Monday, March 8

The most controversial biblical passage we use in our training

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."
(Mat 28:18-20)

The Great Commission is by far the most controversial passage that we teach in our discipleship/church planting training. We usually get into the Great Commission during our second week of training. After that session, usually about half of those coming drop out, never to return.


Because of its familiarity, most of us assume what we and our church currently do is fulfilling the Great Commission.

But are we?

The reason this passage is so controversial is that we say and believe these words, but practice something entirely different from what Jesus commanded. We read these verses one way, but live them another.

Jesus gives us four specific instructions (commands). Here is how most believers in our Ecuadorian evangelical context interpret Jesus' words...

JESUS SAID: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
OUR INTERPRETATION? All authority has been given to to our pastor/denomination/church. These are our spiritual guides (covering). What these 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...
OUR INTERPRETATION? 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...
OUR INTERPRETATION? 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...
OUR INTERPRETATION? 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...
OUR INTERPRETATION? 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? Or is the truth closer to the below cartoon...

Copyright © 1999 Bob West. All rights reserved.


seth said...

Best commentary on this passage I've read. Thank you, Guy. This needs to be re-posted.

seth said...

Best commentary on this passage I've read. Thank you, Guy. This needs to be re-posted.

Alan Knox said...

A friend of mine was recently talking with his pastor about Matthew 28:18-20. They were specifically talking about baptism. The pastor said that Jesus intended for all believers to "go" and "make disciples", but when he said "baptize" he only intended that for the pastors.

I don't understand that at all. But, even those who would not voice this, often act in a way that proves it is their interpretation as well. There is no reason in the text of Scripture to assign "go" and "make disciples" to all followers of Jesus, but assign "baptize" and "teach" only to pastors/elders/leaders.


J. Guy Muse said...

SETH: Thanks. Feel free to repost anywhere you like!

ALAN: I completely agree. That is why this passage has become so controversial for us. We are teaching that disciples are assigned the "whole enchilada" and not just parts of it. This really raises the temperature in an already hot room when you begin saying the very things you mention in your comment below. Believe me, we have had many people walk out and never return to our trainings because of this one teaching.

Stephen Young said...

What was your reaction to that.. To people walking out and disassociating themselves with you? How did you feel?

Have you had and real problems on the denominational level because of that?

I've linked to this on my blog and will probably put into portuguese as well.

J. Guy Muse said...


After ten years of doing these kinds of CP trainings we have learned that only about a fourth of those who start out will finish. 3/4 will drop out somewhere along the way for various reasons.

You ask how we feel about people dropping out? It is always disappointing, but better they do so upfront and as soon as possible, so we can give our attention to those who are really serious.

Problems on the EBC denominational level? You bet. But should we back off from our biblical convictions just because they are not shared by those in denominational positions of power?

Unknown said...

Many would also say that the baptismal formula was added to the scriptures much later and is therefore not valid. I know I don't want to add further controversy, but we do need to be prepared to answer this as well.

J. Guy Muse said...


That question has never arisen in any of our trainings to date. It might someday, but until it does, we won't get into it!

J. Guy Muse said...

Stephen: What is the URL of your blog?

Stephen Young said...

Sorry I didn't post the url earlier. This blog is not about missions in Brazil, but getting the church to reach out to those who live beyond the reach of traditional church culture in America.

I've begun to think out loud about that in this blog, as we look to transition to ministry in the US for a while.

J. Guy Muse said...


Interesting blog. I read through several of your articles. Sounds like our hearts are one and the same about many of the issues you write about. Keep up the good work!

Stephen Young said...

Can of worms time.

The International Mission Board [IMB] guideline on baptism (adopted November 2005)

Four key parameters derived from Scripture and consistent with historic Baptist ecclesiology inform and shape the IMB policy.

First, that the only biblical mode for baptism is immersion.

Second, that the only proper candidate for immersion is a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.

Third, that the act is purely symbolic and distinct from salvation itself and has no saving merit.

Fourth, that baptism is a church ordinance and therefore the only proper administrator of it is a local New Testament church that holds to a proper view of salvation.

All three versions of the BF&M demonstrate undeniably that Southern Baptists have long interpreted Scripture to teach that baptism is neither a Christian nor a denominational ordinance, but an ordinance administered by a local church.

I will admit, that the article makes a scriptural appeal for points 1-3 and a BF&M appeal for 4.

J. Guy Muse said...


At the beginning of the paper you quote is the following statement:

3/6/2006 Note: This paper has not been adopted by the board of trustees and is primarily the work of several experienced trustees with the final edit being made by the chairman of the board. It contains many of the points considered by many trustees as they worked through this issue over the last several years.

I personally don't have any problem with #1-#3. The fourth statement, ...that baptism is a church ordinance and therefore the only proper administrator of it is a local New Testament church that holds to a proper view of salvation seems to me to be going beyond what Scripture actually teaches and is only one way of interpreting Jesus' words.

I certainly respect those who hold to this position, but find such teaching extra biblical in that such interpretations go beyond what Scripture itself teaches.

If somehow we were born and raised on a remote island with a single Bible, and no one to interpret for us except the Holy Spirit: would the quoted interpretation be the one we would naturally adopt? Or would the simple, literal interpretation of Jesus' words be the one we'd understand? I think unquestionably the later would be our natural response, and not the former!

Stephen Young said...

I didn't read the note (how lazy I am).

Great reply.

Chris L said...

Great post, Guy, thanks for sharing. Word-for-word, that post describes what I see here in Mexico, as well. I think we could say it mostly applies to the U.S. church, too, with the exception of people not being nearly as much into pastoral and denominational authority there. Latin American churches can tend to be pretty authoritarian, though.

I love your posture of trying to stick to simple interpretations of Scripture passages and not be worried when it chases some religious people away. More and more that's how I'm seeing evangelism and discipleship. Throw seed everywhere (in the case you shared you have a class full of people), invest energy where that seed seems to be doing something (in your example, the 1/4 who go all the way through your training and do something with it), and don't get too hung up on the places the seed isn't producing.

Somewhere here in the next year or so we may start trying to do some similar training for CPers. If we do, I may get in touch to ask if you have any advice for us.

God bless!

J. Guy Muse said...


Thanks for stopping by. It is good to know we aren't alone in our simple understandings of the Great Commission. I do feel that Satan has done quite a job in getting us to reinterpret the GC so as to practically bring it to a halt in most churches. We look forward to hearing how your CP trainings go once you begin. Blessings!

Ed Dodds said...

Guy, All: I'm not an evangelical in the strictest sense because I'm not ever comfortable bowing to a creed for a creed's sake, even when I agree with the content. When denominations grow out of the cliques these creeds create it often has unintended (or intended) consequences on the greater church. While these structures can be valuable tools, they can also be misused re: power grabs, economic monopolies (publishing houses, colleges, for example) wrapped in theological language. A lot of the tradition role of these structures will be replaced by cloud-based collaboration software as a service as global broadband builds out. I'm the web guy over at, fwiw, and my personal blog is at

Jessica said...

I've always had the sneaky suspicion that this scripture was not only commanding pastors, preachers. I can't believe that Jesus only left Baptism (such an important thing) to so few pastors when the great commission was to spread the Word to everyone! Bravo for bringing this to light.

Aussie John said...


Great article! Very sad, but very true!

I learned that one sure way to upset the Baptist hierarchy (of course they don't have such) is to ask those menial "lay" people to lead the Lord's Supper, or to baptize someone.

J. Guy Muse said...

Jessica and Aussie John,

Thanks to both for stopping by and for the comments. Of course I agree with both of you, but have learned such thinking is definitely the "minority report" in evangelicalism today. I am still waiting for a strong biblical argument to the contrary.