What Is the Great Commission?

In the last blog we briefly mentioned the Great or Divine Commission which is contained in Matthew 28. It is Jesus’ final instructions to his followers.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

What is of interest is that all of Jesus’ commands contained in the Great Commission are action words—things we are to do.  Nothing is said about belief.  Jesus did not say to make believers of all nations; he said to make disciples.  So why is not our doctrine of salvation the same?  Why does our doctrine of salvation only concern itself with our belief in Jesus and his death for our sins and say nothing about the actions the Bible says we are to take?

Now before someone will be a disciple of Jesus or follow Jesus’ command they undoubtedly would first believe in Jesus.  However, that still does not negate the emphasis Jesus places on actions in the Great Commission.  And as we have shown in this blog and in my book, the entire Bible has the same emphasis; our actions are necessary for our salvation.

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The Divine Commission

Frank E. Wilson, in his book The Divine Commission:  A Sketch of Church History, places considerable emphasis on the church fulfilling the divine commission Christ left his followers.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

What interested me was that his book, while recording the partial realization of the divine commission, was mainly a record of how unlike Christ the church has been throughout history.  The people in leadership positions in the church were more interested in money, power, and prestige than about the things of God. [1]  They were quite willing to torture and kill those who disagreed with their theology and practices, even for very minor differences. [2]  In our own age we have seen priests molest young children, TV preachers amassing wealth at the expense of their poor followers, and all sorts of financial and personal misdeeds by Christians.

What is incredible is that throughout this sordid history of the church the teachings of Jesus have remained valid.  I do not see how that could happen if Jesus’ teaching were just a human construct.  The hypocrisy of the church teaching one thing and doing another should have ended it long ago.  The fact that it did not indicates to me that Jesus’ teachings are of divine origin and in spite of the fallible people who are this church, his teachings remain the ultimate guide for our lives.  This is one reason why I believe.

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[1]   Frank E. Wilson, The Divine Commission:  A Sketch of Church History, Delhi, India:  Facsimile Publisher, 1927, p. 209.

[2]   Ibid., p. 114.

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Does Christianity Work?

Science can be defined as the “logical and systematic study of nature and the physical world”. [1]  In order to study our physical world, scientists develop theories about how our world is constructed and then perform experiments to determine if these theories are true or false. [2]  But as Popper notes, it is logically impossible to prove a theory [3] because science rests upon the foundation of the inductive method which we cannot prove.  (See chapter 5 in my book if you want more information on why this is so.)  However, science does work [4] as is evidenced by our technologically advanced society.

Can our religious beliefs be evaluated like science?  Is our faith testable?  The Christian philosopher Trueblood thinks so:

There is really no hope for the Christian faith apart from tough-mindedness in matters of belief.  If God is not, then the sooner we find it out the better.  If belief in God is not true, it is an evil and should be eliminated from our entire universe of discourse.  False belief is evil because it diverts energy from practical tasks that require attention.  If prayer is not an objective encounter with the Living God, we shall do well to make this discovery and give up the nonsense as soon as possible. [5]

As is demonstrated in my book, we cannot definitively prove that Jesus died and rose again for our sins.  But like science we should be able to demonstrate that Christianity works.  Our faith should produce results in our lives.  If it does not then we have reason to question its validity.  The problem is the track record of Christianity is a mixed bag.  Christianity has been a major positive influence on this world with all the assistance it has provided to the poor and suffering.  However, it has also committed atrocities such as the Inquisition and Rwanda so it is no wonder that many in our world question the validity of Christianity.  Maybe if we Christians understood that salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes like God and not a set of beliefs, then it would be more evident that Christianity works.

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[1]   Dick Teresi, Lost Discoveries, New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2002, p.15.

[2]   Henri Poincare,  The Foundations of Science,  Lancaster, PA:  The Science Press, 1946, p.127.

[3]   Bryan Magee,.  Philosophy and the Real World,  LaSalle, IL:  Open Court Publishing Company, 1985, p. 22.

[4]   Ibid., p. 17.

[5]   David Elton Trueblood, A Place to Stand, New York:  Harper & Row, 1969, p. 19.

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Doubt

Recent research has shown what many Christians suspected is true—the Christian church is losing many young people and the major reason is serious intellectual doubts. [1]  Now when we talk about doubt and Christianity, most immediately think about doubting the validity of Christianity.  While there are many such questions, Christian apologetics has been very successful in addressing those doubts.  I took the certificate program in apologetics from Biola and it clearly demonstrated that Christianity is a very reasonable faith.  This is not to say we have iron clad proof for Christianity but given the human condition (we are finite) we have a wealth of evidence for our faith.

However, demonstrating the reasonableness of our faith is only part of the answer.
There are other doubts besides the validity of Christianity such as theological or doctrinal questions.  These questions must be dealt with as well.  In this blog and in my book, we have asked three of those questions.

  1. What kind of a God would condemn to hell those who have never heard of Jesus or who have a distorted view of Jesus?
  1. What kind of God would make us finite (which means our ability to know what is true is limited) and then condemn us to hell for eternity for not believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins (an event for which we cannot have certain proof because we are finite)?
  1. There are over 70 verses in the Bible that teach salvation is through belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance. Why did God put these verses in the Bible?

It is unfortunate that the Christian community has not addressed these questions.  Until it is willing to do so, doubts will remain and we will continue to lose not only our young people but others who thoughtfully examine our faith.

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[1]   Craig Hazen and Larry Barnett, “Young People are Indeed Leaving the Church”, Biola Magazine, Fall 2016.

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Sins of Omission

In the past two blogs we have discussed the book Why We Make Mistakes.  Another point the author makes is that research has shown people feel more responsible for their actions than their inaction.  He notes that inaction means we did not do anything and we typically need to do something to feel guilty or good about what we did. [1]

However, the idea that failing to act is as much of a sin as wrongful acts is not a foreign concept to us.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that “. . .it is just as bad to passively accept evil as it is in inflect it.”

In Ezekiel 3:16-21God tells Ezekiel and in Ezekiel 33:1-9 God instructs Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel that it is our responsibility to warn others of danger or of the error of their ways.  If we do not, God will require that person’s blood at our hand.

In the study of the theology of sin one way of categorizing sin is by sins of commission and sins of omission.  Sins of commission are when we take actions that are contrary to God’s commands.  St. Thomas Aquinas states “a sin of omission violates a command to do something positive”. [2]  So in either case are we not violating a command of God?  Would that not make a sin of omission no different than a sin of commission?

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[1]   Joseph T. Hallinan.  Why We Make Mistakes.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2009, p. 53.

[2]   Timothy McDermott, editor, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Norte Dame, IN:  Christian Classics, 1989, p. 250.

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Mistakes

In this blog we have often talked about the fact that God made us finite and the implications of that fact.  I recently read a book written by Joseph T. Hallinan who details various mistakes to which we humans are prone [1] because we are finite.

One mistake Hallinan mentions is that as something becomes more familiar to us, we notice less information about that topic not more.  This occurs because we are flooded with information and because we are finite we must be economical with how we process all this data.  What we do is to skim the information with which we are familiar and ignore the details.  The result is that we tend to see things not as they are but as we think they should be.  Examples Hallinan uses include a misprint in sheet music for a Brahms capricco that professional musicians and publishers missed but that was found by a student.  A thirteen year old boy who corrected NASA’s estimate of the chance of an asteroid hitting the earth.  A 5th grade boy who found an error at a Smithsonian Institute exhibit that had not been detected for 27 years. [2]  In all these examples, the professionals missed an error because they were so familiar with the subject matter that they skimmed over the error and did not notice it.

We Christians have the same tendencies.  How else can we explain the fact that there are over 70 verses in the Bible that teach salvation is through belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance and yet we ignore them?  (See the header on this blog titled “What the Bible Says about Salvation for a list of these verses.)  Because these verses do not fit our established doctrine of salvation which is that salvation is only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins, we ignore these inconvenient details.  As Hallinan states”  “Facts that do not fit together . . . are forgotten, de-emphasized, or reinterpreted”. [3]

Now that we are aware of this very human tendency, what will we do?  Will we continue to ignore these 70 verses concerning salvation or will we determine a reason why God included them in the Bible?

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[1]   Joseph T. Hallinan.  Why We Make Mistakes.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2009.

[2]   Ibid., pp. 111-113.

[3]   Ibid., p. 123.

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Changes

This blog has been in existence for over five years.  Its purpose has been to address several questions concerning the Christian doctrine of salvation that have not been adequately answered by the Christian community.  We have approached these questions recognizing the following principles.  First, we are finite and that means our ability to know what is true is compromised.  This is the way God made us and he made us this way for a reason.  Second, the only way to overcome this limitation is to work with other Christians on these issues (Genesis 11:4-6).  Too often we ignore what other Christians say and believe about a particular subject because we are so entrenched in our current belief.  Third, Socrates pointed the way for us when he relentlessly asked questions about any topic he was trying to understand.  And that is what we attempt to do in this blog.

The Christian community in which I was raised generally frowned on raising questions about our faith.  However, God states he will reward those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).  I do not see how we can claim to earnestly seek God unless we address the questions that arise concerning our faith.

In this blog we have occasionally made forays into other topics besides the doctrine of salvation.  We will broaden our perspective to include many other topics.  We have changed the look of this blog and we have changed the web address to www.questionsonchristianity.net.  You will still be able to access this blog at www.achristiandialectic.com.

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Duplicity

Steve Tobak is a businessman who writes a blog on business topics but occasionally addresses cultural issues.  In a recent posting he decries one behavior he sees in our society.

. . .people talk a good game but their actions tell a different story. . .of all the cultural trends that threaten the integrity of our society, the most insidious , I think, is all the talk about doing good, aiding causes, and changing the world, while our actions show the selfish greed and narcissism that’s in our hearts. [1]

Unfortunately, we Christians are part of this trend.  Our doctrine of salvation says all we need to do is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins to be saved; all we need to do is say the right words.  Our doctrines say precious little about changing our soul so it becomes like God so we continue to exhibit “the selfish greed and narcissism that’s in our hearts”  We call ourselves Christians but are not Christ-like.

Will we continue to participate in this “culture of duplicity” that Tobak describes or will we follow the example of Jesus who did more than believe in God but who did God’s will?  Maybe a start is to rethink our doctrine of salvation.

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[1]   Steve Tobak, “A Culture of Duplicity”, http://stevetobak.com, November 2, 2016.

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Injustice

World Magazine recently ran an article about the problems the native Alaskans face.  Part of their problems stem from the history of injustice they suffered through the hands of the non-natives that came to Alaska.  The injustices they endured included “an educational system that separated native families and banned native languages”, sexual abuse, and the constant denigrating of their culture in favor of the culture of the foreigners. [1]

Some Christian missionaries participated in dishing out this injustice.  The question we must ask is:  Why?  In our blog of September 20, 2011 we discussed the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in1994 when Christians killed thousands of other Christians simply because they were of another tribe. [2]  And then we have the on-going story of the Roman Catholic priest’s sexual abuse of children.  Why do Christians act so unlike Christ?

Yes, we all are not perfect and we do make mistakes but mistakes of this magnitude?  Maybe part of the problem is that we subscribe to a religion that only requires that we profess faith in Christ.  As long as we say the right words, as long as we have the right beliefs we will go to heaven.  Our doctrine of salvation says nothing about how we are to live our lives.

If Christianity taught that salvation is the change of our soul so we become more like God do you not think our behavior would change?  Do you think we could participate in the injustices described above if we believed the core of Christianity is that we should love others as God loves us?

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[1]   Sophia Lee, “Way up north”, World Magazine, October 1, 2016, pp. 48-53.

[2]   Emmanuel Katongole, Mirror to the Church, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2009.

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Evangelism

My dad recently sent me the following article from A Treasury of Bible Illustrations.

A secretary on the job is engulfed in problems. Her husband left her; a son is in rebellion; she can barely make ends meet. She cries out for help.  We don’t hear.

A fellow employee is overwhelmed by the complexity of overcoming his chronic drinking problem.  He longs for a friend. We’re deaf to his cries.  The owner of the gas station where we’ve traded for years has just lost his wife. His eyes echo his loneliness. We don’t see.  A wife would love to share with us the trauma and trivia of her day just to have a listening ear. Our ears are closed.

And as the “perfect” ending to such a self-centered day, we hurry to the church building and get our weekly door-knocking assignment as we hasten to engage a cold prospect in an ambiguous process which we have labeled evangelism.  Does that approach make sense? It seems to me it is time we acknowledged the fact that a good translation of the Great Commission has it reading: “As you are going into all the world. . . .” You see, we are in such a hurry to “go!” that we miss the very ones whom God brings into our path as we are going.”

 May God awaken us to the realization that true evangelism is loving the world the way God loves it; allowing our hearts to be broken by the things that break God’s heart; acknowledging that there is no dichotomy between “evangelism” and “benevolence” that true evangelism begins with Matthew 10:42: “And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

We Christians are “self-centered” because of our beliefs.  Since we believe salvation is only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins, our emphasis will be to get others to believe; it will not be to imitate the compassion God shows to each and every one of us.  If, however, we believe salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes more like God, then we will be just as concerned that we help people in need as we are about their belief system.

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