There are so many times people ignore the original context to their detriment. In the case of the Great Commission, some focus in on the original context in order to get out of the instruction. When Jesus said “Go and make disciples” he said that to the 11. Some say that was just for them, not for us.
Here are three big issues with that:
1 – The disciples were told specifically how to make disciples – baptize them and teach them everything Jesus commanded. What did Jesus command? To go and make disciples. This means the disciples they make are to make other disciples. This is a perpetual instruction.
2 – The second piece of evidence we have is the rest of the New Testament. As we said earlier, the word Christian rarely occurs in the New Testament but disciple is used nearly 300 times. There were people not personally discipled by an apostle who were called disciples. There were people not there for the great commission who fulfilled the great commission. You see this throughout Acts and even in Paul’s letters. The early church understood this. It is hard to say both – we imitate the early church AND fail at making disciples.
3 – People are inconsistent because this is the big text for baptism. In my opinion, nearly everyone who would say that we aren’t called to make disciples (or at least that they personally aren’t called to make disciples) would say we are called to baptize people. I am sure they would also say we are instructed to teach people what Jesus taught. That is 2 of the 3 things Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20. How do you do 2 of 3 and not the 3 and still follow this teaching? How is that faithfulness? What is more the two that people do endorse are actually descriptors of the one people don’t emphasize. Those two items are descriptions of how one follows the first instruction – make disciples. You make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Some people say we baptize and teach but we aren’t called to make disciples. Or maybe they think the preacher is supposed to do this but they aren’t called to it. Again, go back to Acts where we see disciples making disciples who weren’t apostles, elders, ministers, etc. The Commission is for all.
The priesthood of all believers is the key here. In my experience growing up this was a “gotcha” doctrine from 1 Peter 2:9 to prove the Catholic church wrong on having select priests because we are all priests, Peter writes, but we didn’t follow the teaching where it actually takes us – that all Christians have responsibilities in the family of God and one shouldn’t rely on a minister or elders to do things they are personally called to do.
The problem is people don’t feel they are personally called to make disciples. So they excuse themselves from the Commission. What a shame.
What would church look like if every person took this seriously? I believe where things fell apart was we lost track of the idea of discipleship and settled for conversion and felt like we fulfilled the Commission. It is time to re-embrace discipleship. It is time to take this personal. If we do, we will grow in maturity and probably numerically as well. The world will be better off if we can turn this corner. Let’s stop making excuses.