Hear O Israel

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Disciplism – Part 4

Let’s go back to the Great Commission itself, lets look at it with fresh eyes, and see if these verses are actually talking about evangelism:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20 RSV).

As this passage is clearly a pivotal text in defining the mission of the Church, it is vital to taking a fresh look at what is taking place as well as what is being said here.

1. The apostles are bound to Jesus’ redemptive mission.

First, Jesus—now resurrected and effectively Lord of the universe (“all authority is given to me”)—appears to His apostles (His “sent ones”) and binds them to His mission with the authoritative command, “Go therefore!” This substantive command to the mission carries within it the redemptive purposes of God through His Church. To use a contemporary metaphor, this is the start of a pay-it-forward movement.

2. The apostles are representatives of the future Church.

Second, the 12 apostles are representatives of the future Church that was to rise up directly out of their ministry. They are the seed of the Church that was to come from their ministry. The Jesus movement that emerged from this moment is not only included in this commission but exists to extend it in every way possible in and throughout its contemporary life and practice. In other words, the Great Commission applies to all Christians in any time and place. The Church always stands under its authority until all of God’s kingdom purposes are fulfilled on the earth.

3. It commits Jesus’ People to continue in Jesus’ Way.

Third, they are told to “…go make disciples of the nations.” This commandment implies that the apostles are themselves disciples who were shown the Way by the Lord Jesus Himself. We have to understand this command, then, as a command for disciples to reproduce themselves through the discipling of others who in turn do the same. It commits Jesus’ people to continue in the Way of Jesus.

4. It is a radically inclusive call to be part of God’s covenant people.

Fourth, the apostles are called to baptize people into the name of the Triune God. This is a radically inclusive call to the nations to join God’s covenant family.

They are then told, “… Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Obedience is the only appropriate response to the reign of Jesus. Clearly, teaching people what it means to obey is not the same as getting decisions for Christ at an altar call or praying the sinner’s prayer. This is another indisputable disciple-making motif.

5. It promises Jesus’ ongoing presence.

And finally, disciples everywhere and at all times in history are promised Jesus’ personal presence in all that they do in His cause. He is with them, and they are His empowered agents.

So, what about evangelism???

So now let me ask again: Where exactly do we see “evangelism” mentioned here? There is no overt mention of it at all. In fact, the text explicitly binds us to the practices of discipleship and disciple making. It turns out that the Great Commission is not actually about evangelism but rather disciple making.

Now it can be said that evangelism is implied in this scripture. That is precisely the point I wish to make here. Evangelism is implied in the process of disciple making and not the other way around. Discipleship is evangelism’s true context.

If this is true, then much of what goes by the name of the church growth movement was largely built on a faulty and reductionist interpretation of one single verse! As disturbing as it seems, almost all of the theology related to the church growth movement was built on the Great Commission interpreted as evangelism! I don’t mean any disrespect here—I actually believe the church growth movement was a good correction to a Church that had forgotten how to even evangelize. The movement recovered the evangelistic task for the local church and as a result brought millions in contact with the gospel. It was undoubtedly a genuine move of God.

However, the movement hung most of its agenda on a profoundly abridged theology of mission—substituting disciple making (the church’s primary commission) with largely event-based proclamation and altar calls. Make no mistake; this is a serious reduction of our function as God’s missionary people. Everything gets boiled down to this singular aspect of the church’s witness—evangelism narrowly defined and understood. It’s a huge narrowing both of theological vision and a sense of our mission. Through this reduction, the unavoidable command of the resurrected Lord of the Church in Matthew 28 has been fundamentally altered. That’s plain scary, and it should disturb all concerned with kingdom extension!

Excerpt taken from Disciplism a free ebook by Alan Hirsch available here.

Alan Hirsch’s website is alanhirsch.org. He can also be found at the 5Q collective and Forge Mission Training Network. Get a free chapter of Alan’s latest book Reframation at reframationbook.com.


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