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?