Minimising the Great Commission
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20)
W. Robert Godfrey noted that one of the tendencies of the modern church, borne out of an essentially good desire to see the church revived, is to be persuaded that the way to advance evangelism is to pursue a minimalist Christianity. The motive, he says, may be commendable, but it is a fundamental betrayal of the Great Commission. He states, “the Great Commission was not, “Figure out the minimum number of things you can say about me and get people to believe those.” The Great Commission was, “Teach them to obey all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). There’s maximization to the Great Commission.”
A Neglected Commission
The Great Commission is something that is largely neglected today, despite the fact that it is one of the most referred to and preached upon passages in all of Scripture. Typically, when we think about the Great Commission, we instantly think of evangelism. It is certainly true that the Great Commission calls us to evangelism, yet we make a great mistake if our understanding ends there. The Great Commission is neglected as the Church has lost sight of its fullness.
Jesus Christ gave his marching orders to the eleven remaining apostles, in a mountain in Galilee, regarding the spiritual conquest of the whole earth. The Great Commission is primarily about discipleship, as the imperative or command is to “make disciples.” The way the Church is to make disciples is to go, baptise and teach. However, the modern church has reduced this in an attempt to attract the masses into the church by offering them what they want, and by removing much of which is deemed offensive. Steven Lawson comments, “step into the average church these days and you will likely see that the services are designed to remove the fear of God than to promote it.”
Nowadays, it is difficult not to conclude that the most neglected element of the Great commission is the teaching to observe all things He has commanded us, as Godfrey rightly noted. A cursory glance at the Ecclesiastical landscape of Scotland will reveal a variety of churches who vary greatly in their emphasis of the teaching aspect of the Great Commission. Some would seek to faithfully teach the observing of all things, whereas others would place little to no emphasis on teaching what we have been commanded. However, there are also those who have a great history of seeking to faithfully teach the observing of all things, but have gradually watered down much of what they once taught. It is now consigned to the dusty shelves of confessed but neglected teaching.
A Neglected Lord’s Day
A specific example is that of the Lord’s Day. The confessional standards of our churches, summarising Scriptural teaching, emphasise the Lord’s Day, as a day “to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.60). This falls very much into the category of confessed, but neglected, in the sense that it forms part of the churches confessional standards, but it is seldom, if ever taught from the pulpit.
One particular minister in recent years stated, “I don’t preach about the Sabbath.” How at odds such a comment is in comparison with the men of old, whose words, if uttered today, would either make many of us uncomfortable or be lambasted by much of the church. For instance, Robert Murray M’Cheyne once preached, “and we may boldly say that a man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ who does not love the entire Lord’s day.”
Could it be said that the church’s abandonment of the Lord’s Day, to a confessed but neglected teaching, is to make life easier for evangelism? Much of our worldly entertainments are to be found on the Lord’s Day, such as football, athletics and concerts. The world wants to do what it wants, when it wants, without hearing about such restrictions, for a day each week. Therefore in an effort to attract the world into the church, the message the church portrays is that it doesn’t matter if you keep the Lord’s Day or not. This in turn has had the effect that the vast majority of the churches in our land do not keep the Lord’s Day, or are even aware of the Lord’s Day, something that was intended for our benefit, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
This principle of neglected teaching extends to many other areas. For instance, the issue of how we ought to worship God in public comes very much to the fore here. The thinking of the modern church is simply that worship in the church is dictated according to the preferences of those in attendance, or of those we would seek to draw into the church. The thinking is often, if you offer a worship style that suits those out with the church, your evangelism is far more likely to yield results of increased attendance. However, unbeknown to many today, again due to a neglect in teaching, God has not left His church free to invent our own worship, but has provided specific directions in Scripture (Deuteronomy 12:32, Matthew 28:20).
The Shorter Catechism explains that this forbids the worshipping of God by ”any other way not appointed in His Word” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.51). The Regulative Principle of Worship, which the modern churchgoer is on the most part totally unaware of, briefly put is what is not commanded is not permitted in worship. On the surface, in our day and age, this may seem restrictive to some, even many, but it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. After all, are we not called to live the whole of our lives according to the authority of Scripture?
Finally, one of the greatest, and most neglected tools for discipleship in the modern church is the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They have, for hundreds of years served as the doctrinal foundation of the reformed churches. For instance, children learned the Shorter Catechism from start to finish by the age of twelve, as an invaluable guide through life and as a means of having the main truths of Scripture at ready access. In years gone by, catechists would remain in one place till they had taught a number of people to repeat and understand the Shorter Catechism in some measure, and in turn one member of a family would then be in a position to teach other members of the family. Nowadays, few professedly reformed churches emphasise the Westminster Standards, and it is to the detriment of the discipleship of the church.
Given that the Great Commission relates to discipleship and teaching, with a view to observing all things that He has commanded, what better tool to use for instruction than these Biblically based documents? They were written at a time when the church was at a far more spiritual state than our own day, and address, in a summary form, the main teachings of Scripture. Few in the church today are familiar with the Westminster Standards, and perhaps one of the reasons is that the church is pursuing a minimalist Christianity, where in an attempt to fill the pews, little is required of its members to understand and observe all that He has commanded us?
In an attempt to attract the world into the church, much of the church in Scotland, and further afield, has pursued a path of minimalist Christianity and has become more like the world. This has seen a fundamental betrayal of the Great Commission, and a watering down of Biblical teaching, which has led much of the church to gradually lose its moorings. Martyn-Lloyd-Jones put it aptly as he said, “when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Ought not the church return to the old paths, to be Christlike and absolutely different from the world, and to strive to teach and observe all things, which He has commanded us, as we seek to fulfil the Great Commission?