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Here’s a controversial Bible passage

Guy Muse wrote this. Then Jesus came to them and said, “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 ha…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Guy Muse wrote this.
Then Jesus came to them and said,

“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.”
(Mat 28:18-20)

The Great Commission is by far the most controversial passage that we teach in our discipleship/church planting training. We usually get into the Great Commission during our second week of training. After that session, usually about half of those coming drop out, never to return.


Because of its familiarity, most of us assume what we and our church currently do is fulfilling the Great Commission.

But are we?

The reason this passage is so controversial is that we say and believe these words, but practice something entirely different from what Jesus commanded. We read these verses one way, but live them another.

Jesus gives us four specific instructions (commands). Here is how most believers in our Ecuadorian evangelical context interpret Jesus’ words…

JESUS SAID: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
OUR INTERPRETATION? All authority has been given to to our pastor/denomination/church. These are our spiritual guides (covering). What these have to say weighs more in what we do (or not do), than what Jesus commanded. Permission to engage in the GC must first come from our leaders. Jesus is not sufficiently authoritative by himself.

JESUS SAID: Therefore, GO…
OUR INTERPRETATION? We understand “go” to mean come. Come to our church, youth group, event, concert, etc. Come is a lot more convenient for us than actually trying to find the time to go and engage relationally those who are lost and need the Good News. We go on mission trips, go to camp, go to conferences and concerts with high-profile Christian mega-stars, etc. The lost are expected to somehow find their way to us. They are supposed to come to our meetings and events planned for them. For the occasional permission granted to actually GO, those going are expected to bring home with them any who might respond. We can’t have believers out there “doing their own thing” and starting “splinter churches.” Real church is “mama church.”

OUR INTERPRETATION? Since we really do not know how to make disciples, we believe that what this means is that they need to hear the Gospel. Therefore, we focus on evangelistic events and invite people to pray and receive Christ. Church sports activities, Fall Festivals, youth car washes, Christmas pageants, and musical concerts are understood to be the appropriate means to reach people. Those handful who might raise their hand at one of our events are given an envelope of church literature. But “make disciples” is understood to be that they will now start coming to our church. There they will meet other believers, and hopefully learn more about God’s Word and somewhere along the path turn into disciples (whatever that is).

JESUS SAID: BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
OUR INTERPRETATION? This certainly does not mean I should be the one to baptize the new believer. If someone makes a profession of faith, it is my responsibility to make an appointment and introduce them to the pastor of the church. There they will be, 1) warmly received, 2) invited to participate in a new believer’s class to prepare them for baptism, 3) when there are enough ready to be baptized and there are no circumstances which would prevent them from being baptized, 4) schedule a date on the church calendar, and 5) watch as the pastor baptizes them as part of one of our regular scheduled church services.

JESUS SAID: TEACHING THEM TO OBEY everything I have commanded you…
OUR INTERPRETATION? The newly baptized believer is then expected to begin attending church on a regular basis. There they observe how other Christians look, talk, and act. “Church Culture” is quickly assimilated about what is acceptable, and not acceptable. Basically it is understood that the new believer will learn God’s Word through the listening of the weekly preaching of the pastor, and maybe if we can get them up early enough, a Sunday School class.

With this understanding of the Great Commission, is it any wonder people think we are controversial in our teaching?

Comments (11)

  • st.mark of the Cross

    WOW! I have been saying this for years! My take…I am so in love with Jesus, I don’t just want to just obey this command…I have to in order to live. I will be consumed if I don’t. I have told Debbie many times, I cannot live the American Christian life…it is a slow form of religious cancer…that has mutated what Jesus wanted of us into a a church which lacks the true “passion” of the real Jesus Christ. Here I am Lord, send me. Thanks, good word. St. mark of the Cross

  • **mArC** The Schifano Tribe

    Right on. Thank you for your example of freeing people up, that you meet, to bring God’s Kingdom where ever that is. Finding like minded Kingdom Planters like you and the people I have been privileged to meet along this journey makes it all bearable. Thanks Seth.

  • The disciples knew what Jesus was talking about because of how he discipled them. It costs everything but is LIFE-GIVING. The present church structure and their interpretation of the Great Commission gives people opportunities to be dedicated, but not surrendered. They can pick and choose their activities, time and terms. The system is a set up for burnout for those who want to give their all, but the track they are given to run on is not life-giving.

    I am so very happy to be free! So happy to lovingly sow into good soil 24/7! Teaching and learning and ministering to others together with Jesus…nothing like it!

  • Kind of feel like the Irishman who, when asked directions to a place said “you can’t get there from here!”

    While seeing the irrefutable logic in what this guy says, it feels rather like King Canute standing there saying “tide, don’t come in.” When the tide is flowing towards you, how do you turn it? Finding anyone living out an alternative is not an easy thing.

    I agree with what Kathy says here – that our current church structure teaches us to be dedicated but not necessarily surrendered. But you are talking a huge number of people here and a huge system that IS our present church experience. This kind of thinking needs to come from church leaders, not just a few radical thinking followers or how else will real sustained change in the way we think happen?

  • Incredible well delineated! If this isnt a call to re-think our actions I don’t know what is.

  • I think this is the main reason for the impotence of the Church (at least as we see it in our country). Its why so many young people just dont care about following Jesus, there are so few examples of people living with a disciplistic mentality. Our model of Christianity is to purchase a nice sweater and find a church with fun music. Actual discipleship is something our current culture cannot understand as it was in its original context. (this is my rough and very simplistic understanding of common Judaic life, forgive me.) Young Jewish boys and girls would study until the age of 12, and if they showed promise, the males would then study under a rabbi, as a disciple, into their twenties. They lived every moment with the rabbi. Their goal was not to know what the rabbi knows, but to BECOME WHO the rabbi is. At thirty, if they were essentially stellar, they would become rabbis and disciples would choose to follow them. Jesus obviously lived in the Jewish context and thus did not begin his “ministry” until he was thirty, he was no longer a disciple but a rabbi.

    Our culture is not based at all like this. The only thing I can think off of hand that is similar is the study of medicine to become a physician. Students study, graduate, become an intern, learn from doctors doing it, watching everything, slowly working into doing procedures with a watchful elder doctor on hand, and finally, they become a genuine doctor, with the young ones watching them.

    It works pretty well in medicine, but we don’t do it at all in the church.

    Oh, and Christianity began with just a few radical thinkers, not from a decision from the top “spiritual elite,” and it has sustained pretty well.

  • As a disciple matures in their thinking and knowledge of Jesus (not docrine or “church methodology”) hopefully a deeper understanding of what it means to make disciples results. Building bridges, being relational outside of what might be a comfortable safe haven…and being intentional about it, is what the Great Commission is all about. I have met so many people who “hate” organisd religion it is unreal. They’ll never darken the doors of a church, conference, camp, or anything else that resembles church. But they have been willing to befriend me. In the end that has proven more dangerous — for them. 🙂 (of course I do not actually mean dangerous) I am thinking of two people who became born again believers through the course of our friendship, talks, and activities both of whom had NO INTENT of ever going to a church. And a good time was had by all.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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