to think about this matter a good bit, and for that I’m grateful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer, thanks for checking with me about this! I’m afraid I’ve left a few people confused with this post! If you read past comments, those might be helpful, but I will try to summarize here.

      First of all, I hope it was obvious that I am simply asking questions in this post, not stating dogmatic conclusions. I want to encourage Christians to think about the Word they read and to ponder its meaning for what it is, not what people have placed on it. So I write posts such as this, not to questions the truth of Scripture or to question God, but to question my understanding of his Word. And I truly hope my posts encourage others to do the same.

      I do not question the truth or relativity of the Great Commission. All Scripture is God-breathed, 100% true, and always applicable to all people. My question is *how* the Great Commission is to be applied. I’m suggesting that it is not to be applied directly. What I mean by that is: Jesus gave many instructions to people while he lived on earth that he meant for them and them alone. We still learn from them. Perhaps even apply them indirectly, but we don’t obey them as though they were meant for us specifically. I’m simply wondering if the Great Commission is one of those passages. I’m not questioning our responsibility, as a church and as believers, to make disciples, or baptize, or teach. I’m just wondering if we should do those things based on the Great Commission, when it seems Jesus gave that command to a select number of people for a specific reason.

      I hope that helps to clarify. I recognize that perhaps it is a silly line to draw. Perhaps some would say, “If you’re applying it indirectly, you’re still applying it, so what difference does it make?” I see that. I have just spent many years wondering about this issue and finally decided to open up the topic to other thinking Christians. On the whole, I’m glad I did, since, once again, my goal is to encourage Christians to think about the Word (not to press my views upon them). But, I am sorry I have been confusing in my presentation of it. Hope this comment has helped clear things up a bit! Feel free to ask more questions or challenge my viewpoint! I truly appreciate all thoughts and your desire to help!

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      1. Thanks for your reply, Lydia! So am I understanding correctly that you support world missions endeavors, but you feel that they might be done for the wrong reasons if we base them on Jesus’ command to His disciples in Matthew 28? I guess I’ve always viewed that particular passage as just one of many, many places in Scripture where God prioritizes His glory among all peoples. Perhaps one might call that little conversation Christ had with His disciples “not so great,” but what IS great (and in fact massively important) is the thrust behind it – God’s glory among the nations.

        I agree with you that Jesus never said, “You can’t make disciples of all nations in your lifetime.” But the fact remains that they couldn’t. And they didn’t. In fact, we still haven’t done it today. If it’s an uncompleted task that Jesus gave to His then-followers, it only makes sense to me that it’s a task His followers should still pursue today.

        Thanks again for taking the time to engage with me on this!

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        1. Yes, you understand correctly! In general, I support world missions endeavors, but I do wonder if Matthew 28 ought not to be our starting point. Which means I wonder if churches and missions organizations misuse (or at least overuse) that passage as the main thrust behind missions, evangelism, discipleship, church growth, etc.

          As for the “not so great” phrase I used… My point was that it’s curious to me that the Great Commission itself is mentioned just a few times in the Bible. One would think that if it is one of the most important things we should know, it would be discussed more often. And if churches are to see it as their “mission,” why do none of the basic passages regarding the church ever address it? Those passages never mention the Great Commission specifically. In general, teaching is mentioned quite a bit and maybe the idea of discipleship, but not even baptism and certainly not going or sending. Instead there is singing, giving, praying, helping those in need, confession of sins, Lord’s Table, etc. (just off the top of my head). Yet, many churches today repeat Matthew 28 again and again as the “mission of the church.” It just makes me wonder…

          About your last paragraph… One question: If it’s an uncompleted task Jesus gave to His “then-followers,” why did he not speak it to more than the 11? He addressed large crowds of his “then-followers” many times – why did he not mention anything like it then? If the command was for all believers of that day, why did he give it exclusively to the 11?

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the #FridayFrivolity party. I always look forward to seeing what you have to share with us. Truthfully, I never gave this much thought because I prefer to “preach” by my actions instead of words. But, that’s the way God made me.

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    1. Thanks, Audrey! Yes, there are so many ways to shine the light of the gospel! One thing that was impressed upon me recently was the realization that people must *hear* the gospel in order to understand and believe by faith (Rom 10). While it is so important to “live the gospel,” someone must bring the gospel to an unbeliever in words (speech/writing) in order for them to believe. They cannot know the gospel simply by watching us. This realization was profound to me and encouraged me to pray for boldness to *speak* the gospel in addition to living it out. Thanks for reading and commenting today!

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  10. Well, this certainly created some dialogue! I just want to add three thoughts:

    1. In this passage in Scripture (NOT called the Great Commission in the Bible, by the way), Jesus told His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” Obviously, this wasn’t possible for them to accomplish on their own, in their own time of limited travel. So, I’m thinking that their testimony was only the beginning – and their witness to the Truth rippled on and on to other people and other nations – spreading far and wide – right down until the current age.

    2. The disciples were the only ones present at Jesus’ ascension. It was a time of intimate farewell. But I don’t think that that meant His words were only for them. This is kind of a flimsy example, but it’s all I could think of: Let’s say I tell a small group of women about Jesus, and tell them to go and tell others. Wouldn’t it also be my inherent wish that those others would also go on and tell others?

    3. We are all members of the Body of Christ, and we are all given spiritual gifts. Therefore, the directive to *go* might look different for each of us. We’re not all called to the mission field, or to be a pastor, or Bible teacher. However, we are all directed to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), and to always be ready to tell about our faith (1 Peter 3:15). In that way, we’re all *going* out into the world and bringing the gospel to people.

    Lots of interesting thoughts here in the comments.

    But I think the most important thing is that we all desire to spread the very Good News of what Jesus did for us, redeeming us, and saving us from our sin.

    THAT is worth telling about!!

    GOD BLESS!

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    1. Great thoughts, Sharon! Thank you! And yes, I noticed it’s not even called the Great Commission in the Bible. I guess it’s a helpful title, but it’s always so fascinating to discover which terms we’ve created on our own and which terms are truly “Bible terms.”

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  11. Just came across something really interesting and kind of surprising. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul says that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. He did baptize a few people (Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanas, he doesn’t remember if there were any others), but he doesn’t consider baptizing them part of what Christ commissioned him to do. In other words, I don’t get the sense that he thinks the Great Commision was for him. Though Christ did call him to preach the gospel. Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is very interesting! Thanks so much for coming back to mention this! And I’ve been thinking about the baptism thing a lot. Haven’t quite put my finger on it yet, but Scriptures about baptism really surprise me.

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  12. 1)

    Jesus said to the eleven (twelve minus Judas):

    WEB Acts 1:8 “You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

    To whom was he speaking? To the eleven? Or to all Christians of all times?

    A few verses later Peter gives the answer:

    WEB Acts 1:21 “Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

    Does Jesus want every Christian to “witness” to him? I believe so. But his statement that “you” will be witnesses was not directed to every Christian, but only to the eleven. The fact that a twelfth was then added means that the appointment was not limited to the eleven, but that doesn’t change the fact that the statement was *said* only to the eleven.

    It’s the same situation with the Great Commission: it was *said* to the eleven, not to you and me, but it’s not limited to the eleven.

    2)

    The very definition of “making a disciple” is to make a clone of the teacher (Matt 10:25 “It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher…”).

    When Jesus told the eleven (not you and me) to go and make disciples, teaching them the same things he had taught them, he was telling them to go replicate. As part of that replication, their disciples would also get the same teaching they themselves had gotten, including the task of going into all the world and making disciples. Rinse. Repeat.

    Again, Jesus was not telling you and me to go make disciples; he told the eleven to tell us (by his authority) to go and make disciples.

    3) Just because the New Testament says to “Do X”, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of us are to “Do X”. An example given earlier was Mark 6:8-9, wherein Jesus told the disciples to go out without first making preparations, trusting God to provide. A response was that, yes, we are to do that; that response was “spiritualized” somewhat, turning it from a literal “going out without preparations” to a spiritual “trust in God to make provision for you”.

    But what do we then do with Luke 22:35-38, wherein Jesus reverses that instruction, saying, “Remember when earlier I sent you out unprepared? Well, now I’m telling you to be prepared.”?

    Does that instruction apply to us equally as did the first? If so, which takes precedence, the first to be unprepared, or the later, to be prepared? Should we “spiritualize” this later instruction also, maybe changing it from a literal “be prepared” to a spiritual “take Monopoly money to pay your hotel bills”?

    Conclusion)

    I believe Lydia is on the right track – the Great Commission is not *directly* applicable to all Christians. But others are also on the right track – the Great Commission is *indirectly* applicable to all Christians.

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  13. The ‘great commision ‘is Jesus continuing ministry to Israel ? The disciples were to teach all that He commanded them and takw His kingdom gospel to Israel among the Nations , but beginning in Jerusalem . He told them , ‘Do not go among the gentiles ‘ (yet then ). and to teach all the commandments as I told you . ?.

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  14. YES. I’ve grown up in the IFB movement where this is everywhere and I don’t agree. Yes, by all means teach and preach the gospel because who is out there that doesn’t need to hear the good news? but last time I checked, Jesus Himself said that the greatest commandment was to love God with your all, and the second to love your neighbor, and that all of the law and prophets hang on these two commandments. When you are loving people, naturally you’re going to tell them about Jesus and God, who are love itself incarnate. Our focus should be on loving, not just telling that one part of the story.

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  15. Thank. You. This is much needed.

    I believe Christ was addressing only the apostles, because:

    –He commanded them to “Go” and convert “all nations.” If that applies to every last one of us, then every last one of us is required to be a missionary. That means everyone who’s still at home (including the pastor, church leadership, etc.) is disobeying God.

    –In Acts 15, some converted Pharisees tried to impose legalism on everyone. The apostles decided against this, directing Christians to instead follow four essential rules, none of which mention evangelism. If the Great Commission did mean all believers, that would have been the time for the apostles to declare it. They didn’t.

    –As you pointed out, the epistles make no mention of such a command. And yes, it seems very odd.

    –Christ gave other commands, such as to sell all and give alms (Luke 12:33), store up treasure in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19), and giving up all we have (Luke 14:33). Do these not apply to us today? If some do and some don’t, how are we to know the difference?

    –But mainly I believe he was only talking to the apostles, because, _he was only talking to the apostles._ No one else was there.

    Personally I think that turning it into a non-negotiable demand on every believer, is a grave error. The Chaplain who converted me back in 1983, warned me that man is incurably legalistic. Could the Great Commission (and BTW, that term wasn’t coined until the 18th Century) actually be a Trojan Horse to saddle us with guilt and a legalistic burden?

    That Acts 15 story returns to mind. I think history has repeated itself…and this time, the legalists had better luck.

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