By: Thomas Fletcher Booher
Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the great commission? Starving children, poverty, tents, preaching the gospel in the wilderness to these stricken people so that they may receive an inheritance in the kingdom of God? I googled the great commission and the most common image that comes up is of a globe, either with the cross or Jesus' hands over it. The general idea in people's minds seems to be that the great commission is meant to stir us to take the gospel far and wide, on a global scale, so that those who do not have it can hear it and be saved. But is this really what Jesus meant?
Yes and no. Let's look at what Jesus actually said. Matthew 28:
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
The command is to make disciples of all nations because Jesus now has all authority following His resurrection and ascension. Christ has defeated sin and death, and we are now to proclaim that victory everywhere. Two things should be noted from this:
1.) All nations includes not just the distant nations, but the nation you and I are living in.
2.) The great commission isn't to simply preach the gospel to all peoples and nations, but to disciple them, to teach them to observe all that Christ has taught to the disciples, which has been preserved for us in Scripture.
Looking at these two things together, it becomes clear that the great commission isn't only fulfilled when someone leaves town and goes somewhere far away to preach the gospel. There isn't anything more spiritual about proclaiming the gospel on a short term mission's trip, wasting lots of money that could have been spent on actual missionaries who have actually been ordained and commissioned to take the gospel to distant lands. Do you think you are commissioned and ordained to do so? Good, then go do it. But don't do this two week pseudo vacation trip thing and come back. God calls missionaries to be missionaries for life, not just on the weekends or whenever they feel like it. If you aren't called to that, you have not been ordained and commissioned by God to be a missionary. Save all that money on your short term missions trip and spend it more wisely- perhaps by funding a real missionary.
The problem is that many think if we don't take the gospel far and wide we aren't fulfilling the great commission. Apparently preaching in your own back yard just isn't good enough. The convert has to be far away for it to really be special. I understand there are unreached people groups who need the gospel. I am so very thankful for missionaries that go to them. What I am not so thankful for is those who want to be part time missionaries who really aren't trained or called to do that and thus undermine the actually missionary endeavor and gospel ministering they claim to advance. I am also upset because we have so emphasized the far and wideness of the great commission that we have forgotten the near and narrowness of it. We have emphasized the great commission on such shallow grounds that we have forgotten the deep depth that it demands- namely, to disciple those who have received the preached word.
Which means that some plant, others water, but God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). Planters are like missionaries, they plant the seed by proclaiming the gospel, and the seed that falls on fertile ground can begin to grow. But the seed will abort and not come to full bloom unless someone waters it. Now hear what I am saying. I am saying that you can plant a seed that is in prime position to take root, but it can die and the person never be saved if someone doesn't water the planted seed. The roots can be shallow, the plant can be starved from lack of water. Aren't these the types of things Jesus was teaching in the parable of the four soils (Luke 8)? Christ even says in that parable that the seed that fell on the rock grew but eventually died because it had no moisture. So then, one can do hit and run evangelism far and wide and accomplish little or nothing at all if someone doesn't stay to disciple these people, to teach them all the things of Christ, which is commanded in the great commission. So in one sense, the great commission is only being partially fulfilled in short term mission work that doesn't continue to disciple the people.
This is happening right here in America, and I would like to connect it to the issue of gay marriage. Hit and run evangelism, as I call it, is where someone preaches the gospel, gets people to make professions of faith right then and there, and then moves on with little to know follow up. Billy Graham did this. Charles Finney before him did this. In the last 200 or so years in America, this has been the way we have "fulfilled" the great commission. Which is to say we've hardly fulfilled it at all. It is no wonder then that many today have a distorted, Rob Bellian view of Christ. We have sentimentalized Him, romanticized Him, emasculated and declawed Him. Maybe that wasn't the intention initially, but this is the ugly, deformed fruit of a planted seed that never got watered. Now we have professing Christians who not only support gay marriage, but are gay themselves. Now we have not just gay laity, but gay clergy. The whole culture is "progressing" to accept equal rights for gays. By equal I think they mean more than simply the legal right to gay marriage, but equal morality. Being gay has gone from something abnormal, gross, unnatural, to something normal, beautiful, and as natural as traditional marriage itself. It's legalization is being compared to the civil rights movement and women's suffrage. Those who do not support it and those who say homosexuality is unnatural and worse still a sin are seen as hateful as a racist.
The tide has turned because the gospel has been eclipsed in America. The gospel has been presented poorly, and the gospel has not been watered with the full teaching of Christ. We have neglected to take the great commission to our backyards, to our neighbors across the street. As a result, they have become gay and we didn't even know it. They have killed babies and we didn't even know it. They have lived licentiously and we pretended they were still moralistic people even if they weren't Christians.
We are still neglecting the great commission. Our preachers aren't preaching, even in conservative evangelical circles. They aren't watering. They aren't leading and exhorting and applying and pleading with Christians to cling to Christ, to think deeply and love strongly. Instead, they are politicizing gay marriage, trying to argue the issue on the pagan's own platform. The battle cannot be won there, because the arena of sin for gay marriage isn't so much its permissibility in the law but rather its permissibility in the church. We ourselves are infected. We ourselves are perpetuating the problem. Making it illegal won't fix homosexuality because our desires aren't dictated by the law. We as Christians should know that above all people. We can't keep the law, not the law of the land, much less the law of God. We need new hearts, we need to be born again, we need to be baptized into Jesus Christ, we need His Holy Spirit to be holy people. We need the gospel to break out in this land once again, and we need the gospel to be applied and exhorted with daily from preachers who are sticking around to water fledgling Christians so that delicious fruit can be produced.
Gay marriage will not be checked until Christians check their own hearts and lives and see that we are living complacent lives, probably because of our affluence. We have comfortable Christianity, which never lasts long. And even now it is fading. Christ calls us not to complacency but to take up our crosses and follow Him. He taught daily in synagogues; we can teach daily to our co-workers what the gospel really is. He prayed for His people; we can pray for family, friends, co-workers, classmates, anyone without Christ. But we must do it. We must be salt and light to the people God has called us to. And those people are whoever we come into contact with on a day to day basis. Whoever wants to get out and be a missionary should go and do it, but whoever wants to but looks back over his shoulder and hesitates isn't called. Instead, they should turn back to the United States and be salt and light, in the spheres that God has put them in, giving a defense of the faith, giving the gospel, praying for the pagans, and living before them in a godly, winsome manner. This is how you defeat homosexuality and gay marriage- not through legislation, but through the hope of regeneration that comes with the proclamation of the gospel. This is what the great commission is all about. Go and do likewise.