In my recent post on evangelism, I argued for a greater emphasis on mission in our evangelism. A couple of readers argue to the contrary in the comment section. My response was too long for the comment fields, so I’m posting it here. I plan a 3-part series.
One friend of mine argues,
The gospel sermons in Acts talk about Jesus being the Christ, about his death and resurrection, and about the judgment to come. They call for repentance and submission to Jesus as Lord. That’s pretty much the extent of what was taught to prospective converts prior to conversion in the new testament. Those “mission” topics you mention are conspicuously absent from the gospel message the apostles taught prior to someone’s conversion.
I disagree. Certainly, personal salvation is a common teaching, but so is mission. (And thanks for pushing me to explain myself better. I hope this will be clearer.)
Now, let me be clear. I am not arguing that evangelism isn’t about personal salvation. That’s not the point. Rather, all I want to say is that evangelism in the New Testament was also about mission — calling the convert to a new life in service to Jesus. And by “service” I don’t mean passing communion trays once a month. I mean things like evangelism and benevolence, working for justice in government, and that sort of thing — expanding the borders of the Kingdom and bringing to ever fuller realization the Old Testament’s prophecies about what the Kingdom would be about.
To try to make my point, I’m going to cover in a brief series of posts the Great Commission, the conversion of Cornelius, and Paul’s preaching to Felix. And I guarantee you that you’ll see some things in these passages that you’ve never seen before.
The Great Commission
Let’s go back to the beginning of the church’s evangelistic efforts: the Great Commission –
(Mat 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus commands baptism, but from Matthew, all we know of baptism is that John baptized on confession of sin (3:6) and for repentance (3:11), that Jesus was baptized, and that Jesus would baptize with fire and with the Spirit. I’m not denying the salvation that comes with baptism to those with faith. I’m just noting that Matthew does not explain baptism in those terms.
Rather, the point of baptism in this passage is that it is “into [eis] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “In the name of” indicates becoming a representative of or acting in honor of someone else. For example,
(Acts 3:6) Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Thus, the sense is “be baptized to become a representative of God, Jesus, and the Spirit.” (Read the linked article if this isn’t obvious, as this is a critically important point.)
Now, usually the scriptures speak of doing something “in” (Greek en) the name of the Lord or God. But Matt 28:19 is (despite the NIV’s bungled translation) into (Greek eis) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The literal meaning is that baptism takes a convert from outside the name into being in the name. It’s really that simple. And, certainly, being baptized into the name refers to being saved, but the phrasing isn’t “by the power” of God, it’s “into the name,” which tells us that being saved is about being “in the name.” And “in the name” means acting by the authority or to the glory of God.
Matthew 28:19 is missional to the core. It is, after all, plainly about missionary activity — but a call to missionary service from generation to generation as each generation teaches the next to do what the first had been called to do.
Moreover, Jesus’ choice of “disciple” puts the emphasis on emulating the Rabbi — studying the teachings of Jesus and learning to live as he lived.
And this fits well, of course, with “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the nature of discipleship.
Now, it’s hard to find a more missional statement of what converts are to be taught. They are to become disciples, and then be baptized, and then learn what disciples learn — to go and make other disciples and how to be like Jesus.
Notice how little Jesus says about needing salvation, personal sin, or forgiveness. Rather, Jesus speaks only of making disciples, baptism, and obedience to Jesus’ teachings.
Now, this is in clear contrast to other versions of the Great Commission. For example,
(Mark 16:15-16) He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
In Mark, the emphasis is clearly soteriological rather than missiological — focused on personal salvation rather than mission. Plainly, we cannot take personal salvation out the equation. But, then, neither should we exclude mission.