And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
What is the church? Depending on whom you ask, the church may be described as a place where Christians meet to worship; in other words, the church is the building or place of gathering. This concept is furthered along when people say “they’re going to church.” However, most Christians understand that the church is not a building, but a people, a gathering, an assembly.
In Greek, the word for “church” is εκκλησία, which is a compound word that literally means “called out.” That’s a fitting notion for the church is comprised of those who have been “called out” of the world and into the Kingdom of God. This assembly of people who have been called out form the church. There is a sense in which the Church (Big “C”) is universal, or catholic (small “c”) because the Church is comprised of all those around the world who have called upon the name of Christ for salvation. There is also a sense in which the church (small “c”) is local; i.e., a local body or congregation of “called out” people who are part of the Church universal.
Given that the Church is a people who have been called out, what, precisely, have they been called out to do? In other words, to use a business phrase, what is the Church’s mission statement? This passage before us, commonly referred to as the Great Commission, is arguably the single most important passage relative to defining the purpose of the Church.
The setting of this passage is a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus (his last) right before his ascension into heaven. He begins by asserting that ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. In other words, Jesus is authorized to give the Church her marching orders precisely for the reason that he has been given “all authority” by the Father. This is further demonstrated by the fact that Jesus later ascends to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand and begin his heavenly session as our risen King!
After prefacing the Great Commission with a statement regarding his supreme authority, he states the mission of the Church in one command (with three helping verbs to elaborate): MAKE DISCIPLES! Because of the way this verse is translated into English, many assume that the command to “go” is the main command, but in reality, “make disciples” is the main command. The Church is a disciple making enterprise. The Kingdom of God is advanced in the world when the Church adds to its number by making disciples.
The main command — to make disciples — is elaborated upon by three additional helping verbs: Go, Baptize, and Teach. The Church makes disciples first by going to all nations. This is the evangelistic part of the disciple making enterprise. The Church must go to all nations and preach the gospel of the Kingdom. When that is done, the Holy Spirit will take that preached word and use it to effect spiritual regeneration in the hearts of the hearers and they will be moved to repent of their sin and proclaim faith in Jesus Christ.
When that happens, the next part of the disciple making enterprise takes place — the new convert is baptized and made a part of the New Covenant community of believers (i.e., the Church). Baptism is a sign and seal of the New Covenant blessings and promises we have in Christ.
Finally, the third part of the disciple making enterprise takes place — the new convert is taught to observe the commands of Jesus. This instruction piece is vital to the growth of the Kingdom. New believers must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18); i.e., they must know what they believe and why they believe it, and how to act in light of that knowledge.
Today the Church is involved in many, many things; good things to be sure, but how many of them align with the Church’s mission statement as given by Christ? If anything the Church does doesn’t flow out of or is founded upon the main goal of making disciples of people from all nations, then it is a wasted effort. Let’s take our marching orders from our ascended King Jesus!
Soli Deo Gloria!