Recently, I heard of a church that had cut off support to an orphanage in another country. Why? Because they believed that the helping children under 5 years old was not consistent with the Great Commission. Now I freely accept that any church has the right to support or stop support for any outside ministry. Since there are so many worthy projects and organizations, churches have to say “No” to the majority of worthwhile opportunities. But when one cuts off support to an orphanage because “Jesus said it’s not important” (at least by inference), we must think about the role of the church and the Great Commission.
Question. Is the Great Commission our ONLY Commission? We are to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the sorrowing, love enemies, be good citizens, support truth, and live at peace with others (among other things). What is the relationship between these commands (commissions?) and the Great Commission?
1. Does the Great Commission negate (or take precedence) over these other commands?
2. Is the Great Commission another command along with the other commands?
3. Is the Great Commission a “different type” of command? For example are the other commands for individuals but the Great Commission for the church?
4. Is the Great Commission being defined too narrowly?
I believe that all of these options involve some level of truth except for the idea that the Great Commission negates other commands or commissions. But I would like to focus on the last option. Perhaps we are defining the Great Commission too narrowly.
The church listed above is not alone. Many or most (or all?) of us tend to do the same thing. Many appear to believe that:
-The Great Commission involves only international or cross-cultural work.
-Missions only has meaning within the context of “unreached people groups” (or where the Evangelical Christian population is below some arbitrary number).
-Evangelism or church-planting is the only worthwhile applications of the Great Commission. Social Ministry or social justice, for example, is not considered part of the Great Commission.
I think if people really delved into their own thoughts and theology, they would realize that the Great Commission is not that narrow. But because of their theology of endtimes, their application of the Great Commission is affected. If one thinks God is coming “any day” (and by this, they tend to mean… really, really, soon), one is tempted to dump the longer term, broader aspects of the Great Commission and focus on the ones that have short-term impact.
So how broad is the Great Commission? Let’s consider the Matthew version of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. It says that we are to:
-Create disciples. Develop students, learners of Christ.
-Wherever we go. Wherever we stay. Wherever we are.
-Baptizing them. Bringing them into the membership of faith.
-Training them to do everything that Jesus said.
This Great Commission is hugely broad. Creating disciples is a long-term process that involves individuals within a social network within a specific environment that starts well before salvation/conversion and continues long after. Wherever we go is everywhere. Teaching them to do everything that Jesus commanded is huge… and it has a subtle point that makes it even broader.
If we are disciples of Christ who are teaching disciples of Christ to obey everything that Jesus commanded… then we are to obey everything that Jesus’ commanded as well. One cannot separate the Great Commission from the broader aspect of Christian living. To separate the Great Commission from other aspects of Christian obedience is to violate the Great Commission.