“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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.’”
This passage is commonly known as “the Great Commission.” Each of the four gospel accounts, as well as the opening chapter of the book of Acts, recount for us particular instructions from our Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave in between his resurrection and his ascension. I want us to focus primarily on these words from Matthew’s account. They are a succinct directive as to what Christ has ordered his church to do until he returns. I want to ask the question, “What?” What has our Lord commanded his church to do? In latter posts we will ask the question, “How?” How has our Lord instructed his commission to be carried out? But for now, our focus is the purpose of the church. Later, the focus will be the plan for the church—the plan we have been given through which Jesus’ commission purpose should be carried out.
Starting in this post and continuing for the next several posts we will start to help us answer these three questions.
- What is the purpose of the church?
- What is a disciple?
- What would compel someone to take up this mission of making disciples?
The first question from our passage is, “What is the purpose of the church?” Reading these verses at first, it might seem hard to decipher one single purpose for the church. If you look particularly at verses 19 and 20, you see four terms that all blend in together: “go,” “make disciples,” “baptize,” and “teach.” Those are all powerful and important words, but a closer look at how the grammar is constructed shows that there is only one main verb. The other words are participles that help to modify the one verb. The one clear mission and purpose of the church is to make disciples.
Our Lord has commissioned his church to make disciples. These additional participles (“go,” “baptize,” and “teach”) have the force of a command, yet they are subservient to the main command. They support and explain the main command. They specify the plan that we are to use as the means of making disciples. Our Lord has not only commissioned what he wants us to do, but he has commissioned how he wants us to do it. He has given us a purpose, and he has given us a plan to carry out that purpose. So the question is this: What is our mission as a church? What is it that we exist as a church to do?
It is vital for us to ask that important question. It is important that we frequently revisit that question and its answer. Many of the things we’ll see in this passage are not new things. We’ve heard them before. But it’s important for us to ask, “What is our mission?,” because our mission is the thing that defines us as a church. Revisiting the question of our mission prevents us from subtly shifting beyond what the Lord has commanded us to do. “Mission creep” is what happens when we attempt to expand our mission beyond the mission that was given to us by our Lord. Mission creep is a constant temptation, for we are always entertaining new and even worthy pursuits. But we must always bring ourselves back to pursue the one mission that the Lord gave as his final orders.
In our next post, we will consider several examples, some worthy and some not so worthy, that often eclipse our Lord’s purpose for His church.