An Exercise for the Readers

Mac Deaver has recently written an article “The Great Commission has been fulfilled.”

You should read his entire article, but here are some key quotations:

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate truth regarding our non-amenability to the commission given by the Lord to the apostles before he left the earth. It is not the purpose to lessen our efforts among men in trying to reach the lost with the gospel, but I would have us all understand that any evangelistic effort that we put forth is based on something other than the commission. …

Sixth, the next point I wish to make is that even if someone could prove that the early church sustained the very relationship to the commission that the apostles did, still it would be the case that the church today simply cannot sustain that relationship. Why would I say such? I would say it because the fulfillment of the Great Commission depended upon the capacity of the apostles to speak by inspiration and to confirm the preached word by miracles (Heb. 2:3-4). …

Furthermore, please consider that all of the evangelism that we read about in the book of Acts transpires under the authority of the assignment given to the apostles. All of it! …

Argument #1

  1. All assignments that the apostles were given to do that required the capacity for inspired speaking and miracle working are assignments that Christians today cannot carry out.
  2. The assignment to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature was an assignment that the apostles were given to do that required the capacity for inspired speaking and miracle working (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; Heb. 2:3-4).
  3. Therefore, the assignment to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature was an assignment that Christians today cannot carry out.

Argument #2

  1. Any assignment that the apostles were given which changed human amenability on earth for all time is an assignment that cannot be carried out following its fulfillment.
  2. The assignment that the apostles were given to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature is an assignment which changed amenability on earth for all time (cf. Col. 1:23; Acts 10:36; 17:30-31).
  3. Therefore, the assignment that the apostles were given to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature is an assignment that cannot be carried out following its fulfillment.

Argument #3

  1. If (1) the fulfillment of the Great Commission today would require some brotherhood-wide authority in order to its fulfillment, and if (2) there is no brotherhood-wide authority to manage a fulfillment of the Great Commission, then there can be no Great Commission assignment currently operative.
  2. (1) The fulfillment of the Great Commission today would require some brotherhood-wide authority in order to its fulfillment, and (2) there is no brotherhood-wide authority to manage a fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  3. Then, there can be no Great Commission assignment currently operative.

I have no plans to comment further, but I invite the readers to agree or disagree in the comments. Politely, please. (I have notified Mac of this discussion by email and invited him to participate as he might wish.)

Except I do want to say this: I agree with Mac’s final paragraph (almost) —

The evangelism to be characteristic of God’s people today is that which is the normal, supernatural yet non-miraculous work of the Spirit within the heart of God’s people. It is not “guilt-driven” evangelism. It is not evangelism attempted because we have been intimidated or shamed into doing something constructive for the lost. It is not “cult” evangelism. It is the evangelism of light, leaven, and salt (Matt. 5:13-16; 13:33), and it will be the effect of the Spirit in a Christian’s heart (Rom. 5:5; 15:30; 2 Thess. 3:5) and which effect, among other things, is love for both saint and sinner (Rom. 13:8-10; Matt. 22:37-40).

The “almost” part is that I have no idea what “non-miraculous” means. I mean, how can it be supernatural and yet be, you know, natural? Isn’t anything supernatural necessarily miraculous, even if not spectacular like healing the blind or raising the dead? I’ve never understood that strand of thought among many of my brothers in the Churches of Christ. But that’s not the point of his article, and I probably should not have digressed into the metaphysics of what some call the providential.

The point I want to focus on is the tendency all humans have to over-simplify. Once a leader of the standing of Mac Deaver says the Great Commission does not apply to the church today, well, some are going to hear, “We need no longer tell our friends and neighbors about Jesus.” And that would be bad, but I don’t think that’s his point. Rather, it seems to be more of a question of whether we are under a command to do evangelism. And, of course, he’s right that many preachers use guilt as a motivator in a religion of grace. That can’t be right either.

So, dear readers, what is right?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to An Exercise for the Readers

  1. David Himes says:

    The “command” to evangelize falls below, hierarchically, the command to love one another as Jesus loved us. First things should come first … Then evangelism is much easier and simpler

  2. What does he do with Matthew 28:19-20? “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you….”? He had just commanded them to make disciples of all nations. If they taught them to make disciples of all nations, wouldn’t they have then have taught those disciples to do the same? At least that seems to be what Paul did with Timothy: “The things I have committed to you among many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will teach others also.”

    So it goes from person to person through all generations.

  3. Mark says:

    There is a lot of debate today on letting non-believers come to church service projects. Some think non-believers should be brought only to church first then allowed to participate. To never see real Christians doing real service to the world makes everyone wonder just what they are committed to.

  4. Dwight says:

    Evangelism is prime directive of a saint, not because we are commanded to within the commission, but because we are to love others and tell them what we would want to be told.
    In Acts the saints spread out, but so did the message of Christ and many more were saved. This wasn’t by a teaching or preaching program, but by the saints just telling others.
    In James 3:1 “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”, which has James telling them not to assume the position of a teacher or rabbi.

    But in Heb.5:12 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” the saints are told to teach others.
    We simply express what we know and have learned to others out of love and caring for others.

  5. Jim Haugland says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Deaver’s argument more than I disagree. Nietzsche, the atheist philosopher once said, “If you Christians want me to believe in your Redeemer, you have to look more redeemed.” If we are to be “salt,” “light,” and “leaven,” in the world, are we? If the non-Christian sees little difference in the lives of Christians, and our moral lives/values seem to support this statically, what have we accomplished if we baptize yet lives aren’t changed to reflect what redemption is suppose to accomplish, a sanctified holy people fit for the kingdom of God! Are your hearing from your pulpits and bible classes that homosexuality and gay marriage are anthetical to a redeemed life? What would Paul think? Are we living more like the Corinthians than we are willing to admit? “Without holiness, no one will see God.” Don’t get me wrong, we are to evangelize, but I think we are way out of balance when we emphasize evangelism, I.e., baptisms, over a sanctified redeemed life! I think the early church stressed the spiritual significance of baptism more when they required 3 years of catechetical training BEFORE a person could be baptized! I think Al Maxey is right (are we teaching sacramentiism) in our efforts to “get em baptized,” we have lost what that is supposed to mean in how the redeemed are supposed to be seen in the world; salt that has lost it’s savor, light that has lost illumination, and leaven that doesn’t raise our moral values any greater than our unredeemed world!

  6. Dwight says:

    I don’t know Jim. Jesus somehow managed to look like those around Him, while the Pharisee’s sought to look Holy and He pulled people to Him. The people looked at His actions and saw a real person they could connect to, even if he was God in the flesh. There are plenty of people who look Holy from the outside, but people want to see people like them…but people like them transformed inwardly and reflecting this to the outside in actions and faith and talking. We need to tell as many about Jesus in the world with as much conviction as we tell ourselves about Jesus in assembly.

    One athiest lately said something to the effect, “I would believe you more if you would believe in God enough to talk to me about God.” Many don’t talk convincingly about God, because they are not fully immersed in God. Most saints that I know don’t express God except in subtle ways. They don’t talk about God and they don’t talk to others about God, but if given the chance they will talk about how good they are in church and how bad others are. Evangelism is talking about Christ, the person, the savior, the reason, the why, to everyone, whether it leads to baptism or not (which it should). Even within the assemblies we have the class/lesson, but once the class/lesson and “church” is over and we step out the doors we talk about the game on TV or the latest movie.
    Ironically we think that our first obligation is to the church, but it is to Jesus and being Holy as God is Holy, then this should cause us to be openly expressive about Jesus and this should cause us to build other saints up in thier own path of salvation and in thier struggle against the world and in thier expression of Jesus to the lost. We must have an effect on those around us as leaven does to the unleavened, as light does in the darkness and as salt does to other things.

  7. Mark says:

    When do “we tell ourselves about Jesus in assembly”? Paul was the most frequently taught Biblical character by a margin of 8:1 over all others.

    “Many don’t talk convincingly about God” because they likely can’t. God was not preached on and rarely discussed in Sunday school.

  8. Dwight says:

    Mark, I’m not sure of what assembly you have been to, but God is always taught in some form in our Sunday schools. And granted the letters of Paul are used a lot, but even they point towards Jesus and God. But I will have to admit that we do a lot of talking about matters of “law” as compared to the compassion of Jesus and the love we should have towards others or we talk about others (negatively) in such as way as to make us feel better about our selves (self righteous) and then we leave feeling…well, self righteous and this is how we approach others.
    But my thought was that we often comment and I hear this constantly, that we should “look like Christians”. No one that I know of can define what a saint should look like though. Jesus didn’t look any different than those he hung out with, but he did look different than those of the Pharisees who appeared to look Holy. Only our conviction in and our expression/confession of Christ and our actions will make a real impact on others and show who we are. Unfortunately most of the training in evangelism is less about promoting Christ and more about defending Him.

  9. Mark says:

    Defending the faith, though not taught, is a very necessary skill especially when you have a hard-line atheist.

  10. Mark says:

    Cont’d. With whom you must contend. I know of few people who can defend the faith. The letters of Paul when read intact may point to Jesus but when taken out of context and used as proof texts totally lose their meaning.

    Perhaps looking like a Christian should be changed to or really means acting like one. When one can’t figure out who is a Christian there is a problem. When some long-time Christians won’t stand up for and defend the younger Christians or show them any tolerance, you have a bigger problem.

  11. Dwight says:

    Mark, I agree. I didn’t mean though to argue that we shouldn’t defend the faith, but rather that is what I seem to see a lot of within the conservative circles, often getting into debates on points vs points. They rarely seem to just talk of Christ or even express Jesus. So we contend, but don’t come to any agreements on the things that are the basics of Christianity like Jesus as the Son of God, etc. If you do have a hard line athiest, then they are a hard line athiest and I would leave them alone and move onto a soft line athiest who could be persuaded to believe. Jesus didn’t spend all of his time arguing with the Pharisees in the synagogues on points, but spent most of his time with the people who were in need, who were accepting. He didn’t seek argumentitive discussions, but sought the lost. If we did that there would probably be less lost.

  12. Tiffany says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Deaver contextually. Though, as others have commented, just because what we have endearingly titled The Great Commission at the end of Matthew may not apply to us in all times does not mean that evangelism is not a part of the Christian’s call. Our commitment to the Shema-“love your neighbor as yourself” must mean that evangelism is a part of our faith, or else our love is tragically near-sighted. I like Christopher Wright’s analysis on the topic in the Mission of God’s People. I don’t know if you’ve reviewed his text; (it’s sort of a part two of his, God’s Mission). But he places the Great Commission, not in Matthew 28, but in Gen 12 when God blesses Abraham for the first time and promises the Great Nation. (Personally, I would put it back further than that-to Gen 1 at the first blessing). According to Wright (and I would agree) is the passing of the blessing on to the world. The fulness of the blessing expands as the Biblical story does, but continues for us today. In my opinion, it’s a better Great Comission because it includes more than simply dunking people under water for salvation in a distant heaven which is what we have often reduced the passage in Matthew to mean. The blessing all Christians are to be a part of spreading is bringing all creation back into reconciliation with God, which undoubtedly is a command and theme throughout the 66 books that we can all be a part of today.

  13. Monty says:

    It has been proven that we baptize our kids and not many others foreign to our beliefs. In the past we “converted” our Baptist friends, and ” got them saved.” But most in the CofC today, while they may say differently at church, don’t think their Baptist neighbors, “need the truth.” If they do, they sure aren’t sharing it with them. But maybe that’s the “preacher’s job.”

    By-in-large most of our members don’t readily associate with the unredeemed. And if they do, they certainly don’t know much about how to explain to them the difference Christ has made in their lives, other than they’re saved. Most CofC members I have known lack the ability or knowledge to tell a personal story of how a personal Savior made a profound affect on their lives. We are basically rule keepers and being baptized is the number one rule. We believe Jesus died for our sins and we got baptized, and now we attend church and obey more rules mostly about how to do worship the “right way.”

  14. Dwight says:

    I agree with Tiffany…any compassion and love that we have as a saint should result in us telling others about Jesus. It is not Amway, it is God and being with God and not being condemned.
    I have a problem with Argument 1 in that while Jesus did tell the apostles to go into all the world, this was before the the day of Pentacost. The message the Jesus spread before the apostles had the full HS wasn’t different than the message after that point, but it allowed the apostles to better convey and understand the message they were spreading. The baptisms allowed converts into the kingdom, but didn’t start the Kingdom. The fact that thousands of saints went out dispersed without miraculous gifts and spread the gospel make it clear the the message wasn’t dependent upon those gift.
    We often speak of the “Great Commission” and then the “limited commission”, but the scriptures are clear that the gospel was meant for all and could be spread by all, so the commission is really unlimited in scope. It is to be passed along from person to person regardless.

  15. Tiffany says:

    Typo correction for my post: “According to Wright (and I would agree) THE GREAT COMISSION is the passing of the blessing on to the world.”

  16. Dwight says:

    Monty, Totally agree. Our local churches don’t grow from the lost being saved, but by our children being born or people moving into the area. The baptist don’t need the message, those that don’t have the message need the message. But we spend a lot of time recycling the message os salvation within the assembly to the assembled, then we invite us to be saved. It is messed up.

  17. Mark says:

    The “commitment to the Shema-‘love your neighbor as yourself’ must mean that evangelism is a part of our faith, or else our love is tragically near-sighted.”

    When the person on the same pew who has been baptized in the cofC baptistry by a cofC minister using the proper formula is not considered your neighbor, you have a ginormous problem.

  18. Doug says:

    I gave a talk at a Prison Ministry meeting in which I discussed some events from my personal life. Afterwards, one inmate told a fellow ministry worker “That fellow just described my life”. I didn’t really know about his life and he mine so how did this connection come to be? I think the answer is found in the continuing miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. I certainly didn’t set out to connect with this person but someway, connect we did. So, I disagree with argument #1 and believe that the Holy Spirit still moves and works as He will. Many of us fail to see His working because we fail to do the spiritual work that allows the Holy Spirit to be alive in us. A healthy Spiritual relationship between us and the Holy Spirit involves our prayer life, personal devotions, bible reading and study, small group involvement, communion, ministry, meditation and examination of conscience, and spiritual direction. It would be interesting to see what other readers do to facilitate their connection to the Holy Spirit.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug wrote,

    So, I disagree with argument #1 and believe that the Holy Spirit still moves and works as He will.

    Amen.

    Mac’s over-arching thesis is largely right, but he has to prove his case in incredibly complex and artificial ways because his theology of the Spirit is essentially Deistic. He believes in a personal indwelling but not in a way that truly impacts the Christian or the church other than through the Bible.

    So at one level, he understands how bankrupt it is to make evangelism a duty on penalty of hell. But if it’s not a salvation command, why do we bother? In a legalistic worldview, the only reason to obey is to earn salvation.

    The Spirit as transforming presence in our hearts, changing us to people who love as God loves is the answer. But if your Enlightenment worldview demands that you deny the miraculous, there’s no way to make it all fit.

    Ironic that sometimes we become so conservative that we agree with the liberals — denying miracles. The liberals say no miracles ever happened. The most conservative among us say they stopped when the last apostle died. All agree that we now live in an age without miracles — based on the same worldview.

    And yet, as you say, we need only pay attention to see God at work all around us.

  20. rich constant says:

    Well J I’d like to speak to that when we get around to it it might be interesting who knows? anyway I think it’s interesting, and so do a couple of people I’ve spoken to about it one guy had three degrees and one of them was in theoretical physics and another one in theology. So it’s kind of fun to challenge him and an hour and a half later we both found it a pleasure to meet each other. or to have the spirit drive us into each other. Hahaha
    the topic of our conversation.
    Blessings all

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