Looking At The Text
Many times Christians ask questions seeking to understand areas such as the mission of the church, what Christ has called us to do on this earth, and how we are called to interact with unbelievers. Central to this line of questioning is the teaching found in the Great Commission. Seemingly, it is most common in our current day to go to Matthew 28:18-20 when discussion of the Great Commission is mentioned (though similar passages are found in Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-49, and Acts 1:8). Let’s take a look at Matthew 28:18-20 which says:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘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.’” -Matthew 28:18-20
Now, what I want you to notice is a few of the specific emphases within this text. First of all, Christ says that He not only has authority in heaven, but also on earth. He does not have some of the authority, but all authority. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords which means we as believers most go out knowing He is ruling, reigning, and governing all things according to His purposes. Furthermore, we see that we are called to make disciples of the nations, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. This text is straightforward, plainly worded, and easy to understand in terms of what we as believers are called to do.
The Ditch of Minimalism
However, even though this passage is simple to comprehend, applying it has become quite the tricky issue in the modern church in terms of errors in obeying the commission of Christ to His church. One ditch many fall into is that of saying the only proclamation the church should ever undertake is that of telling individuals about salvation in Christ. Now, to be clear, the declaration of biblical truth undoubtedly starts at the Gospel for it is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16). In no way, am I minimizing evangelism or Gospel proclamation, the Lord knows we need more people who spend time sharing the Gospel. However, my simple point is that the Great Commission does not teach that we are to proclaim the Gospel and nothing else. No, it says we are to teach everything Christ has commanded.
This issue comes into play whenever many in evangelical circles make claims like saying that Christians should just speak about salvation and nothing else. Particularly, if you take a stand on issues like abortion, politics, culture, or anything really outside of the message of salvation, then you will be told by this camp to simply preach the “Gospel” and that is it. But, the Lord told us to declare every one of His commands. Has not Christ said anything which pertains to abortion? Is there nothing the Bible about how the governing authorities are called to act before God? Undoubtedly, as Cornelius Van Til has well said, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.”1 In obeying the commission of Christ, we proclaim the Gospel so that the lost might be saved to live for the Lord as a result of the salvation He has given to them and to honor Him for all eternity. However, our proclamation only begins at that point, we also teach the full counsel of God’s Word, which has bearing for all of life. Therefore, we must ensure we do not fall prey to this error of minimalism where we would only declare part of the commands of Christ, but not all of them.
The Error of No Authority
The authority of Christ is the basis upon which we go out in obedience to the Great Commission. We do not invent the Gospel, we do not come up with our own message to declare, nor do we use unbiblical tactics to try to help Christ out because somehow we believe He is not powerful enough to accomplish what He desires. No, we submit to the Lord as the King and seek to be thoroughly biblical in everything because obedience is due to the holy Son of God. This reality brings us to the point that we cannot tamper with the message because it is out of step with the culture. We must not adapt the Gospel to be more tasteful to lost sinners who love their depravity. Our objective is to submit to the Lord’s authority and simply do what we have been commanded.
However, this concept has bearing on not only the message we proclaim, but also the manner by which we declare it. We should seek to be biblical in our character, not wrathfully picking up our Bibles to beat people on the head, nor timidly cowering in the corner out of fear. Instead, we preach the truth with unwavering courage and boldness with a heart full of love for God, His Word, and our fellow man. The message we preach, the character we exhibit, and the manner by which we preach the truth must all be submitted to Christ. This is not a commission we have invented, it is His, and so we must be obedient to the Lord!
The Beauty of The Great Commission
The Great Commission is not some passage shrouded in uncertainty and ambiguity. Instead, it is a sovereign command from Christ to His people. He has all the authority, so we are to call all the nations, all the peoples to come and bow before Him obeying everything He has commanded. Of course, this reality does not mean everyone one of us will go overseas as a missionary, not every Christian is called to that life. However, we all should live under the authority of Christ, strive to use every minute of our life for His glory in the unique ways He has gifted, and be obedient to every command in His Word. We should also have an eye towards taking opportunities to declare the message of Christ, in all its fullness, to the lost so that they might be given salvation and live for the glory of the Lord!
May we then seek to be believers who declare the Gospel, teach everything Christ has commanded, and live in obedience to the charge Christ has given to us as His church. We have a mission to fulfill as members of the everlasting kingdom of God and subjects of the King who is reigning at the right hand of the Father. That reality means we must live with joy, passion, and intentionality for our lives are not our own but have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Let us be faithful to Christ’s commands, and avoid the errors that many in our day fall prey to in this time!
Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p. 2.