Tuesday, March 7

What was Jesus intent?


The vision statement for the South America Region of the IMB is:

A Church Planting Movement among all peoples,
The gospel to every person,
Every believer a full participant in the Great Commission.


Do we really believe, teach and practice that last part?

One of the issues making headlines in S. Baptist circles these days centers on Baptist interpretation of the baptism portion given in the Great Commission. Does baptismal authority rest with individual believers or with a local church congregation?

What was Jesus intent when he gave the Great Commission?

Were his words intended for, 1) the gathered disciples and them alone, 2) the local church throughout the ages, 3) all disciples of Christ down through the ages?

If your interpretation is #1, then sit back and relax, there is little for you to worry about. It's not your business what God chooses to do with the untold millions who are on their way to an eternity separated from Christ. As strange as it sounds, I have dialogued with many believers who don't like to admit it, but by their actions actually hold to this postion. They feel their responsibility is only to those the Lord brings directly into their life. They have been pacified in their conscience that God only "calls" certain ones of us for this kind of work. They, of course, are not part of this select group.

If the second interpretation is where you find peace, then you believe that every believer is charged by Christ to:

a) go,
b) make disciples,
c) ?
d) teach these new believers.

What happened to "c"? Why was it skipped? Those holding to this position feel that baptism as an ordinance is reserved only for those proper administrators, someone who has been given authority to baptize.

In other words, all of us can do three of the four commands of Christ. But only certain individuals can do all four. Was that Christ's intent when he charged his disciples with carrying out the Great Commission? Did He consider baptism something above the other tasks of going, disicipling and teaching? Is it so special that it can only be administered by a select group of authorized individuals? If so, who are those individuals? How do they get to be the lucky ones to get to obey ALL that Christ said?

Now that may well be the intent of the passage. It certainly seems that many Baptists truly hold this conviction. Fine. But my own reading of this, in combination with other baptismal passages, point me to the third option. I simply feel that the plain reading of the GC lends itself to just what it says: ALL of us followers of Christ who consider ourselves to be His disciples. We are the ones charged with carrying out Jesus' commission.

We are all part of the Body of Christ. There are no individual followers of Christ who have "more authority" than others. Any differences amongst those making up the Body, are functional, not authoritative.

The Spirit has given gifts to each for the building up of the Body of Christ. To begin to elevate persons over others is to go down the road leading to the whole sacerdotal/priestly function like is found in the Roman Catholic Church. There we find a clear separation between the professional clergy (who have authority), and the laity (who do not.) The clergy are authorized to perform the ceremonies of the church, but the laity are not. There we find classes of Christians, distinctions.

In a February 6, 2006 editorial in the Southern Baptist Texan the writer states his conviction for #2 above, "If the commission were given to every believer then any 9-year -old girl who was a Christian could baptize her convert in the backyard swimming pool...Jesus vested the authority to baptize in the church."

At first glance the example seems to prove the argument for church authority in baptism. But isn't there also plenty of room for the literal interpretation of the Matthew 28 passage? Could it be that the reason we have NOT finished the task after 2000 years is that we simply misinterpreted what Christ intended all along?

Imagine with me for a moment the following scenerio...

What would happen if every Dick, Jane, Bill and Harry were to get it into their heads that, yes, THEY are responsible for the Great Commission? Not just a select chosen few, but ALL of us! Like Peter, James, and John, they too have been vested with authority by Jesus Christ Himself (Matt.28:18). It is for us to fulfill--not part--but ALL of the Great Commission! I dare say, we would be far closer to finishing the task than we are today.

P.S. A big thanks to Kiki Cherry for allowing me to use her original artwork above, the Jesus illustration.

20 comments:

Wes Kenney said...

Guy,

I haven't been able to find a working email address for you; I used the one in your profile and it came back to me.

Send me an email when you have time at wes.kenney.tbc@hotmail.com.

Kiki Cherry said...

AMEN, Guy!!!! Thank you for having the guts to write this post.

We have been struggling with this very issue. What do we do now with out small groups (or simple churches) which are made up of college students?

I'm also inclined towards your #3. They ARE the church. They should be able to practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Kevin Bussey said...

I vote for # 3!

GuyMuse said...

Kdawg,

Wow, that makes three votes now with Kiki's. Think that will be enough to overturn the new IMB policy? :-)

Mackay said...

Churches originally known as “Baptists,” were characterized not so much by doctrines as by “distinctives”. Probably the foremost of those had to do with the autonomy of the local church, the sole authority of scripture, and the responsibility (an odd word these days) for every believer to discern the meaning of said scripture. Oddly enough, with those characteristics as a starting point, such churches agreed doctrinally much more than they disagreed.

Although not addressing the definition or recognition of a church in your Monday blog, the fact remains that the form and practice of baptism is something for the (local) church to discern. That includes questioning forms and practices that seem to contradict scripture as well as embracing those that fit.

Heretical as it may sound, it has nothing to do with IMB policy.

stepchild said...

To be honest, and I'm not trying to be contrary here, I'd go with #1. I think it's significant that Jesus was speaking to the eleven disciples when he gave the great commission (That's why it mentions it in v.16).

While I'd agree that all believers are ambassadors where they are, I don't think everyone is called to "Go" to a foreign nation. God's calling on my own life was (is) pretty specific in that He led me overseas. But since I've been on the field, I've seen plenty of "Missionaries" who obviously (to me) weren't called to minister across cultures. I think years of the Board sending any warm body has gotten us into some trouble.

And I do "sit back and relax," because I don't believe anyone's eternal destiny depends on me. My motivation for missions is obedience to God's calling and to the Holy Spirit's step-by-step guidance, not the great need that is all around me (I've blogged about this quite a bit.)

Who can baptize? I'm still a big fan of believer's priesthood, so I'd say anyone who has been born again is an "authorized agent." I believe baptism is the "outward symbol of an inward change," not a rite of initiation into a local church.

Gary Snowden said...

Guy,

I appreciate very much your insights regarding baptism as an essential element of the Great Commission. I've been following the controversy involving Wade Burleson for a couple of months now and also am grateful for what he is attempting to do regarding the non-essentials of the faith. Blessings on you, Linda, and the kids as you serve in Guayaquil. Bendiciones.

GuyMuse said...

Mackay,

I only know one Mackay in the world so it's probably YOU. What you write reminds me of many good times sitting in your backyard talking about matters similar to these. Oh, how I miss those times! Your comments are always well received and welcome.

One exercise we like to do with the church planters whenever an issue, doctrine, or practice comes up that we aren't sure how to deal with, is to ask them to close their eyes and imagine they were raised from birth on one of the isolated Galapagos island. The only book in their posession is the Bible. There is no baggage from things heard in church, from books, from fellow Christians, etc. We ask them to put out of their minds everything they've heard taught about the subject. Read the pertinent Scriptures and come up with what the Spirit is saying through the Word. What would their conclusion/answer be?

Inevitably it is usually the simplest and most obvious answer. It is man that complicates God's Word, and therein the divisions and endless discussions that go on.
---------

Stepchild,

As usual you give your readers something to think about. I used to be on a house church email list where we the discussion would go for days about the very things you write above. While I certainly agree that not everyone is called to go to a foreign field, I do believe as our IMB SAM region statement says, "Every believer a full participant in the GC". I was never able to convince them of this though, they were content with being #1's.

I think though with your last paragraph I got another vote? That makes four now!
------------------

Gary,

So glad you stopped by and that you have joined the blogging community. You have much to contribute to these discussions. Not only with your missionary background, but especially with your knowledge of church history. We need a good Anabaptist refresher course that would be welcome into these dialogues, and I know nobody better to give it than you! I look forward to reading your web log in the days to come.

What we really need to do is sit down and get caught up with each others families! How many years now has it been? How are the boys doing?

Abrazos to you and Annetta Marie!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you have joined the blogging world. As a fellow M from CEE (I went through MLC with your bro. in 96), I appreciate your insights...especially loved the blog on the visit to the house church. Thanks for sharing that.

GuyMuse said...

Kiki,

Thanks for your encouraging words, and for the beautiful illustration at the top of this post!

Trust you and your husband have good missions trips to Peru and Canada with the students. Let us hear all about it when you get back. I prayed for you all this morning that God would make this a special time in the lives of the students going.

GuyMuse said...

Anon M,

Thanks for the encouraging word. Check my profile for our email address and drop us a line so I can tell my brother Greg who you are. He and Cathy are always interested to hear updates on their old MLC family. Greg is pastoring a church in Ft. Hancock, Texas and the family is doing well. I noticed yesterday on Wade B. blog that someone got us mixed up and was calling me "Greg". The younger M generations know Greg and the older M know us!

Wade Burleson said...

Very good stuff.

Nice job Guy.

Keep up the great Great Commission work! (pun intended).

Tim Sweatman said...

Well, let's examine each option.

If it's #1, then the church would have fizzled out about 1900 years ago when the last of the eleven died, since no one else was authorized to evangelize, baptize, and disciple others. But we see in the Bible that many others evangelized, baptized, and discipled others. So #1 isn't the answer.

There seem to be a couple of problems with #2. First, Jesus doesn't mention the local church here. It seems like if He were giving this authority exclusively to the local church that He would have been clear about it. Second, there is no logical or contextual basis to separate evangelism, baptism, or discipleship. If only certain believers have the authority to baptize, then they are the only ones with the authority to evangelize and disciple others.

That leaves us with #3. If the church was going to continue beyond the 1st century, then subsequent generations of believers would have to carry on the work of evangelizing, baptizing, and discipling. Nothing in the NT indicates that there are different classes of believers (different gifts, yes; different classes, no), so each believer has the right and the responsibility to carry out the Great Commission in its entirety. So count another vote for #3.

GuyMuse said...

Wade,

Thanks for the note. We are big "fans" of your blog (as are many anon M's out there.) Keep up the good work speaking for us all!

Tim,

You say in a hundred words what it takes me to say in 1000! Well stated.

With your vote we now have 2 IMB M votes, 1 NAMB M, and 2 SBC pastors. That's pretty broad representation from across the board!

What no one has yet to mention though is that our #3 is in variance with the fourth point in the BoT postion paper on baptism.

Outoftheshaker! said...

Just to throw a picture in the loop. Say I have a group of non believers, one come s to the Lord, I baptize him/her in front of the non believers. Not under a local church authority. How would that believer be viewed by other churches. What option would that fall under? Under the BF&M is that an authorized baptism? It has gotten kinda quiet:o)I hope that made sense.

GuyMuse said...

I may be wrong "outoftheshaker" but my understanding of what is currently being said is that you are now "out of bounds." Anybody out there feel free to share your understanding of the question.

mackay said...

Well, …

If we as a church came to know, by whatever means, that the gospel was presented in truth to the convert, that the convert shows evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, and that the baptism was done with recognition of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:1f) etc, we the church are perfectly free to accept that baptism as valid. You or anyone else are free to disagree.

Because a group at Corinth messed up, we have some guidance on not only the symbolism, but the attitude appropriate for the Lord’s Supper – soberness (note: not somberness). We only have some guidance on the symbolism of baptism. I expect that joyful sobriety might be the appropriate for it.

(Yes Guy, it’s me; guilty as charged.)

We are not really sure what First Church of Jerusalem thought of Philip (Acts 8) but it appears that God approved.

Tim Sweatman said...

Outoftheshaker,

I don't know how other churches would view that believer, but I would accept that believer's baptism, and based on what I see in the Bible God would also accept it. Now, under the new policy the IMB wouldn't accept it, even though based on the BFM it would be a valid baptism. So who is out of the loop on this one? Hmmm. . .

negrito said...

I agree with Tim. Since none of us can claim apastolic sucession, then what do we base our authority on? On the Bible...which tells all of Jesus`disciples to go into the world and make disciples; and this includes baptizing them. I baptized a friend in the paddling pool in our back yard; a woman missionary friend of mine did the same with someone converted through her ministry. Come on, let´s not get bogged down in petty pharisaic rules. Our traditions are not valid if the Bible says something else.

GuyMuse said...

Negrito,

If you are an IMB M you will probably be called in to the principals office pretty soon. However, if you are just an "ordinary" follower of Jesus Christ, you did exactly what it is that Jesus said to do.