The Great Commission

Great CommissionLast night I preached to our church a sermon titled ‘Your Part in the Circle’.  It was based on 2 passages in Matthew.  The first was 16:15-18, and the second was 28:18-20.  I would like to briefly share it with you.

“What is the purpose of Christianity?”  There are some who have created their own churches based on Christian teachings, but are far from true Christianity.  Some examples of this are:

  • Constantine (313 A.D.) began the Catholic church with the purpose of increasing his own power.  My, how it worked!  For the next 1,200 years the Catholic church wielded more power than any king in the millennium.
  • Charles Taze Russell (1879 A.D.) began Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence (predecessor to the Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses).  Through the sales of religious materials he amassed a personal fortune equivilant today to 7 millions dollars!
  • Joseph Smith (1831 A.D.) began the Mormon church and, through his self-appointed authority as prophet, publicly took to himself at least 33 wives (and who knows how many more in private).  There is little to be imagined as to what his motive for starting the church was.
  • Many of the modern-day cults have also been started for various reasons, and many have accomplished their purposes.

What then is the purpose of true Christianity?  To find the answer one must only look to its founder, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus’ purpose on earth was one thing only – the salvation of sinners.  He said in Matthew 18:11, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”, and again in John 3:17, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”  Jesus’ single and solitary purpose was to save us.

Jesus started the church and gave to it His own purpose.  The church was to be an extension of Himself.  For this reason Paul refers to it as the ‘body of Christ’.  Everything that the church does should be in accordance to Jesus’ purpose.  Any activity that the church engages in should have a direct or indirect result of people getting saved.  It has been said this way, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

As seen in the examples above, many others have twisted the purpose set forth by Jesus to accomplish their own purposes,  and they have done so in a variety of methods.  Jesus, however, gave the church only one method, and He backed it with His authority and blessing.  That same method that was used 2,000 years ago still works just as well today.  For us to invent other methods is unproductive and destructive.

In Matthew 16 Jesus said that He would build the church, and protect it.  Therefore, it is not our job to worry about the building of the church.  That is Jesus’ responsibility, not ours.  We get ourselves into trouble when we start encroaching on His responsibilities, instead of focusing on the ones that He gave to us.  This being the case, the success of a church is not measured by its size, but rather by its obedience to Jesus.

Jesus’ method was simple; it only contained 4 parts: go, evangelize, baptize, and disciple.Everything that we do as a church should fall into one of these 4 categories because each of them results directly or indirectly with people getting saved.  We find these in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The first command is ‘GO’.  Many churches are content with trying to get people to COME to church.  There is certainly nothing wrong with someone getting saved in church (in fact it happened in our church last night!), but you will be hard-pressed to find a Biblical example of this.  In the vast majority of the cases (if not all), people were saved in their homes, in the streets, in jails, and in common gathering places like the Jewish synagogues.  The church was the assembly of those who had already believed.  There certainly is no wrong place to get saved, but the problem is that if all the evangelism that a church does is within its own walls, then it has not fulfilled the first step of the Great Commission.  We must all purpose to regularly GO to where the sinners are.  Every fisherman knows that if you want to catch fish, go where they are biting.

The second part is ‘EVANGELIZE’.  The phrase that Jesus said is this, “teach all nations.”  What are we supposed to teach them?  There are a few verses that one should take into account here:  Luke 11:52 “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”  Romans 10:1-2 “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”  Romans 10:14 “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”  In each of these verses ‘knowledge’ is the key.  I believe that this is also what Jesus was referring to when He told Peter that he had given him the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven.’

It has been said that faith is the key that opens the door to salvation.  That is a true statement, but to be able to apply faith, it must be done correctly.  There are 3 parts to faith, and all 3 parts must work together.  The formula is:

Knowledge + Belief + Action = Faith

James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”  Romans 10:14, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”  To believe something, one must know of it, and to apply your belief, one must act on it.  And so it is with salvation, to be saved one must understand how it works, believe it, and ask for it.  We must teach others of the free salvation that Jesus offers to us, and help them through the formula of faith.

The third part of Jesus’ method is to ‘BAPTIZE’ those who have been evangelized.  Simply put, baptism does not save us, it rather identifies us with He who has saved us.  Just as a wedding ring identifies a man with his wife, baptism identifies us with Jesus.  Both the ring and baptism are physical representations of spiritual decisions.  For us to complete the Great Commission, we must follow Jesus’ instructions and baptize the believers.  This is not an exhaustive study on the doctrine of baptism, just enough to mention what it is and where it appears in Jesus’ method of church-building.

The final part of the Great Commission is to ‘DISCIPLE’ those who have been baptized.  It is here where the church teaches the new convert the ‘everything else’ of Christianity.  This should be a 2-part process: the Basics of Christianity (sometimes referred to as ‘milk’), and the continual learning of the Christian faith (often referred to as ‘meat’).  As soon as someone is saved, they should begin studying the basics of Christianity “that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

When they have successfully finished this basic training, they should immediately begin the circle of the Great Commission with others who are not yet saved.  One doesn’t have to be a Bible scholar to go soulwinning or teach basic Bible doctrine.  He just needs to understand it sufficiently.  At this point it becomes his responsibility to become a teacher to others.  Hebrews 5:12, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”  If one does not take the step of becoming a teacher at this moment, he will revert to be one that needs to be taught again.

Last night I called several children to the front of the auditorium to help illustrate this process.  I represented the original soulwinner and completed all 4 steps with the first child, my daughter, Lilianna.  I then turned her around and walked with her to the second child.  Lily completed the process with the second child, and so on.  The process was clear.

There are 2 schools of thought on the completion of the Great Commission.  The first states that it is the responsibility of the PASTOR.  According to this idea, the growth of the church can happen, but it is a very slow process.  If the pastor successfully disciples 5 families each year, in 10 years there will be 50 families that have been discipled.  Of those, many will not last because they don’t personally have Jesus’ purpose in their lives.

The second school of thought is that the Great Commission is the responsibility of the CHURCH, the entire assembly.  According to this idea, the growth of the church is exponential.  If each family disciples only 1 other family each year, in 10 years there will be 1024 families that have been discipled.  Of those many will end up leaving to start their own ministries, and the growth of the church becomes even greater still!

In short, the entire sermon was geared to this end: if we do our part, Jesus will do His.  It was James Hudson Taylor that said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”  The same is true for this truth.  If we fulfill the Great Commission, Jesus will build His church.

The invitation questions were very simple: 1) Are you saved?  Do you know for sure that your sins have been forgiven?  2) Are you stuck somewhere in the circle?  What is the step that you are stuck on?  3) Is it time for you to start your own circle with others?  There was a good response: 1 was saved, and several determined to take their next step.

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