Dissecting the Great Commission
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.
Last time we considered the question of what Jesus is actually commissioning His Church to do in the Great Commission. We did this by describing three participles — "going", "baptizing", and "teaching". We now move on to the question of what is discipling? I would define it as follows — turning people from sinful rebellion against God to a faithful commitment to Jesus Christ. You can see that faith and repentance are included in the definition. They are essential for one to be a disciple. You can also see how the comprehensiveness of the GC is addressed here too. That is, the disciple is to be obedient to Christ in all of life, not just a limited area.
How are we to accomplish this task and thereby be faithful to the GC Jesus gave His Church? By going, baptizing, and teaching.
We Make Disciples by Going.
This is a radical change from how God instructed His people in the Old Testament to relate to the peoples and nations around Israel. In the OT God instructed His people to be racially, ethnically, and geographically distinct, separated, and segregated from the peoples around them. The nations were to come to them and see how they lived according to the commands, precepts, and directives of the Lord. Then when the nations saw how they lived they would be impressed. Deuteronomy 4 spells this out: "See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).
Jesus radically changes the relationship of His people to the peoples around them in the New Testament. Now, the Church is to be in the world though not of the world. The antithesis between Church and world is no longer where we live but how we live. No longer are we to be segregated and separated from the world by ethnic, racial, or geographic boundaries. Rather we are to be in the world in order to win the world for the Lord.
This point should be plain. For all the good that Abraham Kuyper taught, I, along with Cornelius Van Til, think he was wrong here. Kuyper taught that the antithesis was a matter of segregation and separation. His followers have made the mistake of putting the antithesis in the wrong place. I have even heard those in our churches say, "If somebody wants to hear the gospel, let them come to church. It is preached here every week. We don't have to do evangelism." This is a serious error in light of Jesus' coming and teaching in the GC. We must be a going people if we are to be faithful and be used of the Lord to gather the elect. Evangelism is NOT an option; it is essential to the life of the Church. We may not be content to solely preserve the truth; we must propagate it as well.
We Make Disciples by Baptizing.
Simply put, unless a person is baptized into a local Christian Church they should not be considered a Christian. Baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant, the initiatory rite for membership in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13), and is thus ordinarily indispensable. I would go so far as to say that evangelism has not accomplished its task unless and until a convert is received by baptism into the Church. Church membership is not optional. One cannot say they love the Head but despise the Body.
In contemporary evangelicalism today this is a glaring omission. Evangelistic crusades and methods commonly omit the necessity of church membership even if they stress baptism. As a result there are far too many "lone ranger Christians" who profess to have committed to Christ but neither worship nor participate in a local church. This is wrong; it is plainly contradicted by what Jesus teaches in the GC. I don't care how many sinners' prayers have been said, how many times a person has walked the sawdust trail, how many times there have been "all eyes closed, all heads bowed." Unless someone is baptized into a local Christian Church they ought not be regarded as a Christian. Why? Because baptizing is one of the means which makes disciples.
We Make Disciples by Teaching.
Isn't it interesting that the GC is given in educational tends? Christian education is essential to making disciples. This is emphasized in our tradition and rightly so. We should be encouraged that this emphasis has resulted in passing the faith on from one generation to the next. When it comes to making disciples of our own covenant youth we excel. PTL for that. However we cannot rest content with "Dutch evangelism."(What does this mean?) We must also gather in those from outside the covenant and make them disciples also.
Allow me to address those who are the disciples made in the covenant. What are you doing with the gift of your education? You have been the beneficiaries of Christian education, faithful preaching, catechetical instruction, and family devotions. How are you now using it? We are to be conduits of the Lord's blessings not cull de sacs. What an overwhelming abundance of truth, doctrine, and Bible teaching you have received. What enormous potential you possess to make disciples by teaching them all that you have been taught. Are you teaching others and making disciples?
R.B. Kuiper in The Glorious Body of Christ talks about this need via an illustration. He points out that the Sea of Galilee is loved, admired, and enjoyed by many because it is fed by the melting snows of the Lebanese mountains making it a refreshing, beautiful body of water. It, in turn, feeds the Jordan River, which stretches down to the Dead Sea. He then compares that to the Dead Sea. Though it receives and is fed by the Sea of Galilee it feeds no one and nothing. In contrast to the Sea of Galilee it is oily, dirty, stinky, and dead. One receives and gets but in turn gives and feeds. The other just gets and receives but neither gives nor feeds in return. Which are you? If the Lord has richly blessed us, we are then obligated to be a blessing to others.
What about you and your church? Are you obedient to the GC? Are you making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching?