The vision statement for the South America Region of the IMB is:
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:
b) make disciples,
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.