I’m sitting here in my office at Starbucks this morning sipping on a dark roast. I’ve missed the jocularity of some of the old retired guys that frequent this place, talking about baseball and old times. I’ll look up from my computer on occasion and laugh at one of their jokes. Maybe I should ask them if they have Jesus in their hearts!
I know! That’s something from outer space, especially from me. But, aren’t Christians supposed to go and evangelize – every day? The Lutheran church in Denver that I belonged to for many years stressed the importance of the Great Commission. Wait! I’m assuming that you know about the Great Commission! Don’t you?
I ask because according to a survey taken in 2019 a majority of American Christians were unfamiliar with the term. Another 25% recognized the phrase but wasn’t sure of the meaning. That’s shocking to me! I thought it to be a universal doctrine of the Christian church. It turns out to be one of the many things about Christianity that’s so darn confusing!
What is the Great Commission?
The Great Commission, at least what I was taught in church, mainly comes from the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20. However, parts of the Great Commission are found in all the other Gospels (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:19-23) and the Book of Acts (1:4-8). Some take all the passages, blend them together, and call that the Great Commission. Here’s how Matthew sees it:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”matthew 28:16-20
Now this is a command of Jesus. He didn’t tell them that this is something to think about. Just do it! Throughout the centuries, Christians have taken the Great Commission to mean that they, too, should “go and make disciples of all nations.” So, Christians sent out missionaries all over the world, built churches everywhere they could, and attempted to convert everyone to Christianity. Many lives were lost in this process. Only one third of the world’s population now claim to be a Christian. We got a long way to go.
The version of the Great Commission I learned in church was kind of a watered-down version of conquering the world. My pastor never told us how to make disciples of anyone or gave us the authority or know-how to baptize anyone. Do we sprinkle water, fully immerse, or splash to baptize? Or do we even need any water? And what are all those things that Jesus commanded us to obey? Do we make them obey or do we just make suggestions and hope they will convert?
Are You a Doubter of Jesus?
Matthew mentions that some of the 11 apostles worshipped Jesus after the resurrection and some “doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Wow! How many doubted? Some is more than one or two. Could it have been four or five? That’s a shocker! (See my blog on Doubt.) After witnessing all of those miracles Jesus performed I would certainly not be a doubter. Let’s look at some of the miracles by Jesus:
- Healing the deaf mute of Decapolis.
- Healing the blind at birth.
- Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda.
- Healing the Centurion’s servant.
- Healing the Blind Man of Bethsaida.
- Healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter was married?
- The feeding of the 5,000 and then the 4,000 (not including women and children).
Side note: It’s interesting to me that a lot of Catholics believe that the apostolic succession started with Peter. Priests cannot marry but Peter was married. Just thought I’d pop that one in there.
The feeding of the 5,000 men alone would be enough to convince me that Jesus was the real thing. I can see where healing people of certain ailments could be a sleight of hand trick or something. But, when you take a couple loaves of bread and some fish and feed that many people – that’s a real miracle! Don’t you think?
Apparently, those miracles and feeding all those people still didn’t convince all the apostles. Thomas said that he would not believe that Jesus died and was resurrected until he actually touched and felt the holes in his hands. He got his proof! Most of us don’t get that kind of instant gratification. We’re told constantly to have hope and believe that Jesus was resurrected. Belief is not proof. You might tell me that you have a diamond clinched in your hand and say all kinds of stuff to try and convince me that there is truly a diamond in your hand. But, until I actually see the diamond will I know the truth. Belief is still doubt. Seeing is truth! Just ask Thomas!
Can We Baptize Anyone and Everyone?
My pastor never taught me or gave me the authority to baptize others. Is that a thing? Jesus commanded the 11 apostles to baptize using the trinitarian phrase, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” For those of you that have been taught to evangelize were you taught how, or given the authority to baptize?
Okay, let’s look at the Book of Acts (or sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles). This book is the continuation of what the apostles did after Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus is gone and the apostles are left to convince others that Christianity is the only way to go. In Acts, I could not find one instance of any of the apostles baptizing people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit. They would only use the phrase, “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” which Paul used in Acts 19:5. You never see the trinitarian phrase used by any apostle or disciple. Kind of fishy, huh?
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”Acts 2:38
Did Jesus require repentance? Did the apostles baptize everyone they converted? How about the 3,000 in Acts 2:37-42? How did they baptize? Full immersion, sprinkled, or splashed? Or did they even use water? Jesus didn’t say that water was a requirement in his commission.
What Exactly Did Jesus Command Us to Do?
The list of commands in Matthew that Jesus demands us to obey is quite lengthy. Some of the ones that jump out at me are:
- Don’t get angry, keep your cool (5:21-26).
- Don’t cheat on your spouse (5:27-30).
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:43-48).
- Pray in private, not in public (6:5-8). See my blog on Praying.
- Don’t acquire lots of stuff. Minimalism is the key (6:19-21).
- Don’t worry, be happy (6:25-33).
- Mind your own business and don’t judge others (7:1-5).
- Always forgive others, even the father who beats you (18:22-23).
- Love your gay neighbor as you love yourself (22:39).
Okay, I’ve made some slight modifications to the commands, but they get the point across.
How Do You Define Christianity?
I can understand why the Great Commission is so controversial among Christians throughout the world. It’s hard! We haven’t been taught the details! Most Christians that I know want to follow the way Paul teaches Jesus’ commands. And that is to just believe in Jesus. Is it even possible for us to follow all his commands? What was Paul thinking?
How do you define Christianity? Is it just simply believing? Is it just following some of his commands? Can Christians successfully fulfill the requirements of the Great Commission? Did Jesus really mean it when he said that only a “few” will make it through the narrow gate to heaven (Matthew 7:13-14)? Remember that Moses never made it to the Promised Land! He did break all the commandments, though. Joke! Get it?
My Great Commission
I love a good mystery, don’t you? Time for another cup and maybe a blueberry scone this time while I contemplate the true meaning of the Great Commission. My great commission is for you to go out and try the dark roast, remember that you will all die some day, and enjoy life to its fullest. Right now!