“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Amen.
Matthew 28:19-20 has long been used by much of the church as the drum beat for world missions. Although there are 4 other Great Commission passages, these two verses are more widely used in church than the others (at least in my experience). The clarity of the message leaves little wiggle room in understanding what is needed to be done. We are to take the Gospel to the whole world, baptize those who respond with faith to the message, and teach them.
I have read this verse countless times, heard hundreds of sermons on it, and have even preached it myself, and yet today as I looked to this passage something I had not considered before came to mind.
A great deal of ink has been used working to have a greater understanding of what “Go therefore” means, and how it should be applied to the life of the church. Pastors have preached to and pleaded with congregations to obey this Great Commission. Further ink has been used in regards to teaching, and baptism. What do these look like, and how do we practice them. And yet through all of the years, today I realized that I have never seen the teachings of the Great Commission brought fully together.
If the Great Commission calls us to make disciples (win disciples would be a better translation of μαθητευω, but that is for a different post) and it also calls us to teach them, should not we be teaching them to make disciples? Does the text not demand that the teaching of evangelism must happen?
Methodology of evangelism aside, it appears clear that in order to fulfill the Great Commission one must not only be practicing personal evangelism, but one must also be teaching personal evangelism. If we truly believe that Scripture must be read and taught from its context, there appears to be no way to separate evangelism and teaching. In fact, immediate context would show that in the teaching of all things evangelism would be at the forefront of things to teach. The command to evangelize exists inside the same statement as the command to teach all that has been commanded.
So today it hit me, can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching on personal evangelism? Can we call ourselves a Great Commission church if we are not teaching that every disciple of Christ must evangelize in some way?
Matthew 28:19-20 seems to point out that the answer to that question is ‘no’. If we are to follow this command the practice and teaching of evangelism needs to be at the forefront of what we do. It cannot be a token thing done by some of the church in backrooms once in a great while. The practice AND teaching of evangelism needs to be front and center.
J. W. Willard