Having attended a Southern Baptist college and seminary for the better part of a decade, I have what is commonly called, “The Great Commission,” imprinted on my brain. At Southeastern Baptist Seminary, it was / is not uncommon to hear multiple messages preached on the Great Commission every semester and to see in its buildings (Jacqumin-Simmons in particular) the passage from Matthew 28 spelled out in golden letters:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt. 28:19, 20).
Now the desire to fulfill the final command given by our Lord to his apostles is a great one indeed, and being that it was the final instructions given by Christ, the Great Commission should have a profound impact on how we operate as a Church. And I do not make the case of some, who argue that this command was issued to the disciples alone, but that it is effective till “the end of the age,” when Christ returns as our Champion, and all things are made new.
However, I believe that a great misunderstanding has occurred with regards to the final command of our Lord, expressly in the latter part where he declares, “Make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The apostle Paul expresses Christ’s meaning this way in his letter to the Romans, “Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rm. 1:5). The key phrase is, “the obedience of faith,” which reiterates our Lord’s desire in the Great Commission that our discipleship should revolve around teaching our disciples to observe all that the Lord has commanded us. In other words, we are called as those who spread the Gospel to preach the whole Gospel, not merely a sales pitch that offers Jesus Christ as an eschatological Savior, but one that makes him our present Savior, who frees us from our slavery to sin now and our consequent worldliness and makes us obedient to the commands that he has given to us.
However, I sincerely believe that our present goal (particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention) is not that of our Lord’s, for we have neglected the disobedience which we find in the American church and think ourselves capable of preaching the Gospel which we have not ourselves obeyed to a world that is unevangelized. We presume that we have our act together with regards to all things save one, viz. the Great Commission, but in reality we have yet to see the Great Commission fulfilled on our soil.
Yes, there is the guise of Christianity in our churches and the verbal name of Jesus Christ is known here, however we have filled our churches with people who are more concerned about living life to its fullest in this age and pursuing the American Dream than they are about pursuing by faith holiness and righteousness for the sake of Christ. We preach Sunday after Sunday on making Jesus our personal Savior by letting him into our hearts (language that cannot be found in the Scriptures), but we do not teach them repentance and to observe all that Christ has commanded. Instead our pews are filled with those who do not love God with all their hearts, those who do not love each other as themselves, and those who do not love the glory of God and wish to see his Name made great in their lives and throughout the world. Our churches are rather filled with those who think Christianity is “family-friendliness,” that the church exists to make our marriages and children “good,” and that the Gospel is something that only saves us from future damnation and that our present lives do not matter in the grand scheme of eternity. We have lost the Gospel in America, and it is therefore not surprising to find Korean Christians sending missionaries to our shores and to hear of Chinese Christians praying for America’s economic collapse for the sake of their American brothers and sisters.
As many have rightly determined in the Southern Baptist Convention, there does need to be a Great Commission Resurgence, but the Great Commission must be fulfilled in us before we can even think about carrying it to other nations. If God were gracious and were to raise up a number of prophets and teachers who would cleanse the American church of its ungodliness and worldliness, we would find a church that lives much more like the Macedonians than like the Corinthians, and, as the Macedonians, would gladly give up worldly pleasures and riches for the sake of the Kingdom rather than lavishing its wealth on itself. Therefore, a Great Commission resurgence that teaches obedience, sacrifice, and suffering and that delights in Eternity rather than in this world must take place in the American church before the American church can effectively preach the Gospel which it does not know to the nations. Until our present, unholy state is remedied, we will forever sit on the sidelines while the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is heralded by others.