Who Was the Great Commission Given to? The Big Excuse that is Hindering Our Growth

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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.

4 Responses

  1. Your post fails to address the passages about different spiritual gifts, which seems to clearly indicate disciples have different roles. Some are evangelists, some are teachers, etc.

    Clearly that passage, as well as common sense, supports the idea that not everyone has the skill set to “make disciples.”

    1. What do we do with Ephesians 4?

      “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:11-13).

      First, we see in context that these gifts are given for two purposes: to equip and build up the body. All these gifts are given for the same reason and purpose.

      We might be tempted to pull out evangelist in that list and differentiate them as the disciple makers. That isn’t what that word means. That words means someone who proclaims the good news. Because we have equated conversion with discipling we think just proclaiming the good news is discipling. It isn’t.

      They were gifted for a particular purpose, even the evangelists, for the equipping and maturation of the body. So yes, we all have different gifts, but I don’t think that means some of us get to check out of engaging in helping others grow in their walk following Jesus. When we disciple people, using all of the gifts God has given his people, we are doing what Ephesians 4 is all about. All of the gifts work together to make this happen.

      What is the skill set to make a disciple? I don’t think it is that difficult. In fact, I think if you have been a Christian for more than a couple of years (at most) you have what it takes to start with someone new. If you have been discipled you already know what it takes because someone did that for you. We just don’t expect anyone to do this. Maybe we expect the preacher to…which goes back to my point. That wasn’t what God intended.

  2. There are different members with different gifts that help grow the body of Christ. We all might not have the same gifts, but we all should have the same goal. The body wasn’t the local congregation, but the whole body of Christ. This means that we are all supposed to be engaged and making a difference in those who have been converted on some level.
    “Making a disciple” sounds like we are making a Build a Bear. We aren’t really making a disciple. We are helping them by giving them God.
    Remember I Cor.3:5-7 “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”
    We are but ministering or serving another in respect to God.
    As Matt points out in the end “If you have been discipled you already know what it takes because someone did that for you.”
    We are merely passing God onto another person and then joining them in the journey.

    1. This is perfect Dwight. Right on track. God makes the disciple. I really see Jesus as the teacher and we facilitate the conversation and relationships. The Spirit empowers it all.

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