Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baptizing and Teaching—Disciplemaking Calls for Both

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 28:19-20)

This is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible with but one imperative—make disciples.  Yet in spite of this overt simplicity there seems to be the greatest difficulty in following the command.  Where does the difficulty lie?

The issue cannot be lack of authorization.  According to Jesus' own words above, all authority is his.  He then says go therefore (or possibly better translated therefore in your going) which acts as rhetorical device to say that the the authority vested in him is now being conferred on his followers.

The issue cannot be lack of clarity.  A sentence diagram shows the following:
Image from Issues, Etc. Journal, Fall 2011
Notice that there are two parts to the mandate:

        1) Baptizing in the name of the triune God
        2) Teaching all that Jesus has commanded

First, baptism is inextricably connected with salvation in relation to repentance and forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21), belief (Acts 8:12), reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; 10:44-48), and identification with Christ (Acts 10:48; 19:5; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 1:13; Gal 3:27).  Teaching without baptism, then, serves only to make informed heathens, not Christians.  Without the baptismal waters, there can be no objective connection with Jesus our Lord.  Am I saying that someone who believes without baptism cannot be saved?  No.  I am making the case that those who state they believe and have an opportunity to be baptized in some manner but do not take it are likely not believers.

Second, there must be an active educational relationship to impart knowledge beginning with the rudiments of the gospel.  Maturity in Christ attained by the constant intake of God's word.  It works in us to make us competent and thoroughly equipped (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Baptism without teaching does no more than provide some identification with an ideal that is to be experienced with the intended aspiration of a lofty or laudable personal, subjective goal, thereby becoming self-fulfilled or self-condemned, depending on one's conscience.  Again, this person is not a Christian.  Am I saying this person is not a Christian if he understands and believes the gospel?  No.  I am saying that the gospel forms the very base of all that comes later.  If that person does not desire and/or strive to learn more, he is likely not a believer.

Up to this point, my complaint has been with the person on the receiving end, however there must be those who are actively baptizing and teaching.  For the person rightfully recognized to baptize to not do so is tantamount to unbelief.  Likewise, every person has opportunity to teach what God has so freely given in the revelation of himself and the fullness of redemption in Christ.  The incumbency on each Christian is to teach another of the manifold grace of God.  Am I saying the person not teaching another is not a Christian?  No.  I am saying that any baptized person who is able to communicate God's word and will not pass along its truth to another is at the very least lazy and probably not a believer.

With a clear command and pattern for action, why is it that so many American church groups minimize, if not abandon, what the early church held to be the only baptismal formula?  What was once embraced as required for full rights of fellowship and worship in the local assembly has been replaced with "Come and join the experience."  The Church Growth philosophy has been found to be too thin a model to form spiritual growth.  Some who promulgate this model have insisted it is the correct direction needing but a tweak here and there.  Others in the same camp have turned to the postmodern mantra of subjective individualism: in any gatherings of believers, do what helps you feel and live better.  Let's just get together to meet felt needs and show how to have better morals.  And each of the above meet weekly without addressing the underlying problem of sin and the work of a Savior for that sin.  Where will these man-made paths end?  "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity."  (Ec 1:2)

Some have already understood that the aforementioned paths have no true content and are searching for the pure milk and solid food in the sound teaching of scripture.  They are desiring to be disciples in the biblical sense.  How are they discovered?  Ask them.  I regularly do so in my own assembly concerning a person's spiritual intake.  Some do not realize their lack of growth and are satisfied with spiritual bonbons that do nothing but give false comfort.  Those that are concerned appreciate the inquiry and regularly reveal that they want another to help along the way.  Because there are not enough men and women taking on the mantle of teacher to these, they struggle in starts and fits before finding solid footing, often by leaving their church for another.
 With the need so great and the fields being white unto harvest, * let us plead for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers.  For those laborers working on their own tasks rather than being engaged in what the Lord instructed, "cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded," (Jas 4:8) and make disciples the way Jesus instructed.

*  Notice I use this in relation to disciple-making and not evangelism only.  The distinction is important.

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