Friday, 23 July 2010
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."
- Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
This passage, known as The Great Commission, is often cited as a Biblical exhortation that all Christians are called to evangelism. By no means do I mean to say that evangelism is bad or that this verse doesn't support evangelism, but I adamantly disagree with such a simplistic interpretation.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. [...] The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. [...] Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. [...] If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-26 (NIV; with some sizable, but redundant, omissions)
We see clearly in Paul's letter to the Corinthians that not everyone is gifted the same way. Not everyone can be pastors or preachers, and not everyone can do the behind-the-scenes organizing. In the same way, I don't think every Christian is called to evangelism.
To illustrate why I believe this, let's pull out all the imperative verbs from Matthew 28:18-20:go, make disciples, baptizing, and teaching
Remember, Jesus was speaking to a group of people (the 11 disciples), so there is no reason that everyone must live out all these verbs. There are plenty of opportunities for divisions of labor, and indeed that's what we see happening throughout the book of Acts.
Peter goes throughout Israel preaching while John, by and large, stays put in Jerusalem and Antioch. Paul goes around the known world preaching the Gospel, but leaves others, such as Timothy, with these new believers to continue teaching them, and to make disciples out of converts. We see from 1 Corinthians 1 that Paul didn't actually do that much baptizing; rather, he left that to people of the city he was ministering in. Throughout Acts, we see all the apostles doing a bit of everything, but at the same time, they all specialize in doing one or two of those four verbs.
While the Book of Acts as a whole is certainly a better example of how to live out The Great Commission than any post I could write, I would like to note several ways I believe you can live out The Great Commission in today's society:
- Apologetics. I've heard it said that people hear the Gospel an average of seven times before accepting it. I have no clue how this is calculated and question its accuracy, but it shows an interesting fact: most people don't accept the Gospel the first time they hear it. Before someone is willing to accept the Gospel, one needs to see it as reasonable, or at least not unreasonable. That's where apologists come in. Apologetics is the study of defending the faith through logic and reason; as it is a defense, most apologists aren't looking to convert, but rather to make slanderers of the church be ashamed of their slander as though hot coals have fallen on their heads (1 Peter 3:15; Proverbs 25:21-22).
- Evangelism. Evangelists, unlike apologists, have the explicit and primary purpose of sharing the Gospel and bringing non-believers into the fold of Christ. Some apologetics are necessary tools for the toolbox of evangelists, but their primary tools are Love and The Holy Spirit, because no amount of logic can bring anyone all the way from Atheism to Christianity. I like to think of intellectualism as asymptotic to God: you can get infinitely close with logic, but there will always be at least a small leap of faith.
- Teaching. Teaching can be divided into so many sub-categories that I could spend an entire post--or more--on just that. However, generally speaking, the purpose of teaching is to make disciples out of converts. Evangelism is a wonderful thing, but just because someone is now a Christian, that does not make them a disciple in the full sense of the word. Evangelists take unbelievers and make them converts; teachers take converts and make them disciples.
- Pastoring. Although the titles are often colloquially used as synonyms, I like to distinguish between the roles of preachers and pastors. Preachers are primarily teachers: they give the sermons, answer questions, and do the disciplinary instruction. Pastors are primarily care-givers: they are the encouragers, counselors, the ones who lend a dry shoulder to cry on, talk you through tough times, and pray for you in a nurturing sort of way. Granted, most ministers end up performing both roles, but they are very separate roles nonetheless. At the end of The Great Commission, Jesus promises to be with us as we live out this great exhortation. Pastors are thus the encouraging embodiment of this promise. They might not be out on the "front lines" so to speak with unbelievers or new converts, but they are the ones encouraging, building up, and training those who are.
What about you? Do you agree with my assessment of The Great Commission? Which of these four categories do you think God has gifted you to fulfill? What other things have I missed?