On Tuesday, Trevin Wax put forth “five nagging questions” about our book What Is the Mission of the Church? Kevin and I both know and like Trevin. He is a friend. We are glad he has gently raised some concerns with our book; we’d like to gently answer and correct his concerns. We hope to provide a lengthier response to some of the critical reviews out there in the coming weeks. But for now Kevin and I want to provide a brief response to each of Trevin’s nagging questions. The following is from both of us.
1. “Can we reduce ‘making disciples’ and ‘teaching Christ’s commands’ to the delivery of information?” Trevin argues that disciple making is more than verbal teaching. It also involves modeling and mentoring. So doesn’t the Great Commission implicitly include loving our neighbor and our work in the world? Of course, Trevin is right that people learn by watching and partnering, not just by listening. We fully support Christian lawyers (or artists or politicians or computer programmers) coming alongside Christian lawyers to teach, model, and mentor what it looks like to be a Christian lawyer. Some congregations may even facilitate such opportunities, and rightly so. And yet, in the Great Commission texts the disciple making work is described as teaching, testifying, or bearing witness. And in Acts we see the mission of the church described not as Christians faithfully living out their vocations but as the word being verbally proclaimed. When Jesus sent his disciples into the world it was to speak. This proclamation was never thought to be the mere “delivery of information.” It was a saving, powerful message to be delivered on God’s behalf with Christ’s authority.
ON THE CONTRARY, I REPLY:
First: The Great Commission doe not describe disciple-making as “teaching, testifying, or bearing witness,” but as baptizing and teaching (in that order, for what it is worth, though I’m not sure how much that might or might not be).
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Note, I am taking both participles as instrumental because “teaching” is obviously instrumental to discipleship, as all agree; and thus must also be “baptizing” as a parallel verb to “teaching.”)
So it is not simply teaching, but induction into a community through a tactile ritual that is right at the heart of the Great Commission.
And the book of Acts shows exactly the same thing.
Second, in the book of Acts, the Word of the Lord is not simply the message, but the community of Christ, the Church. Acts 6.7:
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
The growth of the Church is describes as the growth of the word of God. The community embodies the word as epistles written on flesh instead of stone (Second Corinthians 3.2-3). We see this again in Acts 12.24:
the word of God increased and multiplied
Meaning, of course, that the Church increased and multiplied (compare 1 Corinthians 12.12, where the Church is called “Christ”). There are a couple of other passages that might bear the same meaning, but it is uncertain:
And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13.49)
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19.11-20)
Thus Paul, we see in Acts 20, recalls his ministry as preaching but also modeling and mentoring:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Obviously, the word is central in this description. But just as obviously the alleged “preaching” of that word would have been an empty sign without a life lived among the people embodying the word of God.
And so Paul describes his own ministry and what should be the ministry of his disciples:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (from Philippians 3)
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (from 1 Thessalonians 1).
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (from 2 Thessalonians 3).
Finally, read what Paul wrote to Timothy and ask yourself if Paul, as he asks Timothy to “train” himself, was not also trained by Paul. And is he not asking Timothy to “train” others?
If you put these things before the brothers,you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive,because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Is this not about “modeling and mentoring”? Does not Paul want Timothy to faithfully live out his vocation so that others will do the same in their various vocatiosn to glorify God and impact others? Is this not what Paul was recorded as doing in Acts? And is it not exactly what the Great Commission is about?
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you