Tuesday, November 27

One of the most talked about but least practiced passages of Scripture

Then Jesus came to them and said,  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Great Commission is surely one of the most most talked about, yet least practiced passages of Scripture.

Why do I say this?

Because of its familiarity. Most of us just assume that what we and our church are doing is fulfilling the Great Commission.

But is it?

The reason this passage can be such a stumbling block is that we do a lot of talking about and believe these words, but when it comes to putting them into practice, we end up doing something entirely different from what Jesus originally commanded. We read these verses one way, but practice them another.

Here is how many believers today interpret Jesus' words...

JESUS SAID: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
HOW WE ACTUALLY PUT THIS INTO PRACTICE: All authority has been given to to our pastor/denomination/church. These are our spiritual guides (covering). What they have to say weighs more in what we do (or not do), than what Jesus commanded. Permission to engage in the GC must first come from our leaders. Jesus is not sufficiently authoritative by himself.

JESUS SAID: Therefore, GO...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: We understand "go" to mean come. Come to our church, youth group, event, concert, etc. Come is a lot more convenient for us than actually trying to find the time to go and engage relationally those who are lost and need the Good News. We go on mission trips, go to camp, go to conferences and concerts with high-profile Christian mega-stars, etc. The lost are expected to somehow find their way to us. They are supposed to come to our meetings and events planned for them. For the occasional permission granted to actually GO, those going are expected to bring home with them any who might respond. We can't have believers out there "doing their own thing" and starting "splinter churches." Real church is "mama church."

JESUS SAID: MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND:  Since we really do not know how to make disciples, we believe that what this means is that they need to hear the Gospel. Therefore, we focus on evangelistic events and invite people to pray and receive Christ. Church sports activities, Fall Festivals, youth car washes, Christmas pageants, and musical concerts are understood to be the appropriate means to reach people. Those handful who might raise their hand at one of our events are given an envelope of church literature. But "make disciples" is understood to be that they will now start coming to our church. There they will meet other believers, and hopefully learn more about God's Word and somewhere along the path turn into disciples (whatever that is).

JESUS SAID: BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: This certainly does not mean I should be the one to baptize the new believer. If someone makes a profession of faith, it is my responsibility to make an appointment and introduce them to the pastor of the church. There they will be, 1) warmly received, 2) invited to participate in a new believer's class to prepare them for baptism, 3) when there are enough ready to be baptized and there are no circumstances which would prevent them from being baptized, 4) schedule a date on the church calendar, and 5) watch as the pastor baptizes them as part of one of our regular scheduled church services.

JESUS SAID: TEACHING THEM TO OBEY everything I have commanded you...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: The newly baptized believer is then expected to begin attending church on a regular basis. There they observe how other Christians look, talk, and act. "Church Culture" is quickly assimilated about what is acceptable, and not acceptable. Basically it is understood that the new believer will learn God's Word through the listening of the weekly preaching of the pastor, and maybe if we can get them up early enough, a Sunday School class.

With this understanding of the Great Commission, is it any wonder people think we are controversial in our teaching? But I ask--JUST AS WE ASK THOSE WE TRAIN--did Jesus really mean what he said?


Wanda said...

When Jesus said go and make disciples , He gave us all the same authority under His name to go out to all nations teaching about Him so that other children which He is calling out from the darkness of this life would also find the hope and peace only found in Him through the trinity. We wait for our pastors to do it all like we are under the pastors authority, but Jesus is the authority and our pastors role is to watch over the flock in case one strays. We cannot impact others and bring the true Gospel to anyone if we don't care enough to see into the terrible hurts of the world. We have to stop being partially interested and be genuine with those who truely are hurting. Otherwise we are throwing around wise words without meaning to the hearer and we wonder why God's words coming from our mouths don't take hold. We have to join our hearts with God's words and sincerely love others. Thank you for this topic, it is a good morning starter.

J. Guy Muse said...


You are exactly right. Jesus said, all authority is given to me in Heaven and on earth...therefore... His words were directed to his disciples. If we are his disciples, these words are applicable to us. We are not to wait for someone else to do them, we are the ones commanded!

Bob Cleveland said...

The command was given to the church. The body of Christ, much as the command to multiply and fill the earth was given to mankind, not to Adam and Eve.

One could hardly envision Eve personally having 3 billion babies.

You separate go, teach and baptize easily, yet they are in the same sentence and if one applies to all, then so do all three.

Flip over to 1 Corinthians 12, 13 & 14; it's demonstrated how that Body is to function as each is specifically gifted for the common good. Also, if all parts apply to everyone, then no one I've ever heard of has ever fulfilled the Great Commission, and I'd guess it's a command no one ever could.

What am I as a local believer do? I get directions from Psalm 37:4.

Now, have we done a good job as a body? NO! Check the numbers .. a small percentage of people we've evangelized and have walked our aisles even attend church any more, and only a small percentage of those who do attend actually use their gifts actively in the church setting (building up the body .. "for the common good"). And that is a failure to make disciples.

Alan Cross also recently posted about this .. totally different and, in my mind, accurate take on it. Bottom line, saying where we are is Jerusalem and then working out from there to say the state is Judea, the nation is Samaria, etc is making US the focus of the command. Better interpretation, IMO: WE are the uttermost parts. And we're failing right here.

J. Guy Muse said...


Saludos from Ecuador! I think I understand what it is you are trying to say--correct me if I miss something...

1) The GC was given to the church.
2) We are the church.
3) We are not doing a very good job at doing what Jesus said to do.

It is this third point that I am seeking to address in the post.

The reason we are not doing a very good job is that we have so modified what it means to go, make disciples, baptize and teach.

Instead of actually going, making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded, we have convinced ourselves that what we are currently doing in our churches IS getting the job done.

The commands in these verses have taken on new meanings to us than what I believe were originally intended by Jesus where go means go, make disciples means make disciples, etc.

It is my conviction that if we were to get back to actually DOING these things as orginally commanded, we would be seeing, not only the USA coming to the feet of Jesus, but the nations.

Bob Cleveland said...

Right .. the church, right here, isn't.

But is the ekklesia making disciples in Ecuador? In India? In Eastern Europe? In America? In Africa?

Yes. Mostly, those in whose hearts God placed the desire to do that. And I am part of that mission outreach of the ekklesia, right here in uttermost Alabama, making disciples. That's the desire He has put in my heart.

And yes, I've been to Haiti, Nassau, Jamaica (perhaps 7 times), Russia, and Latvia doing that, too. But my field is remote Pelham, Alabama.

Sad note: most people don't seem to know their desire or their field.

J. Guy Muse said...


I hear you. Truly, no matter where we live, we are to make disciples...

One of the frequent questions I bring up in groups is to ask believers to share with us the name of someone they are currently discipling. Since very few can do so, I tone it back a little and ask, "OK, share with us the names of those you have discipled over the past 3 years...how about 5 years?"

The point is, most of us have opted out of obeying what Christ commanded us to do. We don't have any disciples, nor are we seeking to do so. We have substituted going to church, and getting involved in a lot of good church activities. But are we making disciples?

Bob Cleveland said...

"We" does not mean "me" unless that's the role God has assigned to me. God tells me that gifts are sovereignly assigned as the Holy Spirit wills. So what part I am to play is God's to determine, not someone here telling me I need to go to some foreign land and do something.

I've heard too many preachers say that when biblically, it's just not the case.

"We" are certainly to make disciples. The part for "Me" may be something much more mundane-appearing, but in God's providence, just as vital, like watching babies in the nursery, without which mom and dad aren't in the worship service, or being discipled in a Sunday School class. Or perhaps driving the bus on the route picking up kids for church.

I do not see any biblical indication that every single person is to one-on-one "disciple" someone else.

J. Guy Muse said...


I hope I didn't give the impression of implying that I believe everyone should pack their bags and move overseas--but the truth is, many who could do so, or even should do so, simply don't. I think what the Mormons do with youth going out for two years seems much more in line with my understanding of Scripture than what most evangelicals practice!

To me, it is less about what gifts I may/may not have, and more to do with using those gifts to make disciples.

Just minutes before I read your latest comment, I received an email in response to this post. What they shared might help clarify where I am coming from. This past week their pastor made the statement to the congregation, "Come to church everytime the doors are open and go to Sunday School."

While I am sure that pastor was well intentioned, that is NOT what Jesus told us to do. More and more it does seem to be the general attitude of churches and believers--just go to church and be a good Christian.

Instead of "go, make disciples..." the Great Commission has morphed into "come to church and go to Sunday School."

I would personally like to see fewer people hanging around the church and more people out directly engaged in what Christ commanded.

I wish there were more of your kind who I know, do take the GC seriously and seek to use their giftings--no matter what those might be--and use them to make disciples of the nations. Too many of us talk a lot more about these matters than actually engaging in doing what Christ said to do. That is my point.

There is certainly a need to watch babies in the nursery so that mom and dad can attend the worship service, and the need to study God's Word in a Sunday School class, and even someone to drive the bus so that those who can't make it to church can attend--but these good activities/ministries should not be thought of as substitutes for 1) engaging the lost where they are found, 2) making disciples of them without pulling them out of their spheres of influence, 3) baptizing them in the presence of their peers, and 4) teaching them to walk like Jesus as they too begin to engage in the continuous cycle of going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.

Bob Cleveland said...

Those things you mention in the last paragraph are precisely the things we are doing so that people who are called to do so can go do what they're called to do. People cannot, or more properly won't even know they are to, or how to, go make disciples, unless they are first discipled right here in this part of the uttermost part of the world where they live.

Scriptures clearly list the folks who are called to do that.

And that process is what I see the church failing to do. Which is what causes the failure of folks from this uttermost part of the world to go to some other uttermost part of the world.

Bob Cleveland said...

The most screamingly obvious thing to me, about the local church, is the complete failure to realize the task God has in mind for it. That's usually set by the pastor or some other staffer who looks out the window and sees something of interest to him, and whips up a program. But that's now how it's supposed to work.

If you check Exodus 31, you find God had already put Bezalel in Moses' crowd, a man skilled in wood, metal, and gemstone work. God did that because the work of the church was, at that point, building the tabernacle. God had placed folks in their midst who could do just that, and that was the first mention of "Spiritual Gifts" in the Bible!

Yet rare is the church that follows through with that in determining what God has in mind for that body.


J. Guy Muse said...


Thanks for all the input. I've enjoyed our chat here in the comment section. I guess we could go on and on, but I am starting to repeat myself! Right now at 11:33pm I am sitting here waiting for the truck who parked right in front of our driveway to move so I can park our own car inside. Guayaquil's soccer team just won, and there is wild celebrating going on all around us with everyone out on the street, cars honking their horns for the past 2 straight hours! All I want to do is get the car inside so I can go to bed, but will have to wait until all the partiers get drunk enough to go home. I've thought about plastering Gospel tracks all over the windshield of the car blocking our entrance, or letting the air out of his tires, but then I'd be up the rest of the night dealing with an irrate fan. :)