August 17, 2015
In his book, The Great Omission, Dallas Willard writes, “. . . the greatest issue facing the world today . . . is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as Christians will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence” (p. xv). Additionally, Willard says that a great misconception of the 21st Century church is that “we can be Christians forever and never become disciples” (p. xi).
Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the time of his Ascension, also known as the Great Commission, are recorded in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The singular command of the Great Commission is to “make disciples.” More than just a “convert to Christianity” or to some “particular ‘faith and practice’” (Willard p. xii), a disciple is a learner, a pupil, or an apprentice – a person who has decided to follow their master and become like him or her. Christians are to apprentice themselves to Christ and allow Christ to shape their lives after his life. Discipleship does not end with conversion, rather it is a life-long relationship of walking with and growing in Christ.
Three words (participles) in the text characterize the mandate of disciple-making. 1) Go – the thought is, “as you are going,” make disciples of those you encounter in your daily living. Disciple-makers do not simply build a church on the corner and wait for disciples to come to them. Going suggests a lifestyle of reaching out, patterned after the life of Jesus. 2) Baptizing – baptism in biblical times was an act closely associated with salvation in which individuals identified themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the church. Disciple-makers direct people to faith in Christ by their words and relationships. 3) Teaching -teaching involves equipping people to live, walk, think, and act like Jesus. Becoming a disciple is a lifelong process that is never fully achieved.
The task that Jesus entrusted to his disciples and to us is to make disciples of “all nations.” Willard reminds his readers that disciple-making is not just something to be done in “other countries” (p. xii). The word “nations” might be better translated as “people of every kind.” Jesus’ call to make disciples “right where we are” also comes with the promise of his presence, the Holy Spirit, to guide and to empower his disciples in fulfilling their calls.
The task of Sioux Falls Seminary is to develop servants for their participation in the kingdom mission. Our students and alumni serve God and others in a variety of different contexts and in places near and far. We are privileged to journey alongside them as, together, we embrace the Great Commission!