Reclaiming the Churches Mandate of the Great Commission

Leonard Ravenhill, in his book, “Why Revival Tarries,” tells a story about a criminal named Charlie Peace. As Charlie walked to the gallows, the chaplain read from “The Consolations of Religion.” The text covers Bible verses about hell. Charlie was astonished that the chaplain was mindlessly reading the passages rather than trying to convert Charlie. After all, this would be Charlie’s last chance at salvation.

The chaplain described hell as a pit with no bottom and an eternal fire that does not consume. The chaplain had zero emotion reading this document. Charlie said the following to the chaplain:

‘‘’Sir,’’ addressing the preacher, ‘’if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast-to-coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!’’’

Ravenhill summarizes the source of the problem as the loss of the Holy Spirit in the church. That was 1959 when he wrote his first edition.[1] Acts 1:8 still applies: we have the power of the Holy Spirit, but we choose not to be witnesses.

I feel that the worship of false idols and the effects of idolatry bring Christians to a point of no margin in their lives. Swenson, in his book, “Margin: restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives,” defines “margin” as a reserve in case problems in life arise. These reserves are for unusual events. For example, margins take care of surprise expenses such as auto or home repairs. People have passed their margin and stay overloaded. The author points out that while progress has brought conveniences, Americans are stressed out.[2] Medical problems are the logical result of this unhappy country - even with the comforts and gadgets, we do have. No surprise that the instructions in Lk. 24:47-49, go ignored. Proclaiming the forgiveness of sins is one more thing to add to an overloaded life. While the answer is to simplify one’s life to focus on essential matters, it turns out the critical elements in life are our false idols!

How do we know that the Great Commission is not happening?

Barna Research tackled this question in 2018. The study on the Great Commission in America had scary findings. Fifty percent of churchgoers do not even know the Great Commission. Another six percent are not sure about the Commission. The bottom line is that seventeen percent understand the meaning of the Great Commission.[3] Millennials, who compose the largest unchurched group, have the worst numbers of people that understand the Commission (ten percent). [4] One wonders if the church teaches anything that is a priority of God!

Let's take a look at what “missions” means to pastors and churchgoers:

• Thirty percent think that our mission is “proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ wherever you go.”

• Thirty-four percent think our mission is “the holistic transformation of people’s lives by caring for their physical needs.”

• Twelve percent think the mission is “the calling to proclaim the gospel to a specific people group or region.”

• Fourteen percent this the meaning is “an attitude of the heart and mind to be about the business of God.”

• Seven percent think the meaning is “an all-encompassing work for social justice, advocacy, and relief work.”

• Three percent said, “none of the above.”[5]

I mentioned that the results are depressing. Thirty percent of pastors know the Great Commission. That's it. As the pastor goes, so goes the church.[6] Satan is cunning. He knows that if people don’t know what the Commission is, and their lives are overloaded; they won’t do what is necessary to carry out this task. Why would a person follow Jn. 20:21-23, to be a “sent” one, if they don’t know it’s a thing.

Barna Research also studied the “engagement of the Bible” in America. It is reasonable to assume that those that read the Bible are more likely to understand what the Great Commission means. Here are the numbers:

• Twenty-four percent believe the Bible is “the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for work.

• Thirty percent believe the Bible is “the inspired word of God and has no errors, although some verses are meant to be symbolic.”

• Fourteen percent believe the Bible is “the inspired word of God but has factual or historical errors.

• Nine percent believe the Bible is “not inspired but tells how the writers of the Bible understood the ways and principles of God.”

• Sixteen percent believe the Bible is “just another book of teaching written by men that contain stories and advice."

• Seven percent checked, “I don’t know.” [7]

These numbers are is heartbreaking. All but the second five categories leave the door open to redefining the Commission. Classifying the Commission as symbolic or an error is the inferior view of Scripture. The Great Commission would no longer be a mandate as a logical result. Matt. 28:18-20 is the mandate for the church, and the church no longer has this knowledge. As I said before, Satan is cunning.

Does the Great Commission apply to churches?

Not all pastors, but some believe that the lack of evangelism is a personal sin. The local church is not at fault that the gospel is not delivered. Add to this that most pastors don’t teach the Commission anyway. Here I thought that the pulpit was the source of teaching and encouragement for individuals to use their gifting for God’s purposes. [8] Pastors who preach about everything, but evangelism will not have evangelistic activity! A pastor's duty is teaching what is essential, not solely what the congregation wants to hear. Behavior modification sermons are useful but do not bring people into the Kingdom. As a result today, people do good works while those outside the church have hell as their destination. The church in 1959, continuing to today’s date, does not resemble the church in Acts [9] No man (or church) is higher than its prayer life. When a church ceases to pray about reaching the lost and substitutes programs and classes, the lost stay lost. [10]

A missional church would have a different view. Missional churches understand that the church is about bringing “every sphere of life under the rule and reign [of Jesus]… Participation in King Jesus’ mission takes the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), the Great commandment (Matt 22:37-39), and ‘cultural mandate’ (Gen. 1:28) seriously.” [11]

The Great Commission in Scripture.

The passage (Matt. 28:18-20) that is commonly known as the “Great Commission,” provides instruction about the disciples for the Church Age. Other passages such as Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47–49, John 20:21–23, and Acts 1:8 complement the Matthew passage. Together we can derive what Jesus instructs the disciples, and by extension, all disciples as the primary purpose of the church.[12] Nave adds Matt. 24:14, 26:13, Mark 14:9, Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:6.[13] The Bible makes it clear that Christianity is for active engagement with the world not regulated to church attendance on Sunday. Forming spiritual clubs in not the mandate that Jesus gives us. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the assignment of spiritual gifts, and the ability to communicate with God. Isn’t it an insult to the Lord to never use these blessings? The church is the tool that the Lord uses to achieve His ends. Stetzer states:

“As Jesus came saving, serving, and sending, his church moves forward in the world sharing, serving (or showing), and sending.”[14]

“In living as kingdom citizens, the church shares the good news of Jesus—that he is the rightful King of the world who has come to redeem and restore every aspect of our lives as well as our planet. As a result, the church serves or shows, the effects and implications of this good news. Thus, God’s kingdom is not just about evangelism, mercy, or justice; it is also about bringing all of life, every sphere of life, under his rule and reign. In other words, participation in King Jesus’ mission takes the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20), the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37–39), and the “cultural mandate” (Gen 1:28) seriously.” [15]

Breakdown of Matt. 28:18-20

The disciples arrive at the designated meeting place (Matt. 28:16, see also Mt 26:32, 28:7) Verse 17 indicates that some still doubted (This is the same Greek word Jesus uses to those that have doubts). Since Jesus died for our sins (past, present, and future) and rose from the dead – Jesus is now seated on the throne next to the Father (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9; Phil 2:9–11) [16]. Jesus has authority over everything. The original language uses the phrase as a prelude to the commissioning of the disciples. Without this authority, the commissioning has no meaning. God the Father gives this power.[17] His instructions to the disciples is a list of phrase to do as they go about there lives:

• “make disciples of all nations[18]” – teaching people to grow in Christ and be mature Christians requires the gospel as the first step.

• “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit[19]” – this phrase implies the presence of one god in three parts. Why baptize unless these folks have heard and accepted Jesus as their Savior.

• “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you[20]” – this is everything Jesus taught the three years he is with the disciples.

• “I am with you always, to the end of the age.[21]” -this activity repeats itself until the return of Christ. The indwelling of Jesus is the key to any success we might have while we wait for the Lord on earth.

Further Reading

The Great Commission: Does It Still Matter?.



. Ravenhill, Leonard. Why Revival Tarries (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

2. Swenson, R. (2014). Margin: restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

3. Barna Group (2018). Translating the Great Commission: What spreading the Gospel means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century. P. 15.

4. Barna Group (2018). Translating the Great Commission: What spreading the Gospel means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century. P. 16.

5. Barna Group (2018). Translating the Great Commission: What spreading the Gospel means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century. P. 34.

6. Pastors and Churches Are Important to the Future of America.

7. Barna Group (2018). The Bible in America: The Changing Landscape of Bible Perception and Engagement (2016). P. 22.

8. Wagner, C. P. (2012). Your Spiritual Gifts: Can Help Your Church Grow (pp. 24–25). Ventura, CA: Regal. (pp. 24–25). Ventura, CA: Regal.

9. Ravenhill, Leonard. Why Revival Tarries (p. 27). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

10. Ravenhill, Leonard. Why Revival Tarries (p. 25). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

11. Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches (p. 20) . B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

12. Luter, A. B., Jr. (1992). Great Commission, The. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 1090). New York: Doubleday.

13. Swanson, J., & Nave, O. (1994). New Nave’s Topical Bible. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

14. Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches (p. 20) . B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

15. IBID

16. Hagner, D. A. (1995). Matthew 14–28 (Vol. 33B, p. 886). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

17. Hagner, D. A. (1995). Matthew 14–28 (Vol. 33B, p. 886). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

18. Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mt 28:19). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

19. Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mt 28:19). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

20. Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mt 28:20). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

21. Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mt 28:20). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

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