The Great What? by Art Nicklaus

Julee always asks me to read and suggest edits to her blog posts; there is usually very little for me to suggest, maybe a word here or there.

Her last post included this sentence: “Neither my husband nor I are motivated to ‘get people saved’, but we are interested in mentoring or discipling.” I told her when reading it that I wasn’t totally comfortable with that statement, but my discomfort is really more a matter of semantics than theology! Perhaps the following will help explain why; Julee had already asked me to be the next “guest” contributor to her blog, so the timing is perfect. Please understand that I am no theologian, no expert, quite possibly confused and wrong; but I offer the following observations after years of reading the Bible and considering my faith and it’s foundations.

Most of her readers are familiar with “The Great Commission,” which Julee refers to in Chapter 15 of her blog. The phrase “The Great Commission” is not actually found in the original scriptures! Some (many) translators put those words in a heading that precedes the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15-19. It appears that Jesus is speaking only to the 12 disciples whom we call apostles. In Mark, Jesus is saying to them “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” In Matthew, he is saying “Go into all the world and make disciples…” These commands of Jesus, this commissioning of the 12, came after the apostles had spent 3 years with Jesus, day and night, hearing him, watching him, sharing life with him. Wow. Now that is a Discipleship Training School I would have liked to have attended. Jesus was about to leave them, and he seems to be “commissioning” them to carry on His work. It’s “outreach” time for the disciples, for those of you who understand or have experienced the YWAM model.

For years I just accepted along with all my evangelical friends that this was everyone’s great commission, MY great commission; which I could either accept or shamefully reject. Here’s some quick bullet points regarding how I see the “great commission” now:

— The Great Commission was given to the 12, not to all the people that Jesus spoke to and taught.

— Jesus himself never called it the “greatest” or “great” commission. He told the 12 to do a lot of things, commissioned them to minister in a number of ways. Why isn’t “wash one another’s feet as I have washed yours” a great commission?

— The words in Mark (which have Jesus saying “preach the gospel”) are not found in the earliest manuscripts of Mark. They seem to have been added later. That leaves Matthew, and the words “make disciples,” which seems to me to have a considerably different meaning, one that involves discipling and mentoring and just generally being a good example.

— Jesus DOES use the word “great,” actually “greatest” only once that I can find. In Matthew 22:26-40 and Mark 12:31 he is asked “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus answers “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. There is no commandment greater than these.”

— Some of the apostles did indeed “go out” into foreign lands to share the good news of Jesus. But some didn’t! Peter and others stayed in Jerusalem to oversee the church there, the first church, the “mother church” to all the Christian communities that were springing up throughout the rest of the world. Some of the apostles had an “evangelical’ call on their life. Some had a “pastoral” call on their life.

— Besides evangelist and pastor, other callings (commissions) include deacons (who serve the church,) Elders (who oversee and administrate,) teachers, food bank workers, child care workers, janitors…and so on. Are any of these “greater” than the other? I don’t believe so. All are important, all are significant, all are equal. All are “great.”

I don’t currently blog. I do however journal, and I will close with an entry from my journal as I finished a recent study in the book of Acts:

December 13, 2018, Acts 20:33-38

“Acts is truly a study in missions, and how missions were done when missions first started. I have kind of ranted in previous journal entries in Acts how “The Great Commission” isn’t even in the Bible. Jesus DID tell the original 12 to go into all the world and make disciples, but modern Christians with an evangelism motivation have taken that discipleship command from Jesus to the apostles and applied it to ourselves, mostly leaving out the discipleship part and just traveling to other parts of the world to preach.”

“In YWAM, we sang and/or danced and/or played some music, gave a short gospel message, and then high-tailed it on out of there to go to our next audience. I’m sure there was some value to this “performance,” but it’s not the model demonstrated by Paul and his friends in Acts. It’s not a “relational” kingdom-of-God model that Jesus himself demonstrated. Now, Paul here in verse 33 says “with these bare hands I took care of my own basic needs and those who worked with me.” It was very important to Paul not to “exploit” (verse 34) people.”

“Paul (for the most part) spent big blocks of time, sometimes years, living with the people he was “evangelizing.” He worked alongside them, spending every day, all day with them. He really knew them, and they really knew him. Paul’s life was his “witness,” and his words (preaching and teaching) simply explained the reason for his lifestyle, explained who he was and why he was who he was.”

“Much of Christian evangelism really isn’t much more than knock on a door, give out a tract, and on to the next door. Bless their well-intentioned hearts! Paul in contrast truly connected with his audience, with blood sweat and tears. Look at verses 36-38; some of the most moving verses in the whole Bible. I think this is what Floyd McClung was referring to years ago when he taught at my YWAM DTS on “Friendship Evangelism.” Of course I didn’t really understand nearly the depth of what “friendship evangelism” truly meant. But here it is in verses 36-38: deep, deep love, and with it all the pain and tears and joy that are included in relationships like this. I am convicted this morning! God help me to love and relate to others like Paul did, like Jesus did… Amen. ”

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