Deconstructing The Great Commission

 deconstruct

As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training.  Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you.  At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me.  I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”.  So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”

I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”

When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today.  Today I want to ask some different questions.  I want to ask:

“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?”  “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?”  “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”

You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost).  When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise.  It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire.  I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some  immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.

Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned?  Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?

I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages.  I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point. 

I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.

I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on.  I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous.  (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions.  Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.) 

7 thoughts on “Deconstructing The Great Commission

  1. Pingback: Deconstructing The Great Commission – Part Two « Grace Rules Weblog

  2. Ron Amundson

    The signs and sense of urgency do seem to align with the impending explosion…. but then one has to consider the time of the writings, some of which were written during or after 70AD.

    Some additional bits to think about, which you may already be doing.
    1. Consider the Gospel not just with an eternity focus… thats a relatively new creation. The Kingdom of God is here right now, to only focus on salvation and eternal life is in error, just as only focusing on the Kingdom of God on earth in there here and now would be.
    2. Consider what might be some differences between disciples and believers… Are all called to be disciples? Might some be called to believe, and be gifted in other areas?

    Reply
    1. gracerules Post author

      Ron – Thanks for joining the conversation. I think I understand what you are saying about knowing when the books were written but at the same time I don’t know if that matters since I am focusing on something Jesus said somewhere around 30AD (give or take a few years)

      My new, broader understanding of the Gospel (a gospel that is centered in Jesus and his message of the Kingdom of God, a message that offers reconciliation with God, humanity, creation, and self) is what led me to question my understanding of The Great Commission.

      If I understand correctly, disciples are students learning to be like their teacher – so I guess I beleive anyone who is a follower of Jesus would be a disciple – but I do think it is helpful to look at the difference in apostles (eye witnesses of resurrection, specifically chosen and sent out) and disciples (followers of Jesus) and I am considering that as I go through this process.

      Reply
  3. Ken Bussell

    I think giving a passage a title like “the great commission” is a corruption. It creates an emphasis that was not originally intended. I think when you look at the whole of Jesus’ teaching, making disciples appears much less important than loving God and one another, just on the basis of frequency alone, not to mention imperative. We are not told that our eternal life is dependent on making disciples. But Jesus does tell us that about love and justice (sheep and goats, good samaritan, etc.).

    Also, I don’t think the passages you mention speak about sharing the gospel at all. We can debate the meaning of “make disciples” and “teaching them to obey”, but it is not explicit. We are left to decide for ourselves what it means. I suppose one could be a disciple of Jesus and obey his commands without believing that he is divine or that he died for our sins. Jesus had hundreds of people that the Bible calls “disciples” who had no inkling of those issues.

    I think people today do a much better job making their own disciples (you must believe what I teach you about Jesus) than they do making disciples of Jesus himself.

    Reply
  4. Ken Bussell

    interestingly, Mark 16:9-20 is not found in many older manuscripts. Did someoe add it later? That’s probably another dicussion…

    When I think on the question of if the instructions are for us today or not, I ask myself what would have been the result if only the disciples at that time had followed them, and then at some later point everyone quit. Would we even be having this discussion?

    At the same time, I think giving certain passages titles like “the great commission” is a corruption. It creates an emphasis that was not intended. I don’t think it is any greater than the commission to love one another. In fact, it is probably less important, given the frequency with which we are commanded to love versus make disciples.

    Also, I don’t think the text speaks at all of “sharing the gospel”. We can debate the meaning of “make disciples” and “teaching them to obey”, but it is not explicit. We are left to decide for ourselves what it means. I suppose one can be a disciple of Jesus and obey his commands without believing he was divine or died for our sins. Jesus had hundreds of disciples who never had an inkling of those issues.

    I think church people today do a much better job making their own disciples (you must believe what I teach you about Jesus) than they do making disciples of Jesus himself.

    Reply
    1. gracerules Post author

      Ken – thanks for your input – as far as your point about what would have happened if no one would have continued to make disciples … I understand what you are saying but then I think maybe something better would have happened if our focus would have been on something else like just living out the way of Jesus in community – if that is what God had intended. I guess one of the problems I have with the traditional view of “The Great Commission” is the focus to convert – at least I think that is what first got me thinking about deconstructing my understanding of it.

      I agree that the label itself is a problem and has imo most certainly taken the emphasis off of loving others and to converting others. And I agree that people can be a disciple of Jesus and obey his commands without believing he was divine or died for our sins – in fact, I’ve seen some unbelievers do it better.

      I love your thought on church people doing a better job of making their own disciples rather than making disciples of Jesus. That is so true.

      Thanks again for attempting to get this conversation started.

      Reply

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