“If you indeed continue in the faith having been founded and steadfast and not being moved away from the hope of the Gospel which you heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which I Paul became a servant” (Colossians 1:23).
“In fact, Christ, Himself, spelled out the mission of the church in what we refer to as The Great Commission . . . . That commission from Christ is the sole reason why the church exists today.” – James Longstreet, http://www.christianpost.com
Is fulfilling the “Great Commission” the primary reason why the church is left on earth? You would think so from listening to many voices and reading a lot of articles in our day. It appears to me that this assumption needs to be closely scrutinized. For something that is said to be so central and vital, why is teaching and exhortation about it absent from the New Testament epistles and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation?
If one surveys the history of what called itself church, it would be discovered that there was virtually no thought or emphasis on “evangelism” or “missions” because church and state were joined together like Siamese twins from roughly AD 300 to AD 1700. When the age of exploration blossomed in the 1400’s, the religion of the nation was taken to the lands where her ships landed. For example, Christopher Columbus was sent forth by Spain as a representative of the state and church of that country. This was not evangelism, but rather empire-building.
What we call “missions” did not develop until 1792 when William Carey published his controversial book, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, and then in 1793 he left with family members for India.
In America in the 19th Century, fueled by the likes of Charles Finney and D.L. Moody, the necessity of “fulfilling the Great Commission” began to emerge. Mission Societies multiplied in the States and England.
After WWII American evangelicalism was bombarded with exhortations to “fulfill the Great Commission” because, it was taught, Jesus could not return until the Gospel had been preached to every people group on earth.
So, it would appear that in the 2000’s evangelicalism is now consumed with a wide range of “discipleship” programs based on the assumption that we are responsible to “make disciples of all nations” in order to pave the way for Jesus’ return.
What I sense is that we have allowed evangelism-discipleship to become our obsession, and in the process Jesus Christ is pushed to the periphery. Jesus becomes a means for us to fulfill a pressing duty. Everything is about “making disciples,” “multiplication,” and programs designed to accomplish these ends.
Would we do well to perhaps re-focus on Christ? As we are consumed with following Jesus, how can we not share him with others and reach out to the needy? If you are pursuing Christ, getting to know Him in the depths, then He will ooze from your being. You won’t be able to help but talk about Him to the lost and broken people around you! If He is truly your sole passion, your life will change and your character will be sharpened naturally. People will see Him in you and begin asking questions like, “What makes you tick?” Paul said, “Do good to everyone, especially those in the Lord’s household.” But it is a grave error to run after “causes” and “movements” and “fulfilling the Great Commission” in a way that functionally makes Christ just a means to such ends – instead of exalting Christ as the center, the Alpha and Omega of everything.
Bob Emery drives home a point I think we all need to ponder. “In our pursuit of Christ, assaults on that pursuit can come from many quarters. They may come from a friend, a relative, a parent. They may come in the form of seemingly innocent comments like . . . ‘You should be doing this or that.’ ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’ ‘You have a lot to give. Why don’t you start something?’ ‘Why aren’t you more involved in your church, in giving, in Bible studies, in missions?’ . . . . You should, you should, you should . . . . The question is, do we heed these voices or do we focus on ‘the one thing’ our Lord says is important? . . . What is that one thing? . . . . The one thing that is necessary is to sit at the feet of Jesus and take your place as a receiver. It is to behold his beauty. It is to spend time in his presence, admiring him, adoring him, and loving him, taking in all that he is and all that he has to give. It is to allow him the place he has always wanted to have in your life – to allow him to be the source and giver of all things” (His Desire Is For Me: The Story of Solomon and the Shulammite, Deep River Books, 2011, pp. 183, 185).
In Colossians 1:23 Paul affirmed that even in the First Century the Gospel had been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. Is the “Great Commission” something that is left for us to “complete,” or is the “knowledge of the Lord” coming to expression in people all over the world because Christ promised, “I will build my ekklesia”?
Does Father want us to constantly feel guilty about not “fulfilling” something, or does he desire for the life of his Son to come to expression through us – the Son he has put his seal upon – the Son he has told us to hear in all of life. Father delights in his Son. Isn’t that where our delight should be?
If it remains for us to “fulfill the Great Commission,” then truly it will be a mess. But we can put our confidence in the Lord who will bring to pass his eternal purpose in Christ. In my book Christ Minimized? A Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, I comment on the concerns expressed about eternal destinies depending on human efforts and resources:
Can Christ the King Overcome A Flat Tire?
Love Wins asks these questions, “If our salvation, our future, our destiny is dependent on others bringing the message to us, teaching us, showing us – what happens if they don’t do their part? What if the missionary gets a flat tire? This raises another, far more disturbing question: Is your future in someone else’s hands?” (p. 9).
Would the eternal purpose of God in Christ to secure and maintain a Bride for the Son – a purpose in which the Lord works everything out according to the counsel of his will – be left in the hands of frail human beings and adverse circumstances (Ephesians 1:11; 3:11)? Absolutely not! If Father intends to reveal Christ to a person, he will oversee all of the circumstances. If someone fails to speak when they should, or if a car breaks down in the middle of the road – the Lord will find other means to accomplish his plans.
Our life is not about “making disciples,” “multiplying churches,” or “completing the Great Commission in our generation.” Our life is Christ. The Lord’s word to us is – as branches are organically joined to the vine, so “abide/remain in me and you will bear fruit.” To lift up any goals, or means to such goals, is a sure snare. Of course, Paul traveled around and endured many hardships for the Gospel’s sake. But his passion in life was not to be a “soul-winner,” to see a church planted in every city, or to envision millions of house churches covering the earth. He summed up his life’s passion with clarity: “for me to live is Christ . . . . the love of Christ compels me . . . . that I might know him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
If Jesus is the Alpha and Omega – the A to Z – then what else is there to pursue? Can we be satisfied with Jesus Christ, or must we descend to programs and/or strategies to “win the world”? — Jon Zens, December, 2011