The Great Commission (part 3): To Make Disciples
Nov 03, 2009 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments
Why are we going? Missionaries have different reasons and motives to go to the mission field. But the command is clear—“to make disciples.” The verb [matheteuein] “to make disciples” occurs only four times in the New Testament, three of these in Mathew (13;52, 27:57; 28:19) and one in Acts 14:21). The most striking use of the verb matheteuein is encountered in the “Great Commission” (28:19). It is also the only instance it is used in the imperative sense: matheteusate, “make disciples!” It is, moreover, the principal verb in the “Great Commission” and the heart of the commissioning” (Bosch, 1991:73).
The major purpose of Christian ministry is to make disciples. If we’ve failed on this, we’ve failed in everything.
Jesus did not leave a conservative seminary, a huge budget for mission, a policy, a book (mission manual), a fancy building with a sophisticated bureaucracy, and a bursary. He left disciples.
Through proclamation, teaching the Word of God, demonstrating signs and wonder, the disciples changed the world. The Greek philosophy did not deter them. The Roman civilization could not stop them. The key to their success was—“they made disciples.” The formula of Jesus for expansion is multiplication. He asked the disciples to do to others what he did for them.
In Judaism, it was the student who was choosing his Rabbi. In Christianity, it was Jesus, the teacher, who chose his students. It is because of Jesus’ reverse model, the disciples became what they were—apostles.
A missionary has an awesome responsibility. If our intention and purpose is not to produce better Christian leaders than us, let us not go to the field to give half service. The command we’re given is to make disciples—nothing more nothing less. When we disciple others, we treat them with integrity and dignity they deserve as a human being, furthermore, as a child of God.
We cannot enslave and disciple or disciple then enslave. We neither can Christianize and colonize or colonize in order to Christianize. This approach negates the whole essence of Christianity and the concept of discipleship. It was the church and Christians self contradiction that made Fredrick Nietzsche to say “The redeemed don’t look like redeemed.” The son of a pastor drifted to be agonistic, he later became atheist and he ended up being a Nihilist. He was the first to say, “God is dead. We killed him.” The German and the global church lost one of her brilliant children. When there is inconsistency between Christian’s proclamation and practice, the outsiders could not take us seriously. We become a stumbling block. The inquisitive insiders like Nietzsche leave the Christian faith.
The Christian mission in the past was not free of contradiction and mistakes. So what shall we do? Abandon everything in the past? Few have tried in Africa and Latin America. In the early 70s there was a call for moratorium in Africa. Wholesale rejection of the past is irrational, not constructive, and is unbiblical. I object both the attitude and the thought. In the words of Roseau, the French thinker, “From the altar of history, [we should] take the fire not the ashes.” Let us give full freedom of choice to sort out to Africans, Asians, and Latin American Christians what is fire and what are ashes. When they embrace the gospel and relate it to their culture, then, we can say the seed of missionaries have taken its root in the life and world of the recipients.
I wish I have time to elaborate the good fight Charles Simeon, Thomas Fowell Buxton, William Pit, William Wilberforce, Adoniram Judson Gordon, Arthur Pierson and David Livingston fought for the integrity and credibility of Christian mission and for the justice of mankind.
For good understanding of the concept of making disciples, read Bonheoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.”