Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Great Commission" Truths

Hmmm. As I write this the windows in my home are being replaced, so what I write may be a bit dingy.

Anyway, it occurred to me that my last entry was sort of out of character for me. I prefer to make constructive statements more than "demolish" myths. That way you as a reader can sort out what kind of response you wish to make :-) So this time I am simply going to make a few statements about the "Great Commission" that aren't always obvious. Please forgive any repetition from last time--I am kind of in a hurry, and I want to be sure that each of these points gets made.

First, the (five-part) Great Commission is preceded by the "Great Commandment" (Matthew 22:37-39) and, even more importantly, the New Commandment (John 13:34-35). Why is this important? Because the commandment to love, especially one another as Jesus loves us, was the context in which the admonition to share the Good News of the Kingdom was given. Note, too, that as Wayne Jacobsen and others point out, that New Commandment is the most significant because it is a reflection of the New Covenant. Only after the demonstration of God's love for us through Jesus' life and death and the outpouring of the Spirit (Romans 5:5) can we truly, at last, love others. Bottom line here: the message we bring is a message of love, not a message about avoiding being fried in hell.

Second, the heart of the commission is to make disciples, and this was given to those who had been discipled by Jesus for three years. We are not merely to announce a message, we are to make disciples. And the original disciples would have understood this in the context of how Jesus had discipled them. The implications of this are huge. Western Christians tend to think of discipleship as something that happens through the accumulation of information, "discipleship" classes, etc. Peter, John and the others would have thought of it in terms of having lived life with Jesus in the closest of relationships. For them discipleship had at its core living life together as followers of Jesus and would consist more of obedience, moving in supernatural power, etc. (I have talked about discipling the way Jesus did in earlier entries).

Third, the message that is to be announced (not "preached" as so many translations put it--"preach" has negative and erroneous connotations), is one of invitation, not confrontation. Much evangelism historically has been of the "turn or burn" or "get out of hell free" variety. But the Gospel of the Kingdom that we are to share is a message of invitation back into intimate relationship with the One who loves us most. It is an invitation from a loving Father to return to Him no matter what we have done (see Luke 15), not a threat to fry us in hell if we don't come back. The difference in tone between these two approaches is very important to catch and says everything about one's view of God and about what will ultimately motivate those who respond to the message (think about it). I could say more but I will save some things for a later entry.

Finally, at least for this time, the commission was under no circumstances to be undertaken in human effort. Jesus specifically tells the Eleven that they are to wait until they are "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:48-49). Hmmm, I wonder how different things would be if folks would heed this one!! This one sort of speaks for itself, I think. But let me get a little ornery here and say that I don't believe a message without power is anywhere near the message that Jesus had in mind. The vapid, powerless message that the Western Church has too often put before folks for the last several decades is not in any way a fulfilling of the commission that Jesus gave to His followers.

Okay, enough for now. I haven't even touched on the nature of the message (to turn from self; embrace Jesus as total master of one's life; of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, etc.). That will have to wait for another time, I guess.

Hope you find a few things to ponder here.

Remember to live lost in His love and saturated in His power.

Tom, Abba's least child

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Great Commission" Myths

There's a lot of talk these days about "missional." And as long as mission flows from genuine intimacy with God, I think there is indeed a call from God to the western church to move away from the self-centered, consumer-like approach to "church." (See my article on my website on how intimacy must have pre-eminence--it's entitled Intimacy and Mission).

But before we start telling every believer to "get out there and share the gospel" we would do well to dispel at least some of the myths about "The Great Commission." I may take several weeks to do this so that I can write shorter blogs, but here goes.

Myth #1: The Great Commission is found only in Matthew's Gospel. Well, not exactly. The commission that Jesus gave to the Eleven actually has 5 parts: one part is found in Matthew 28:18-20, one part in Mark 16:15-18, one part in Luke 24:45-49, one part in John 20:21-23, one part in Acts 1:1-8. Why is this important? There a number of reasons, of course, but two that come readily to mind are the added critical components that the other passages bring, the first of which has been almost totally ignored by the western church: power! Jesus never intended that His representatives intend to accomplish their mission apart from supernatural power. Indeed, He clearly told the apostles to wait until the power came. Hmmm. I wonder how different the church would be if we honored that one! The early disciples never had to argue for the existence of God, folks! Rather their experience was that they would go somewhere and God's power would expel demons, heal the sick, bring supernatural conviction, etc. This would undeniably establish not only the existence of God but also reveal His loving nature and confront those present with the question as to how they would respond to the One who just demonstrated His presence!

A second reason why we need to have a five-part Great Commission is that it gives a much fuller understanding of what the commission entails. Matthew makes us aware that the disciples were to make disciples (something they understood from having been discipled for three years by Jesus!). Mark adds the proclamation of the Good News of salvation and the importance of miraculous signs validating our message. John adds that the apostles were sent in the same way as Jesus was sent (huge thought that I can't elaborate upon now) and that their commission revolved around forgiveness. Luke-Acts add the importance of supernatural power that we have already mentioned plus the fact that the message is the message of the Kingdom of God (another huge thought).

Myth #2: Every believer is responsible to fulfill the Great Commission. Well, again, not exactly. And this myth has been used to shame myriads of Christians into sharing their faith in a forced and unnatural manner. The "Great Commission" was given to apostles, folks! These were people especially chosen by Jesus to be sent out (some of you may know that "apostle" contains the idea of being sent). To suggest that a believer with a more pastoral nature should be going out everywhere "preaching" the Good News not only violates the original commission, it also violates what Paul teaches elsewhere about spiritual gifts. Ephesians 4:11 ff. makes it clear that the way the Body of Christ grows and builds itself up is by every part doing its unique work: apostles and evangelists getting the Good News out, prophets and teachers building up and strengthening, shepherds caring, etc. Does this mean that followers of Jesus are to do nothing? Of course not! When the Good News is really good news to a person, they will share it in a way that fits who they are and how God made them. This is clearly what happened in New Testament times. In Acts 19 especially we see that those whose lives had been deeply changed by the Good News as it was brought by Paul in Ephesus went throughout Asia sharing this Great News (see Acts 19:1-10).

Arrgh! There's so much more I want to say, but this is already too long. I will add more in my next blog and close with the following thoughts: When Jesus was commissioning the apostles, we cannot escape the realization that someone they had seen tortured and killed was now standing in front of them fully alive—completely and vigorously alive! Jesus clearly did not have to underscore for them what kind of good news he was talking about! And these men were also standing in front of Him as people who had been loved in a way they could never have imagined, as men who had been irrevocably marked by His love for three amazing years. They were also standing in front of Him as people who had seen tremendous power flowing from Him, power that set innumerable captives free from demonic power, healed every kind of disease, raised the dead, etc. And they were also standing in front of Him as people who had themselves already had most of those things happen through them in His name. I wonder what the church would look like if that were the case today!

Stay lost in His love!

Tom, Abba's least child