The Great Distortion

Robertson McQuilkin wrote a small book entitled, The Great Omission. I am writing about The Great Distortion.

When people read a Scripture passage, depending upon their background, the sermons they've heard, and their life experiences, different parts of the passage may catch their attention.

When it comes to the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew, the missionary is likely to stop at the word GO. He has gone. And from his perspective the world is filled with needs to which Christians are called. As it happens, Christians have "gone," and done everything under the sun in the name of fulfilling the Great Commission. Of course, truncating the Great Commission to the single word GO is a distortion.

For some traditions, people may get to the word BAPTIZE, find it the pinnacle of the Great Commission, and forget the rest. This is a distortion.

In our academic world where knowledge is power there seems to be a focus on TEACHING, forgetting in large measure the rest of the command, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE (OBEY) EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU. Another distortion.

But today, in our churches, we are increasingly falling prey to a Great Distortion. We have become hung up on the phrase MAKE DISCIPLES. I have seen any number of books and articles that take The Great Commission as the purpose of the church and spend several paragraphs or pages virtually dismissing all the words in the verse except MAKE DISCIPLES.

This line of logic begins by correctly pointing out that all the rest of the verbs in the verse are participles. This makes them less important. As we all know a participle is a mule of a word, a mixture of verb and adjective, which ends in -ing. So instead of the text meaning "Therefore, go ye into all the world…" as King James thought it did, we are to understand that it means "Going into all the world…," which could also be translated variously as "By means of going into all the world," or "As you go into all the world…," or "When you go into all the world…," or perhaps even, "If you happen to go into all the world…," depending upon what the author meant to say. For most people, this is enough to discount the "go."

What we have to look for, they say, is the imperative. That's the verb that tells you what to do. In this case, it is "MAKE DISCIPLES." This is the important part. We have been doing everything else in the name of Christianity except win people to Christ: the point of the verse is to make new Christians. We are to evangelize. And since people are everywhere and there are plenty of non-Christians right around here, we should get to work right where we are and MAKE DISCIPLES.

No one should object to this imperative. But it does leave something out.

I would like to point out two things about the word "make," an all-American workhorse of a verb if there ever was one. First, it is a "transitive" verb. It "transfers" the action to an object. Or said another way, it does not stand alone. It is not complete in itself. It only makes sense as it refers to something else. One does not command, "Make!" "Make what?" you ask. Unless you know what to make, the command is ambiguous.

The second thing about the word "make," is that it is not in the text. It has been added by translators for the sake of grammar. The real verb in the text, "disciple" is not a pedigreed English verb. Up until recently a "disciple" has been a person (noun), not an action (verb). So for the sake of grammar, the verb has been translated "make disciples."

But if you will submit to poor grammar for the sake of accuracy, you have not, "…make disciples…," but "…disciple…." Immediately you notice that "disciple" like "make" is a transitive verb. It is not complete without an object, a person! Commanding someone to "Disciple!" does not communicate anything useful unless you happen to be looking or pointing at someone or a group of people. "Disciple" does not stand alone. It requires an object, a person or group of people.

And this is where we meet the truly Great Distortion. For the object of "disciple" is "all nations." Jesus did not say to disciple, or to disciple your family, or disciple whomever happens to be near, or disciple the people in your community, or disciple the people like you. He said to disciple ALL NATIONS, i.e. all peoples, all ethno-linguistic groups. "Make disciples" cannot be divorced from "all nations."

It is not fair, not legitimate, not biblical to claim the Great Commission for your church purpose and neglect the nations. It is to use the Scripture like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination.

Read your church purpose statement or mission statement with this thought in mind. Does it refer to the Great Commission? Does it refer to making disciples? Does it refer to reaching people nearby and helping them to grow as Christians? And does it clearly refer to all nations, the whole world? If it doesn't, then your church is not based on the Great Commission.

For the interest of it, compare the following actual church purpose statements. Which of them are based on the Great Commission? Which of them clearly state that their purpose is to disciple all nations and which leave it ambiguous. (Remember that every member of your church could pursue "his mission in the world" and never touch someone of another country, another faith, or another ethnic backround.)

Actual Purpose Statements: The mission of …. Church is to glorify God, build up its members in love, and reach out to unbelievers to win them to Christ. Indianapolis

Our purpose is to fulfill the great commission by leading people to Christ, nurturing them in their faith, equipping them for ministry, and deploying them in service for Christ in His world. Toledo, OH

We believe God's vision for our church is to become a new community in Christ where people of all races are reconciled to God and to one another and reaching the world with the Gospel. Indianapolis, IN

To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christ-like maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God's name. CA

The purpose of … Church is to magnify the Lord our God by bringing people to Jesus and membership in His family, developing to Christ-like maturity, and equipping them for ministry and mission in the church and world - under the guidance of and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Cincinnati

To equip Christians to change the world through irresistible lifestyles and influential works of service. Little Rock, AR

We will glorify God by being a caring Christian community that shares Jesus Christ with others everywhere, incorporates them into our fellowship with Him, and builds up everyone to become His joyfully devoted followers. Wheaton, IL

To turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. S. Barrington, IL

Forming faithful and fruitful followers of Christ, Holt, MI

Reaching the unchurched and leading people to be fully devoted followers of Christ. Indianapolis

Our purpose is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and help them grow as fully devoted followers. Souderton, PA

Our mission is to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ in our generation. Louisville

To go and make disciples of all nations -- from our families and homes to urban communities and throughout the world. Indianapolis

We will use every available opportunity in all walks of life to lovingly persuade the world to become committed followers of Jesus Christ and responsible members of His growing Kingdom so that they may do the same. Harleysville, PA

The purpose of Crystal Evangelical Free Church is to proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that will impact our community and the world to the glory of God. Minneapolis

The mission of Community Fellowship is to build mature believers in Jesus Christ and equip them to minister to the church body and to reach out to the community and the world. Glen Ellyn, IL

To communicate the gospel message to every person whom God gives us an open door, beginning in our 'Jerusalem' and extending worldwide through missions outreach; and, to disciple and equip for effective Christian living and service all those who become a part of the local body, and to support similar efforts worldwide. Los Gatos, CA

The purpose of … Church is to win, equip and display committed followers of Jesus Christ who will share his love and truth from San Diego to the ends of the earth. San Diego

To provide worship, fellowship, and instruction for Christian believers, and to proclaim the Gospel of grace at home and abroad. Dallas, TX

The purpose of …. Church is first: to love, glorify, honor and obey the Lord Jesus Christ and to help all members of the body to do so as well and, secondly: to proclaim the Gospel by reaching out to the community and the world through the church. Virginia

Exalt the Living God, Equip God's People, and Evangelize the Nations. Wayne, PA