MAKINGS OF A MOVEMENT.
The Great Commission – Matt 28
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them; "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." ESV
There is something so raw, rough and gutsy about this text. These last words of Jesus have been both celebrated and have haunted the church through the ages. Just four verses, have shaped so many lives, fashioning so many life decisions. They have caused many foreign shores to be overshadowed by the faith of zealous Jesus lovers, who so desperately want to engage a new context and culture with the Jesus story. The challenge of conversing around this text is that one can write volumes of books on it. However, we will seek to be disciplined to limit our convo to a few prevailing thoughts:
- ‘Now…’ Whist this can purely be a figure of speech, whenever it appears in the text, it represents a time quotient to me that requires immediate obedience. It is easy to ‘rabble-rouse Braveheart styled’ calls to great sacrifice, but this Jesus journey is both counter-intuitive and counter cultural. It calls us to make decisions that go against the grain of so much of what we were taught growing up. When He speaks, will we listen, instantly?
- ‘ the eleven…’ I guess we will always limp forward, with the broken heart that not all “12 of us” will journey together. Our relationships need to be more and more shaped by the kingdom and not by sentiment. I have loved the 27 years that I have walked in a “relational model”. However, when we do not submit these relationships to the mystery of the scriptures we will end up in a swamp of sentimentality, where our loyalty to these friendships, begin to take precedence over our obedience to the King of Kings. A brief review of Paul and Barnabas’ parting of ways over John Mark in Acts 15 illustrates this.
- ‘…disciples…’ There seems to be two major ‘wows’ about the use of this word. The scripture could of course have spoken about Jesus meeting with the ‘apostles’, which would have been true. Yet the word “disciples” was chosen. Why? This is an inclusive conversation. It is not for the Special Forces elite of the church. It is the call, commission and command of every believer. These last words of Jesus require every believer to come humbly before the Father with some regularity; to see if the call to the nations is what is required, now - in some level shape or form.
- ‘…disciples…’ Hidden in this text is the reminder that we are all on a journey. Jesus called these 11 men, after a night of prayer. Their journey from Jews to followers, to believers to leaders, to apostles was one that every believer goes through. No, not everyone will become an apostle, but the journey is so similar. Every spiritual journey has value and cannot be relegated to irrelevant or insignificant. Even at this late stage, some still ‘doubted’. I loved the integrity of the scriptures.
- ‘went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.’ We all have a place to meet with Jesus in prayer. I am not sure if they went there to receive the ‘Great Commission”. I am not sure they went there for a prophecy, a word or an encounter. It would seem they simply went there to meet with Jesus. That was enough. Is it possible that the modern church is so productivity orientated that simply meeting with Jesus is not enough? May there be a call from heaven that returns us to the simplicity that Jesus satisfies. Our return to the garden, of walking with our God in intimate fellowship, communing in transparent affection, fully refreshes the soul in this life of vulnerable uncertainty. Both alone as well as with the 11, we can find ourselves in Him.
- "All authority…’ This is a very profound moment. What did the disciple expect at that moment? I guess we will never know. One wonders whether they were so mesmerized that they did not anticipate any specific thing to happen. Or, were there amongst them some expectation that He would hand on the baton of the movement to them? We just don’t know. From an all bible conversation, may I suggest the following:
- There is the fundamental authority that Jesus hands over to all believers, to advance His kingdom against principalities and powers, with signs, wonders and miracles… We are all His ambassadors on project planet earth.
- There was the apostolic authority that Jesus handed over to the 11. This authority was not to be king but humble servants, “the scum of the earth” to lay their lives down for the church. With the exception of John “the beloved”, every one of these men was martyred for their faith. This was not a ticket to CEO Christianity with perks and privileges, but a sacrificial life of surrender and loneliness. This was not an elevated gifting that was limited to these men who walked with Jesus, As seen with Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and others being anointed to this noble office, it was a practical, in the trenches-type calling, loving, caring, leading, serving, teaching the church walking them through entrepreneurial roads of creative obedience.
- The 11, who became the many, were not papal in their leadership of all nations. They each developed a God-given sphere [2 Cor 10] – Paul to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews. Yet they were not territorial or possessive of their spheres. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians made this wonderfully clear, He was as a Father to them, yet demanded that they did not choose one or another of the apostles – in effect saying we all need each other, avoiding a denominational mindset [us and them] like the plague.
- All of these apostles journeyed with churches. These were not ‘conference apostles’ whose majestic gifting was publicly captivating but never find themselves in the day-to-day realities of church planting / replanting leadership, so clearly evident in the text. Paul carried ‘the burden of all the churches daily’. He prayed for them consistently, helping in the training, choosing and ordination of leaders. Those he ‘apostled’, were churches who shared a common creed [theology], common mission [vision] and a common bond [friendships]. He was ‘first of all’ but not ‘over all’ – such a simple statement but if worked out will be a major transformation on how leadership is done in these apostolic households..
- ‘Go therefore…’ The gospel story is compelling. When it truly grabs our soul, we cannot remain silent. Nor can we remain stationary. In Eden, the Father gave to Adam and Eve a wondrous call to “increase, multiply, fill the earth.” His intention was never for us to reside in a garden. The full width of the earth beckoned. Now the gospel restores Eden lost. The stirring to go to the shadowlands of the world and bring His wondrous light, is in keeping with the gospel impact. We can do no other.
- ‘…make disciples…’ Welcome to the wonder of the journey. This “great Omission” [to quote Dallas Willard], is born out of weak understanding of church life. When we forget this, we tend to measure the applause of our communities by the seats occupied on Sundays, the effectiveness of scripted meetings and the dollars in the bank. Yet Jesus named none of them as a “fine church”. The journey called ‘discipleship’ is one the clear clarion calls. Taking the non-believer from a journey from non-belief to conviction of sin, to repentance, through the wondrous waters of baptism to a surrendered life, obedience to the text and advancing the kingdom through missional living. That may be closer to the truth of that mountain top moment.
- ‘…all nations…’ The Greek word here is actually all “ethnos” – “ethnic groups”. Oh dear, so much can be said here, but I must limit my thought to these few:
- Every believer should surely burn with one ethnic group [culture or context] that is a Holy Spirit prompted ‘yoke’ or ‘burden’.
- Every believer will engage that context with a missional mindset which says that “I am a missionary, called by God, to be a voice of redemption, of Kingdom clarity and sanity to usher God’s presence to that darkness",
- The biblical flow is to plant churches to complete this impact with greater weight and substance. Church planting is not for the fringe nor fragile. It is the Father’s way to model a new way, a raw, honest, real compelling community who live out their faith in a way that will invoke a righteous jealousy by the non-believers with –‘wow how they love each other’
- Both believer and church need to do their homework [like Paul at Mars Hill] to understand their culture. Engage their culture, presenting the gospel in a way that this culture will understand, is essential. This does not compromise the gospel but make it reachable to the hearer. Stated simply, I do not preach in Afrikaans in America. No matter how accurate my message, I simply will not be understood.
- ‘…the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’ Our theology needs to be earthed, founded and born out of a Trinitarian conviction. I suspect to many of our congregants have a Trinity understanding from their Sunday School days. The weak, if not fragile metaphors of ‘candle’, egg’, tree’, and the rest, open our folks to misunderstandings that can build a leaning tower of Pizza. “One God… three persons… all three are fully God” require at least an annual visit in our pulpits.
- ‘…teaching them to observe all that( I have commanded you…’ The spirit of the age, Paul suggests to Timothy, will increasingly be lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure. Or one could say – rampant individualism, insatiable materialism, pursuance of pleasure. Legalistic pummeling or licentious acquiescence cannot counter this. The pulpit, the dining room table and the coffee shop is to be littered with God conversations where the scriptures soaks every subject with revelation, insight and mind transforming truth. The biblical text must not be relegated to an optional extra but a full and complete matrix for all of life’s decisions.
- ‘…I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ The future is around both a Word and Spirit journey. There is simply no room nor freedom to choose. To my reformed brothers, my appeal is to revisit the Spirit wonderland without the seminarian prejudice that is clouding your true God encounters. To my charismatic brothers, there is a scary preoccupation with prophecy, manifestations and encounters, without a full scriptural journey. What is being seen as desirable and essential lacks biblical substance or example. The ‘paracletos’ will walk with us to the end of these days. As counselor, comforter, helper, revealer, empowerer comes, we will so sorely need to walk with Him in the days that lie ahead.
So much more to say. These 12 points can provide a framework for future conversations. The next chapter of the apostolic households forged from the 80’s is not to fragment into many maverick mini-movements. Nor is it the Father’s desire for these to pleasantly drift towards institutionalized denominationism. Seeding many apo households, just like Jesus did here seems to be the way forward. He handed over to 11 men, and then kept seeding the church with more of these nation discipling, missional-minded movements that walk in love and respect of each other, yet with individual focus and calling.