2 Dec 2020
In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), we see the momentous and great task assigned by the Lord Jesus to His apostles and inevitably to all those who are believers subsequently. The redemption purchased and secured by the Lord Jesus with His own blood was entrusted to the care of the apostles, to be kept pure and to be proclaimed to all the world. The church ‘inherits’ this responsibility and task.
What this means is that the supreme business of the church in all ages was clearly and authoritatively spelt out in unmistakable terms at the very beginning by the One who is, alone, the Head of the church. It is, and always has been, the same task which the apostles received and proceeded to obey, and the fulfilment of the commission was to become the hallmark of the apostolic mission. It continues to be the commission and mission of the church of God throughout all generations until the Lord Jesus returns.
It is grievous to conclude that, with some heartwarming exceptions, the professing church throughout the centuries has done almost anything and everything except what was laid down in the commission and that in general it remains today a gross distortion of what the apostles were and did. The church’s institutions are worldly and of human origin; its forms are pretentious; its leaders bear no obvious relation to the first apostolic band and its message is far removed from the God-centred gospel first entrusted to its original custodians. This may seem rather ‘harsh’ and ‘critical’ but if we examine church history and realise what the Great Commission really is all about, we too may sadly come to the same conclusion. What church history shows is men ignoring God’s ways and substituting their own ways, ranging from a spurious church, complete with sacraments, idols and a ‘salvation’ which is in truth no salvation at all, to the high-profile mass evangelism and high-decibel ‘celebrations’ seen so often today. Where Christ and HIs authority are held in disregard, or are merely taken for granted, moribund religion, manmade substitutes and al lifeless form of Christianity will ensue. If the Bible is indeed the very Word of God in written form, the inerrant authority in all matters of truth and practice for His people ‘to the end of the the age’, then this commission, in all its parts, must be heeded and obeyed, no matter what men may say or do against it. We shall examine these various parts of the commission and sincerely evaluate whether what was said of the church in her ‘failure’ to fulfil this commission is truly justified.
It should go without saying that obedience to the Great Commission requires obedience to its specific instructions – the command to preach, teach, baptise and make disciples, and the gospel is to be pre-eminent in what is preached and taught, together with ‘all things that I have commanded you’. However, the fact is that in a kind of general obedience to the Great Commission the specifics are too often curtailed and in some connections, virtually ignored. The Gospels, Acts and epistles provide clear and convincing instructions and examples of what the church is to say and do. Looking at the specific instructions, repentance and remission of sins through Christ, His death and His resurrection must be preached to all nations; those who truly believe must be baptised in the name of the triune God and they are to be taught afterwards in and through the continuing ministry of God’s Word. However, the quest for quick conversions has become the all-consuming activity of some who apparently have few qualms about trimming and truncating essential gospel truth in order to achieve their aims. Instead of repentance and faith, mere assent and agreement seem to be sufficient for ‘conversions’; we end up with so-called converts who have very little awareness of sin and even less acquaintance with the crucified Saviour.
What often follows these so-called conversions is equally disturbing; short-circuiting the work required has become so common. What is essential is not only to convert sinners, but also to ground them firmly in the doctrines and life which Christ Himself initiated, and this may be too demanding for those whose Christian self-denial and sacrifice are hardly distinguishable from that of kindly non-Christians.
The fight within, against indwelling sin and our fallen nature with its frailties, is not won with round upon round of singing, fun, emotional send-ups, nor yet with the kind of teaching which is superficial. The Christian will not grow in grace and godliness on an unchanging diet of spiritual milk. Solid food is needed and that food is the word of truth, faithfully read by the Christian and regularly ministered by reliable and faithful servants of God, on the pulpit, in bible study groups and in ‘catechism classes’ (for new believers). The apostles did this in the early church to strengthen the first believers so that they were enabled to stand firm in the cauldron of persecution and rejection in which they were soon to find themselves.
Besides the indwelling sin, the Christian also faces pressures from without, from the world of sinful humanity and the devil, with all his guile and devices. How did the first Christians overcome their own inner failings and resist the opposition and enmity of the world around? It was largely, though not only, through the apostolic teaching. How did Apostle Peter help and encourage the ‘pilgrims of the dispersion’ whose faith was being tested by fire and who were to suffer for righteousness’ sake? He did not tell them to attend emotionally uplifting meetings, nor did he counsel them with psychology – inner healing, self-esteem, and such like – he reminded them first of their election, their ‘sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’. and proceeded to to emphasise the great doctrines which would ensure that, despite cruel persecutions, their faith,love and joy would be ‘inexpressible and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:1-8). Likewise, the apostles Paul, John, James and other leaders, in their epistles, communicate truths and teachings which, through the ministry of the Spirit, strengthen the believers and grant them the perspectives and convictions to persevere in their faith and the remain faithful to the Lord Jesus.
The need for teaching biblical truths has never been greater; false teachings, liberalism, distortions of the truth are rampant. Some claim direct revelation from God and thereby detract from the supremacy of Scripture. Others are content with emotionally rousing meetings in which the ministry of God’s Word is no more than an appendage to a time of singing or ‘testimonies’. A few are even going so far as to reject selected Bible passages. The crying need of the hour must be for what Christ the Lord commanded to be taught as never before. And what He commanded is to be found in the Bible, and nowhere else. We must believe that the preaching of the gospel and the witness of Christians can be as effective as ever for the salvation of souls in our time and we must teach them the things of Christ without wavering.
We must not forget that the Great Commission ends with this specific promise from the Lord Jesus: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. This work does not fall within the ambit of human ability. Changing sinners into saints is a work that only divine power can achieve, which is the precise reason for the promise being given. To think it can be accomplished by any human means is to be ignorant of the real nature of the message and its great object in the purpose of God. We cannot attempt to accomplish this task without the presence and power of the One whose promise is an essential part of the very mission.
In all conscience, the modern obsession with methods to produce instant result misses out on this truth and promise. Somehow, Christians have to take matters into their own hands, and still think that they can count on Jesus to be with them, in one sense or other! The greatest peril is that the church will offer the world a philosophy of Christianity that provides forgiveness without regeneration – a Christianity without Christ, a religion without the Holy Spirit, politics without God and heaven without hell. It is as what Apostle Paul described – ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ (2 Tim. 3:5).
The presence of the Lord Jesus is experienced in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who led the apostles into all the truth which they, in their turn, were to preach and teach to others, and who inspired them to record that truth for all posterity. It is the Spirit who now gives understanding of the truth and who gives life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, convincing and bringing them to repentance towards God and faith in Jesuc Christ. He is the Comforter who ministers the grace and peace of God to believers and, in all this and more besides, the Lord Jesus, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, is keeping the merciful promise which was given long ago, but which remains as unfailing and undimmed as when was first made.
The power of the Lord Jesus is manifested in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This power was manifested in all the apostles’ ministry and has been ever since in the work of the true church. Some believers are claiming that tongue-speaking, bealings, prophecies, gifts of knowledge, trances, hysterical laughter, animal noises and similar phenomena are the outpourings of power in our time. However, whatever else these may be, they would not appear to be the enduement of power the Lord promised in the Great Commission. The power referred to was to bring an irresistible awareness of God which humbled sinners before Him in a way rarely known nowadays. It was the power which converted three thousand through the first apostolic message and which soon broke out of Jerusalem to conquer many more thousands of souls, Jews and Gentiles. It has done the same things in revivals far and wide and thus enabled God’s people to fulfil the Great Commission among many nations. It is the marked absence of this power that has opened the door to all kinds of makeshift contrivances which confuse many, but convert none. This is the unction we need today, the power the Saviour promised. Success in the fulfilment of the Great Commission depends wholly on the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise.
The design of the Great Commission cannot fail; it must and will be brought to a glorious consummation. The gospel will be preached; disciples will be made of world nations; vast multitudes will be brought into the kingdom of heaven; the great plan of God will be accomplished. Not even the failure of His people will prevent its final realisation, for the power of the Lord who has promised to be with believers is a guarantee of ultimate success. But the obvious lack of success of the church currently has to be faced. The fact is that while the Lord will never entirely withdraw His presence and power and leave His people as orphans, the manifestation of both is subject to His gracious will and mercy. To permit HIs people to experience His presence and power in extraordinary measure is still the prerogative of the exalted Lorde who works all things according to the counsel of HIs own will (Eph. 1:11). What is required of HIs people is that they should walk with Him in humble obedience and do His work in accordance with His will as it is revealed in His Word. Their confidence is not to be in themselves, not in their own efforts, nor yet in the carnal ways of fallen humanity, but in the Lord who rules and reigns in all the affairs of His church. Most of all, the power is His to give or to withhold, that the glory may be His alone, for His is ‘the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen’.