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The Great Commission is Not the Purpose of the Church

The Great Commission is Not the Purpose of the Church July 8, 2021

Almost every student in seminary that I have taught, as well as close friends and other pastors have all said it. “The purpose of the Christian Church is the Great Commission. Ill be very honest, I too, in the past have given this statement as to the purpose and call of the church. But this is simply not the truth. The true purpose and task of the Christian goes so much deeper than the spread of the gospel message and “saving” folks. And how we came to understand the Great Commission as our purpose holds a much darker history than we realize

The Great Commission

It is my hope that the reader does not think I do not believe in the Great Commission or that I am trying to hold it in a bad light. It is an important part of scripture, but it is one that is grossly misused. The Great Commission is taken from Matthew 28: 18-20 and usually seen on posters and church walls written as:

Matthew 20:18-20

 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Sounds pretty authoritative and straight up right? It may seem so but when it is presented this way the Great Commission leaves out very important pieces of information, as well as being put on a pedestal that was never meant to be put there by Jesus. First, a piece of verse 20 is missing. verse 20 actually reads

20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That probably seems like a really strange thing to keep out. Why would anyone remove the last sentence. Doesn’t it enhance what the verse is saying? Doesn’t it give the verse the support of the eternal presence of Jesus Christ? My opinion is the reason it is left out is because without it, it gives more control to people. If we remove the ever present Jesus, we get to decide what the commission looks like completely separate of the actual reality of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, verses 16-17 are rarely ever talked about. The proceeding verses lay some context that is needed to fully understand the commission. those verses read:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

It was not as “Commissioned” as One would Think

This is significant when we take on the enormity of the Great Commission because it shows us that of the 11 original disciples, there were some that doubted the reality of a risen Christ. Why does this matter? It matters because it shows us that the original ones called to do this work were unsure if they wanted to do it.

It may be hard to understand but when Jesus returned to heaven, He likely left behind disciples who were not fully committed. But this is normally left out because we as Christians do not want to see the division amongst the early disciples or that they doubted. Are we really sold on this statement, given to a crowd with disbelief in the founder is really the pinnacle of our faith, mission and purpose?

Jesus was aware of this fact, and with this fact in  mind, I believe the commission becomes less forced and compulsory. It becomes less classroom teaching and more example driven. Jesus states all authority is given to Himself. Notice how no power was given to the disciples to make anything. Jesus clearly states that since He has the power, that those that follow Him would acknowledge that power by making disciples, baptizing those disciples and then instructing them in Christian life. What the commission does not do is show us how we get to step 1, making disciples.

Christ is Best Served without Choking the Receiver

Certainly Jesus did not want us to kick down doors of unsuspecting victims and shove Jesus down their throat until they accepted or choked to death. Spoiler Alert, Shoving God down someone’s throat is not the purpose of Christianity, but we treat it that way.

Because we have removed the humanity and Jesus out of the commission, this becomes a blank check for the fundamentalist to go into all the nations and gang press the broken into discipleship. So what are we missing? The commission, in context seems incomplete. Is scripture off? Is Jesus wrong? No, but our starting point with the commission is completely off and requires us to revisit our true purpose.

The Misuse of  the Power of The Great Commission

The true power of the Great Commission is not necessarily found in its words but in what gets a Christian to the point where they are able to make disciples. Its also important to point out, no where in scripture is Matthew 28:18-20 referred to as a great commission. The verses are in fact great, but not on their own and not in the context of making or forcing persons to become disciples, as is the way of many fundamentalist groups.

Also of note is the reality is we are not called to “make disciples” of all nations. In Greek the translation is better stated “Disciple all nations”. This connotates service to these peoples, not control.

The true power of the commission is found in how Christians earn the right to speak to non-believers. And the privilege of serving them that love provides. This power is found in the Great Commandment.

The Great Commandment

What we find in these verses is the true purpose of the Christian. We find that if we follow these verses the fruit of that labor is the privilege to speak into and serve the nations, possibly wining some to Christ. This scripture states:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

These two commandments are the purpose of Christianity. Our number one priority is to understand the oneness and fullness of our God. To worship God with all our heart mind and soul. this also translates to ourselves our thoughts and our actions. By doing this it will propel us into the second commandment which is to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means all neighbors, especially those we do not agree with.

An Amazing Occurrence

An amazing thing occurs when we take our faith seriously and use it for the betterment of those around us. Our neighbors actually become interested in what we have to say. For too long we have tried to conduct the commission without the ground work of the commandment and it shows. Going straight to the commission is literally putting the cart before the horse. When we attempt to make disciples without earning the right to do so we tarnish the mission of Christ.

The Cost of the Commission without the Commandment

Doing the commission without the groundwork of loving our neighbor is how we go from a Jesus loving church in the first millennium to an Indigenous slaying, culture destroying church in the second. This is because we desire to make or force discipleship at the tip of a sword or gun. Without the great commandment the great commission becomes an excuse to kill, steal and destroy. Its a way to take from others for the sake of “making them Christians”. The commission without love is violent and Jesus was very clear that those who live by violence will die by violence. But those who love God and love people, earn the right to be part of the community and serve it. This is the true living out of the commission, a life of service.

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4 responses to “The Great Commission is Not the Purpose of the Church”

  1. Jesus also gave the commandment that we should love one another (John 15:12 and repeated in 15:17). Why do some churches focus on only one of the commandments of Jesus, to the exclusion of the others?

  2. We, indeed, do not save anyone, nor can we, nor should we delude ourselves into thinking we should. Jesus did that himself over 2000 years ago, because God alone is able to save anyone. The empty grave of Easter is for everyone, without exception. It is God’s crowning work. Ally, ally, alls’ in free!

  3. Francis of Assisi said “preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” Your life is your sermon and your witness. If you use th Bible the way a rapist uses his penis, you’re not going to get very far. If you view other people’s souls as targets, you’re going to make faith terrifying.

  4. I venture to suggest that it is the misunderstanding of what to “disciple” means which most distorts the “great commission”. As you mention, this is badly rendered in English. As I understand it, the word essentially just means to teach – the connection to “discipleship” is that the manner of teaching referred to is specifically teaching in the way that a master guides a disciple, so that elements of leadership and guidance as well as just imparting information are implied. The best translation as I see it would be something like “teach and guide the nations”; it has no sense of recruiting people or collecting followers. The next bit, “baptise them”, presumes that the nations, if properly taught and guided, will then wish to be baptised, but, again, the object of the verb is the nations, not any singled out or recruited disciples, and the commission of the Church is to provide baptism for any among the nations who wish to come to the faith, not to recruit candidates for baptism.
    Our commission is to tell the good news to any and all who wish to hear, and welcome with baptism any who wish to come, not to make our primary role to go out recruiting more recruiters in some kind of spiritual Ponzi / pyramid selling scheme.

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