A common buzz word around Christian circles is the “Great Commission”. Many people know of this commission from the words of Jesus in the final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
There is perhaps two important elements of this commission that I think people miss. So I want to be direct in talking about it cause if your reading I know how easy it is to lose interest in something you might be reading on an obscure blog.
1. Original Context of the Commission
2. The Commission in today’s context.
The Commission in today’s evangelical western context is 200+ years in the making. Something wonderful has happened according to most evangelicals. That is the evangelical missions movement. The Christianity of the 1800’s until this day have been one of extraordinary growth in the way of numbers, and nations reached with the message of salvation and the establishment of a local church. For many the great commission is a call to continue this great work of church planting and spreading the message of salvation with the nations. Is this Jesus’ Great commission?
When put into its original context and the passage observed carefully, Jesus’ commission has much more to say about the task of the church.
First of all the Book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience. Other Gospels had Jewish characteristics but not a strictly Jewish audience in mind. Jesus was addressing the commission to his disciplers and followers and the book of Matthew was addressed to a later audience of Jews.
What does that mean? What does it have to do with how we understand the commission?
Well, In order to put it into the right context we need to know what the task of the Jewish people was. How was Jesus expanding their concept of the task given to them in the Old Testament?
Simply put, the people of Israel had a task of living according to the law of God. This is not to be understood as simply a very rigorous moral code. The Law includes their history of the origins of all of humanity and Israel’s place in the family of human kind. Then they learn their own origin as a nation. They learn of the origin of their specific task as a people with the life of Abraham. Their task is to be a blessing to nations. They learn that they will be able to be a blessing because God speaks to them and reveals the way. Nations around them learn to fear God when they see what great laws the people live by and by what wisdom they have had revealed to them. But in the end they fail to maintain that blessing to the nations. Then God in the Incarnation and following his Resurrection gives his commission anew. His commission for his disciples to bless nations by discipling them is really not to different from before, there is simply a new dynamic because Christ has removed the barrier and initiated the kingdom.
In many respects the “Evangelical Modern Commission” falls very short because we see nations becoming more Christian by ratio, and by number of churches, but we see something private, something that has brought little fruit. Rwanda was devastated after the 1900’s brought the percentage of Christians from 0% to 80% in about 80 years only to see 1 million people exterminated and calamities ensue. Christians fought Christians and little changed on the level of Rwanda’s culture.
There are many stories where the “Evangelical Movement” has boasted of its great accomplishments to plant churches and save souls. Little has been accomplished in the last 200 year by the evangelical missions movement that would seem to have touched on the original context of the great commission.
The great commission is really an extension of all of Gods commissions given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses & Israel, and David. These covenant commissions remind us that Gods goal is not redemption of souls alone but whole people, whole cultures, and the whole of creation.
What we need to know is the whole picture of Gods redemptive plan. It involved discipling nations and bringing the kingdom as well as the king into whatever communities we touch, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Our brokenness in the Christian worldview is due to the last 200 years of our Evangelical Christian theology.
It is a theology that has rejected secular studies, or humanities, for fear of being humanistic, or secular, or a social gospel adherent. There is a real lack of knowledge with regard to creating and nurturing culture. The abandonment of the studies of humanities has created a really big problem for the defense of the Christian worldview. Because for the past 200 years there is little evidence to defend it. There is a reason to defend it and reason to live it. There are enough examples of this, there are also wonderful examples of this before this whole western strand of evangelicalism began to plague the church. In fact it is dominantly an American Evangelical disaster. America as a nation made strong efforts to break with its European past. This was seen in the movement of the church as well. What the American Christian needs is a better starting point then American Missions movement. We obviously need the whole picture of scripture, the early church, the middles ages, the reformations, the Renaissance, the enlightenment, and the birth of the modern era which has all become the foundation for the modern day, evangelical, missions movement.
We need a better worldview, our belief systems as Christians have been infected throughout a long history of influence. Gnosticism and Platonism of the early church gave us our dualistic Greek thinking. The “enlightenment” encouraged us to keep looking to Greek dualism and add to it all the ‘isms’ of Modernity; humanism, scientism, materialism, rationalism, empiricism, Marxism, existentialism Darwinism, est. These worldviews have corrupted and contributed to the Christianity that we have inherited today. Truly, the only way to cure this begins with seeking God and his truth through commitment to study of the scriptures, and through steady increase in the knowledge of history and worldviews. Then one day you might be able to hold up on one hand a christian worldview that is unparalleled to that of all other worldviews because it is not something man made but God given.