FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 26, June 18, 2020
“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.” -Matthew 28:19,20
Last week I wrote that I have left the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), why I have done so, and now where I am going. My ministerial credentials have been received by Vanguard Presbytery, the forerunner to a new Presbyterian denomination which is committed to the Great Commission and which is a grassroots, new side, old school, three-fold office church. I promised to give more detail on each of these terms. Today I take up the issue of the Great Commission. Explanations of the other terms will follow in succeeding weeks.
Every church, of course, is to obey the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to make disciples of all the nations. But what does this actually mean? There obviously is a great deal of confusion in the modern church concerning this grand command from Jesus. So, what is the Great Commission? Well, allow me first of all to tell you what it is not. The Great Commission is not political action on the left or the right. There is, of course, a place for politics in the Christian’s life and we are to take this responsibility seriously. We are to know the issues of the day and we are to vote for those candidates who best express the Christian world view. However politics and the civil magistrate (the government) can only administer justice (Romans 13:1ff). Government workers or programs can never change the heart of people nor give them access to heaven.
To go further, the Great Commission is not missional. It is mission. What’s the difference? Missional leads with social action and social justice. It is concerned with how to bring the kingdom of God to a pluralistic culture which outrightly rejects God and the Bible. Practically this approach believes that a pastor and the church are to become a “presence in the community”, to welcome artists and playwrights to use the church facilities, to raise money to buy football equipment for the local, public high school in a nearby poverty stricken neighborhood. “Just be there” is the mantra of the missional church. Being missional is all about redeeming the culture, promoting human flourishing, and reweaving the culture. Straight up evangelism takes a back seat to this cultural work.
We can also say the Great Commission is not social justice. The Christian is to work for justice (Micah 6:8). By this the Bible means the Christian is to call the civil magistrate to administer justice fairly and equitably. Justice is the responsibility of the civil magistrate (Romans 13:3-7). Mercy is the responsibility of the church and the individual believer (Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37). Social justice, however, is a Marxist term coined by Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, who wrote A Theology of Liberation in 1971. Liberation Theology, therefore, is at the core of social justice and it is not the Great Commission. Social justice is now being manifested in Side B Homosexuality, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, open borders, a call for reparations, and women’s ordination.
Okay, then, what is the Great Commission (Matt.28:18-20)? Perhaps you know the passage very well, but did you know that most, if not all, of the English Bible translations from the Greek text, translate the passage very poorly? We find in the Greek text of verses 19 and 20 three participles and one aorist, imperative verb. This is very important, my friends, for the correct translation gives us vital insight into our marching orders from Jesus. Verse 19 is generally translated, “Go.” It sounds like a verb, yet it is not one. It is an aorist participle. Two present tense participles are also found in the text—baptizing and teaching. The only verb in the passage is the word disciple, which is an aorist, imperative. Again, most translations get this wrong too. The Greek text does not say “make disciples” (this is how the NASB and the ESV render it). Disciples is not a noun. It is a verb in the Greek text. So, literally the text should read, “Having gone, disciple all the nations.”
Think of it like this. A verb in the imperative mood gives you the command of the author, while the participles (ing ending words in English) tell you how to carry out the command. So, a command would be, “Clean up the kitchen.” The participles tell us how to carry out the command—by clearing the table, by sweeping the floor, and by washing the dishes. Or, another command is, “Repair the car.” How? By changing the oil, by changing the brakes, and by tuning the engine.” So we are commanded, “Disciple the nations.” How? By going, baptizing, and teaching. The aorist, imperative verb form for “disciple” is emphatic. “Do it now. No delay. No option. This is not a suggestion.”
I am also saying that baptizing and teaching are the two specific means by which we carry out the command, “disciple.” Baptizing is a picture of regeneration, being baptized into the body of Christ, (see Acts 2:38, Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:11,12). By the sheer grace in His atoning work, Christ reconciles us to Himself in His body on the cross that He might present us holy, blameless, and beyond reproach (Colossians 1:22). And teaching is two-fold. It means giving information on how to live and then exhorting us to obey those commands on holy living.
So, a disciple is someone who has been born again, who has the heart of Jesus in regenerating grace, who has been baptized into the church. And he consequently is one who is learning the ways of God found in His word and who is seeking to obey those commands every day of his life.
So, simply put, the Great Commission for every Christian is this, “Having gone into the world (it is assumed that you are already going) disciple all the nations. How? We are to evangelize everywhere and we are to instruct believers to obey God’s word.
Anything beyond this is secondary or tertiary. There is nothing in the Scriptures which teach us to renew, reweave, or transform our culture. There is nothing there telling the church to demonstrate or campaign for a living wage. There is nothing about demanding new tax laws, or building the wall. We are called to disciple the nations by evangelizing them and teaching them to obey God’s word.
This right view of the Great Commission has very practical implications for the church, church planting, and world missions. It means that we lead with evangelism, not social justice or being a missional presence in the community. It means we intentionally go with the good news to evangelize the lost in our communities, calling them to faith and repentance. It means that we build up the saints in the Scriptures and call them to gospel holiness of life.
1. Leaving the PCA, <email@example.com> Al Baker, June 11, 2020
2. For a more detailed accounting of mission vs. missional see my latest book, Under Obligation: Recapturing a Reformed Evangelistic Zeal, pages 151-153
3. Ibid. pages 148-150.
4. In all fairness, Greek scholars tell us that very often the nearest participle to the main verb takes on a verbal form. See Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 228. However due to Jesus’s declaration in Luke 24:47,48, Acts 1:8, and John 10:16, it appears to me that to make “going or having gone” a verb “go” seems redundant and unnecessary.