Day 252: Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 4

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

[This is the fourth of four reflections on this scripture where Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions before he ascends into heaven.]

After my husband John retired from urban ministry in Chicago we moved out to the far suburbs to start a new life.  It was a great experience bouncing around in search of a new church home.  All of it was highly instructive.

One of the churches we attended for a while was Assembly of God.  Like most Assembly churches they had a really great band.  Although Assembly churches are supposed to emphasize the ministries of the Holy Spirit, this one was really an evangelical church with an  emphasis  on entry-level Christian teaching.

While we were there the pastor came up with what he believed was a divinely-inspired mission statement for the church:

At (this church) we exist to glorify God by helping people become Saved, Solid, Serving and Sent.

  • Saved – Entering into a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • Solid – Growing and maturing in that relationship.
  • Serving – Finding one’s specific purpose and calling.
  • Sent – Going out to help others do the same.

Saved, Solid, Serving, Sent.  The pastor believed that this was God’s plan for discipleship.  He even had giant banners with these four words made for the sanctuary so we could all stare at them every week.

Another bit of décor in this church was its big “Saved/Unsaved” board.  People were invited to put the names of all their unsaved friends and relatives on the bottom (in the hellish part of the board).  The congregation was encouraged to pray for the people posted on the hell part of the board talk and somehow talk them into making a confession of faith so that their name could be moved, with great fanfare, to the upper half of the board where heaven was.

The leadership group never put my husband and me on the unsaved part, but I think they had their doubts about us.  Actually they were a pretty suspicious bunch.  I think they all had doubts about each other.  Like the old saying says, “All the world’s strange save thee and me, and even thou art a little strange.”

Anyhow that’s the way it was around there.  And they had no social justice ministries because they believe that the only thing that was important was getting people saved, so that’s where they put all their time and energy.  Every now and then they would try to do something for people, but they always ended up harassing them about whether or not they had been born again because that was their prime directive.  They didn’t know any better, or if they did it had been brainwashed out of them.

The music was really, really good and there was a nice seniors group, but eventually it couldn’t compensate for the ”strangeness” of it all so we left and went to another church.  Such a good praise band.  What a pity.

Anyway, as I contemplated their plan for discipleship, that “Saved, Solid, Serving, and Sent” business, I had a revelation.  Perhaps God did give these words to the pastor, but I think he got it mixed up.  I think he got it backwards.

 

Here’s the way I see it relative to the teachings of Jesus:

  • You are “Sent” out into the world every day, whether or not you are saved.  That’s a given.  You are part of the world and you interact with people every day.
  • As we go out about our business, Jesus commands us to “Serve” others.  He commands his followers to take care of those in need, encourage others, share our resources, love our enemies, and do all of the stuff in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Then, when we start doing that for long enough, we start to get “Solid.” We start to get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is all about and get born again of the Spirit.  We start to live it instead of just talking about it.  Or waiting around for it.
  • And then, having done all we can do, we assume that “Saved” will take care of itself when the time comes.

Jesus didn’t want his disciples to go out and sign up people to be on the Jesus team.  He wanted them to do what he did.  He wanted them to go out empowered and energized, carrying on his ministry and mission to teach (about the proper application of the Law of Moses), preach (about the Kingdom of God) and heal (everyone who needs it).  That’s what he did:

Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness. (Matthew 4:23).

He never asked anyone to make a confession or faith.  He never signed anyone up to go to church.  He just commanded them to love.  We need to keep that in mind as we go out – Sent, Serving, Solid, and Saved.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 251: Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 3

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

[This is the third of four reflections on this scripture where Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions before he ascends into heaven.]

After Jesus is crucified he returns and gives his disciples some final instructions.  He tells them to go and “disciple” people by baptizing and teaching them.  Today I’m going to look at his second instruction – to teach people to obey Jesus’ commands.  We aren’t instructed to teach them to believe in him.  We are instructed to teach them to believe in what he had to say.  His commands.

What are Jesus’ commands?  Simple enough.  He pretty much outlines all of his basic teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  I explored the Sermon on the Mount in depth on Days 7-63.  These are the commands that he thinks are important.  On that last day, he tells us to build our house on the rock (truth) as opposed to sand (delusions).  Jesus’ teachings are the rock solid foundation that will bring us peace, happiness, and fulfilment. They will also create a healthy, nurturing, prosperous society.  When we individually or collectively build on sand, we are in danger of being swept away.  For your convenience I am re-posting my Sermon on the Mount “Quick Start Guide” from Day 63.  Here it is:

Sermon on the Mount

I would also add another couple of foundational teachings to the basic commands Jesus presented in the Sermon on the Mount.  I think his very last teaching on Day 228 in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is also foundational:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Give the thirsty something to drink.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Take care of the sick.
  • Visit those in prison.

Finally, there is the “mother of all commandments” – the Great Commandment from Day 193:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40).

Look at that last line again and let that sink into your spirit. “The whole Law of Moses and teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Love, my friends, is what it’s all about.  Jesus wants us to go out and teach people how to love.  That’s his command to us.  He doesn’t want us to teach theology.  He wants us to teach people about the power and importance of love.  As followers of Jesus this is our mission.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 249: Matthew 28:18-20 – Part 1

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

[This is the first of four reflections on this scripture where Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions before he ascends into heaven.]

Jesus has died, and now he has been resurrected.  He predicted several times that he would rise from the dead and now it has happened.  His prophecy was correct.  Amen to that.  It must have been so very hard for the disciples.  The crucifixion was a terrible traumatic experience.  Sometimes in the “fog of war” it’s hard to separate the good guys from the bad, because people who push for social justice are usually not well received.   Very often the people who are the most hated in their own time turn out to be the biggest heroes from the perspective of history.  Like Abraham Lincoln, for instance.  Or Dr. King. Or Joan of Arc.  Or thousands of others who were misjudged by their contemporaries.

Jesus tells his disciples that he has been given “all authority” in both heaven and earth.  That’s a lot of power.  I don’t know what that means, but it’s certainly a statement of validates his ministry and his teachings.  It says, “All’s well that ends well.”  It’s also a big, fat, “I told you so.”  The very fact that he is speaking to them is a sign that there are mysteries that we still don’t understand.  It’s also proof that you can’t keep a good man down.  This time mankind was unable to silence God’s truth by killing the messenger.  The truth will out.

So, having been given all authority in both earth and heaven, what does Jesus do with it?  He gives it away, of course!  He doesn’t want them to sit around and reminisce about the good old days when Jesus was around.  He doesn’t want them to passively wait for him to come back one more time to rescue them.  He takes the authority he has been given and passes it on to his disciples by asking them to carry on his work.  This is often referred to as the “Great Commission.”

Does Jesus demand that his disciples “believe in him” so that they can “receive eternal life” and “be saved”?  No, has asks them to GO.  He wants them to DO.  And what is it he wants them to do?  This scripture says that Jesus wants them to go out and “make disciples.”  It’s interesting that the Greek word here is “mathéteuó” which is not a noun.  It’s a verb.  He is really asking them to “disciple” all of the people.  This, to me, is very different than “making disciples.”

I think we Christians have a lot of trouble with that phrase “make disciples”.  I’ve been to churches where they seem to interpret that as, “force them to be disciples, using any means necessary.”  These are the people who hound you about going to their church or making a confession of faith and threaten you with hell if you don’t comply.  They are the people who treat the church like a business and use high pressure sales tactics to get you to join up and commit your time and money toward the cause of reeling in more people.  They are the people who blithely dismiss anyone who is not in their own church as “lost”, all the while justifying their selfish, immoral, greedy, secularized lifestyles as acceptable because they are “saved.”  They are the people who believe the ends justify the means.  Their goal is numbers.  Butts in the seats, dollars in the church coffers, and notches “for Christ” on the collective belt of church leadership.

This is not something peculiar to our own day and age.  Conversion by coercion has been going on for a long time.  On Day 99 I discussed how Christianity spread throughout Europe and beyond largely as a result of conquest and domination. Examples are:

  • Romans used forced conversion after Christianity became the sole legal religion in the Roman Empire in 392.
  • Charlemagne forced the Germanic Saxons to become Roman Catholics in the late 700s.
  • In the 1300s Lithuanians were targeted and converted by the Roman Catholics.
  • Both Jews and Muslims were forced to become Roman Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition in the 1400s.
  • The Portuguese tortured and oppressed the Hindus in Goa, India to convert to Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries, destroying their temples and sacred books.  Resistance was punished with torture and imprisonment.
  • In the 1900s US Christians separated Native American children from their parents and forced them to adopt European-American culture and religion.

I don’t believe this kind of domination and coercion is what Jesus had in mind.  He never forced anybody to do anything.  He was smart enough to know that it never works.  You can never force people to do something they don’t want to do.  You can’t make them love God.  You can’t make them love each other.  You may be able to force them to say it, but you can’t make them to do it.  You can’t “make disciples.”

Conversely, what, does it look like to “disciple” people?  Jesus says that we act this out in two ways – baptizing and instructing them to do what Jesus said to do.  Those things will be the subject of the next couple of blog entries, so that’s it for today.  Check back tomorrow.

What does this scripture say to you?