“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”‘ (Matthew 28:18-20) (underline and embolding added)
Most often, this passage is referenced in order to emphasize missions and evangelism, and those are indeed vital components; however, the teaching task is often, albeit unwittingly, reduced to a secondary or tertiary status. Additionally, the essentialness of the breadth and depth of the teaching component is often obscured by our words and practice.
As often noted, the main verb and actual command is “make disciples” whereas “go”, “baptizing” and “teaching” are participles. Thus, the command is “make disciples”; although, I do believe that the participles’ relationship to “make disciples” provides them with some imperatival force.
My focus here is on three words, “teaching”, “observe” and “all”. These words are both daunting and humbling when truly considered; they remind us of the breadth and depth of the teaching required in order to make mature disciples and thereby fulfill the mandate of our Lord. These words preclude the legitimacy of reducing the command “make disciples” to merely teaching Christ’s people the basics. While the basics and elementary qualities of being a disciple are crucial, they are woefully insufficient to produce thoroughly converted disciples.
The mandate is nothing less than producing mature, stable, and fruit bearing disciples. Paul said equipping continues, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) (See also vss. 14-15)
The breadth and depth of what it means to make and be a disciple is reiterated again and again in Scripture; for example, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) (underline and embolding added)
Thus, the church is to be a place that prospers in authentic worship, sacrificial service, intimate fellowship, sense of mission, and biblical teaching and training that affords believers with the opportunity to reach maturity along with the challenge for everyone to continue “…to grow up in all aspects into Him…” (Ephesians 4:15)
In order for this to become a reality, the pastor must seek to lead the church in providing a conducive atmosphere for disciple making of those who have become disciples. I mention a few essentials:
- The pastor must be committed to bringing every thought in his own life “captive to the obedience of Christ.” This includes doing so spiritually, morally, and intellectually. This requires a life-long commitment of extended daily-uninterrupted prayer and study.
- The pastor must expose the church to the deeper things of God on a regular basis as opposed to succumbing to the fashion of short, shallow, and nutritionally deficient preaching and teaching.
- The pastor must refuse any and all attempts to define the ministry of the church and the preaching/teaching as anything that eschews teaching “all” of Scripture.
- The church must be structured to facilitate multilevel—not merely multiage—teaching and dissemination of in-depth knowledge that is required for thinking christianly about every area of life.
- The pastor must understand that a desire to live for Christ is evidenced by a desire to learn (John 7:17), and that no one can intentionally and consistently live what he has not learned.
- Application of Scripture must be expanded beyond merely being relevant to the individual’s most apparent personal needs. While that is part of application, application of Scripture that results in full maturity must encompass meta-narrative applications.
- The Scripture must be communicated so that its urgent application to every area of our interaction with God’s creation is understood lest we fail to make thoroughly converted disciples by teaching in parallel lines.
- The church must be internally structured to permit the integration of knowledge from the pastor and the biblically learned to the entire flock.
While deemphasizing the comprehensive teaching aspect of our Lord’s words may seem prudent in this moment of vast lostness, the lack of producing mature disciples by teaching them to “observe all” not only necessarily misdefines missions and evangelism, but also most assuredly portends an even bleaker missionary future.