Basic Training, Evangelism

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: The Great Commission

Originally published June 15, 2018

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

Have you ever heard the phrase “The Great Commission“? Do you know what it means? If not, you’re not alone…


photo courtesy of barna.com

The Barna Group recently conducted a study asking churchgoers if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission.” In their report, 51% of Churchgoers Don’t Know of the Great Commission the results of the study were summarized thusly:

“…half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, ‘the Great Commission’ does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term ‘the Great Commission’ before.”

Now, if you know anything about statistics, you know how important it is to structure your questions carefully and get a representative sampling of the population you’re surveying in order to get the most accurate results. What does “churchgoer” mean? Is it possible people have never heard the term “The Great Commission” simply because churches don’t use this particular phrase any more? It’s important to take things like this into consideration because it affects the results of the survey. (You can find out more about Barna’s structuring process for this study at the end of the article linked above.) But even if the numbers of the Barna survey aren’t exact, I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of people out there in churchland who aren’t familiar with The Great Commission.

Just for fun, let’s see what the results would be if we surveyed readers of my blog:

The Great Commission refers to some of Jesus’ final words to the disciples before His ascension and is cited from Matthew 28:18-20:

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.’

With these words Jesus commissioned the eleven remaining disciples to go out into the world and carry on His mission. Since every Christian is a disciple, or follower, of Christ, this is our commission from Him as well. Let’s examine what it says.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
Before commissioning his disciples, Jesus reminds them that everything He’s about to say is founded on and imbued with His authority. Jesus alone has the divine authority to establish the church and to dictate the way in which His church is to be set up and to grow.

We 21st century Christians would do well to keep forefront in our minds and hearts the authority of Christ over His church. There is no need for churches to “cast vision” or come up with mission statements. Christ is the head of the church and has already given us His vision for it. The Great Commission is His mission statement for the church.

Go therefore
“Therefore” in this little phrase refers back to what Christ has just said about His authority. In other words, because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, I am telling you to go.

“Go” is a very generic verb in English. We can “go” into the kitchen or we can “go” to the moon or we can “go” out and conquer the world. We can “go” anywhere from our own personal microcosm to the edges of the known universe. And that is the same sense the Greek word πορεύω captures: as you “go your way,” as you “go forth,” as you “walk”, as you “pursue the journey on which [you have] entered.” Wherever life takes us, whether it’s across the street or across the world, we go as ambassadors of Christ, carrying the good news of the gospel with us.

All nations
Revelation 7:9 tells us that God will save people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” So that’s who we share the gospel with as we go our way. Everybody. Regardless of where they’re from, what they look like, or how they talk. We are not to withhold the gospel from anyone, and we’re to make sure the church is proactively carrying the gospel to every populated geographical location on earth.

Make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
Notice the language Jesus uses here. He doesn’t say “make converts” or “make Christians”. He says “make disciples.”

Think about what the disciples did while Jesus was on earth. First, they answered His call to follow Him. Then, they began the journey of following Him wherever He went. He trained and equipped them day and night. They loved Him and worshiped Him. They imitated the things He did and said. They carried on His work after He ascended. Jesus is saying to the disciples, and to us, “Replicate yourselves. Make more like you.”

That means that the Great Commission starts with sharing the gospel with a lost person, but it doesn’t end there. There’s more to our mission than just evangelism. We are to train and equip Christians to follow Jesus daily, to love and worship Him, to imitate Him in obedience, and to carry on His work.

Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
After salvation, baptism is the first step a new Christian takes on the road of discipleship. It is not optional. Baptism publicly identifies a person – to the church and to the world – as a Christian, and is a personal pledge to follow Christ obediently all the days of one’s life.

Being baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” carries several layers of meaning.

💧Again, pay careful attention to the language in this phrase. Jesus does not say “in the nameS” – plural. He says, “in the name” – singular. This is a boldly Trinitarian statement directly from two of its members: Jesus, who spoke these words to the disciples, and the Holy Spirit, who breathed them out through the pen of Matthew. This is God Himself telling us who He is. Jesus spoke these words to good Jewish boys who were born and bred on the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There was to be no confusion for new Believers back then, Believers today, or to the onlooking world, as to who these Christians are following. They are not following three different gods. They are following the one true God in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the whole ball of wax.

💧Names meant far more in biblical times than they do to us today. We see God changing people’s names – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, etc. – when He commissioned them for a new mission or phase of life. Being baptized “in the name of” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit echoes that tradition of God changing people’s names. You are no longer your own, you are Christ’s. You are no longer “Sinner”, you are “Saint”. You no longer go forth in your own name, but in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their emissary, endowed with the power and authority of God to live for Him and to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world.

💧Because Christians are, by definition, Trinitarians, and because baptizing a Believer is commissioning her to go forth into the world as a representative of Christ, it’s appropriate for pastors to take this verse literally when performing a baptism and verbalize its words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Basic Training: Baptism

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
What a sweet promise, both to the disciples and to us today. Obediently following Christ in our daily lives, sharing the gospel, and making disciples can be lonely, exhausting, and discouraging at times. But we don’t have to do it alone, and we don’t have to do it in the flesh. Christ is with us and He knows all too well how hard it can be. God has given the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower Believers to live for Him and to carry out The Great Commission.

Additional Resources

What is the Great Commission? at Got Questions

The Great Commission by John MacArthur

The Great Commission by Burk Parsons

Evangelism at Theology Gals

Church, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I tell if a church is doctrinally sound?

Originally published March 11, 2019

 

How do I know if a church is doctrinally sound? Do I base it off their statement of faith?

This is such a great question in a day when you can’t really trust that a building with the word “church” on the sign out front actually teaches and practices sound doctrine.

Because it would be impossible to cover every single aspect of doctrine that churches need to handle biblically, and because many of my readers are new to some of the deeper points of theology, what I want to do is give you some “signposts” to look for as you’re checking out a new church that will help indicate whether or not that particular church is likely to be one that handles those harder to understand points of theology in a doctrinally sound way.

First, check out these resources (and others) under my Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. These should be helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the biblical issues that a church should be handling correctly:

Looking for a Church Home? by Tim Challies

Church shopping? 35 Key Questions to Ask the Church at Berean Research

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church by Brian Croft

How Can I Find a Good Church? 

Finding a New Church: Starting from Scratch

Six Questions for a Potential Church

If you are a brand new Christian and you aren’t sure what the answers to the questions in these articles should be, ask the person who led you to Christ, a pastor you know to be biblically trustworthy, or a friend who’s a mature Christian to help. You can also use the search bar at the top of this page to see if I’ve addressed your question. And, make liberal use of Got Questions? It’s a wonderful website that gives simple, biblical answers to all kinds of questions about the Bible, church, theology and other issues.

A church’s stance on many of these theological issues can be found in their statement of faith, which most churches post on their websites (often under the heading “What We Believe,” “Doctrinal Distinctives,” or something similar). While you’re on the church website, here are some other things to look for that can give you a fuller picture of whether or not the church is likely to be doctrinally sound.

⛪ Be wary of a church with no statement of faith on their website at all, and be cautious if they have a very simplistic statement of faith with few or no Bible verses cited to support it. Generally speaking, in my experience, the longer and more detailed a statement of faith is, and the more Scripture references it has, the more likely it is to be a doctrinally sound church. (Here and here are some typical, good statements of faith, and this one is particularly detailed.)

⛪ A few things to look for in the statement of faith:

•The Trinity: You’re looking for language along the lines of, “We believe in one God in three persons.” If you see three “modes” or three “manifestations,” that’s the language of modalism, and it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches have a section of their statement of faith on spiritual gifts or the Holy Spirit and include wording indicating whether they are a continuationist (ex: “we believe all the spiritual gifts are in operation in the church today”) or cessationist (ex: “we believe supernatural gifts such as healing and tongues have ceased”) church. Generally speaking, a church is more likely to be doctrinally sound if it holds the cessationist view. (No, I am not saying every continuationist church is heretical. I’m strictly talking probabilities here.) If there is anything in the statement of faith that indicates that a Believer will or must speak in tongues in order to be saved or as a result of salvation, or that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs separately from salvation, it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches intentionally indicate that they are complementarian in the “Marriage and Family” or “Church Leadership” section of their statement of faith by stating that the husband leads the family and the wife submits to her husband, or by explaining that the roles of pastor and elder are limited to men. It’s usually a good sign when a church makes a point of saying these things.

⛪ If you find the pastor’s name listed here, it’s not a doctrinally sound church.

⛪ If a church subscribes to a creed/confession/catechism you know to be biblical (ex: 1689 London Baptist, Westminster, Heidelberg, etc.) there’s a better chance they’re a doctrinally sound church. 

⛪ Some churches have a page on their website where they recommend books, blogs, and other resources. If they’re recommending doctrinally sound materials by trustworthy authors and teachers (click here for a few), that can be a good sign.

If they have a women’s ministry page, check out who’s speaking at the next conference they’re going to and who is the author of the Bible study materials they use.

⛪ Check the staff page and make sure they don’t have women serving as pastors/elders. (Be aware that some churches are now using titles like “Coach,” “Director,” “Facilitator,” etc. to disguise the fact that women are serving in unbiblical positions of leadership. Regardless of the way the position title is worded, women are not to serve in pastoral or elder offices or in any position in which they will be teaching or exercising authority over men.)

⛪ Check the sermon archives for a couple of things: 1) to see if they invite women or false teachers as guest preachers, and 2) does the pastor preach mainly expositorily or topically?

Keep in mind, however, that there are lots of churches out there who look perfectly doctrinally sound “on paper” but are not practicing what their website preaches. Take a look at these statements of faith for example: Lakewood (Joel Osteen), North Point (Andy Stanley), and Bethel (New Apostolic Reformation). (You can find out more about these churches/pastors here.) On the surface, and especially to those newly saved or not very familiar with the Bible, these statements of faith look fairly decent (although…notice that no Scriptures* are listed, and they are short and/or somewhat vague), but the practices of these churches may be surprising in comparison. *(Update: Since I originally wrote this article about a year ago, Lakewood has actually beefed up their statement of faith with a few Scripture references.)

Because churches’ practices and teachings often differ – sometimes significantly – from what you see in their statement of faith, you’ll have to dig deeper in order to get a better feel for the church’s doctrine. If the website posts the audio or video of their worship services, listen to several sermons. Make an appointment to go in and talk to the pastor about what the church teaches and ask any questions you might have. And visit the church for a while before joining to see how things actually go. The most a church website can do is help you weed out the churches that are definitely bad. The website cannot tell you that a church is definitely good.

If you’re looking for a new church but you aren’t sure where to start, check the church search engines and churches recommended by my readers at the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Apologetics, Bible

Without Apology: 7 Reasons Not to Be Ashamed of the Hard Parts of the Gospel

Originally published November 4, 2016

7-not-ashamed

I am not ashamed of the gospel…

Romans 1:16 is such a great verse, isn’t it? And one of the things that’s great about it is that we can all agree on it. I mean, no self-respecting Christian would dream of saying she’s ashamed of the gospel, would she? It’s a rallying cry for evangelism and for standing against persecution. Of course we’re not ashamed.

In theory. But in practice?

You see, the gospel is the good news of salvation. And, while we don’t tend to share the entire Bible when we share the gospel with someone, the good news starts in Genesis with a holy God who created a perfect world, and moves on to the first people who messed everything up with their sin, a whole bunch of subsequent people who couldn’t be faithful to God and keep His Law, Christ and His redemption of sinners, and the Revelation of the hope of His return at the end of time. So, “the gospel” really stretches from the front cover of your Bible to the back cover.

Are there any parts of it you shy away from in evangelism, discipleship, or teaching?

What about the atheist you’re witnessing to who denigrates your God for committing genocide in the Old Testament?

Were you afraid to speak up the last time you were the only Creationist in a room full of evolutionists?

Have you ever seen some poor pastor or male teacher tiptoe his way through the minefield of a passage on marital submission or the biblical role of women in ministry lest the wrath of church ladies befall him?

Are you reluctant to be known as someone who believes and will unequivocally say that homosexuality and other deviant sexual behavior is a sin?

Hey, we’ve all been there and failed. These are tough passages for sinners to hear, after all! When they come up, we should certainly approach them wisely and lovingly with people, but we should take care never to wish these things (and others) weren’t in Scripture, feel embarrassed about them, apologize for them, or act as though we have to make excuses for God about them. We need to be just as willing, bold, kind, and comfortable saying, “The world did not evolve, God created it,” and “You must repent of homosexuality along with all your other sin,” as we are saying, “God is love.” Why?

1. The Bible is God’s word.

Scripture is the very words of the God of the universe. It’s not a storybook or a policy and procedure manual dreamed up by men. Scripture is God speaking to us. To be ashamed of any part of His word is to be ashamed of Him, what He has done, and who He is. We dare not.

2. The Bible glorifies God.

The mere existence of Scripture brings honor and glory to God. No other god has spoken personally, so magnificently, and in a living and active book, to his people. The Bible brings glory to God when His people believe and obey it. We exemplify His goodness and holiness to a watching world. And even when the Bible isn’t believed and obeyed, God is glorified by showing us in His word that His way is right and perfect and man’s way is not.

3. The Bible is perfect.

God didn’t leave anything out of the Bible or put anything extra in that shouldn’t be there. The Bible is perfect just the way it is. God doesn’t need us to help Him out by editing it. If He wanted it to say something different, it already would.

4. The Bible is right.

When God’s word says something is a sin, it is right. When God’s word tells us He, in His holiness, did something we think is unfair or distasteful, it is right. When God’s word requires us to do something, it is right. When someone balks at what the Bible says, it’s not the Bible that’s wrong. It’s that person’s sinful flesh that thinks it knows better than God what is good, appropriate, loving and fair. If a person comes up against the Bible, the Bible does not bend. That person bends. The knee. To God. If you are standing on the rightly divided word of God, you can be confident that you are in the right because the Bible is right. There’s no need for reticence.

5. The Bible is a blessing.

If you’ve ever studied the history of how you got the Bible sitting on your coffee table, you know just how amazing it is that you own one. Thousands of years, scores of writers, so many people who were martyred for penning it, protecting it, and translating it. How could we be ashamed of such a precious gift from God Himself?

6. The Bible is good for us.

God put those tough passages in the Bible because they’re good for you. And they’re good for the person who’s foaming at the mouth over the one you’re trying to explain to her, right now, too, she just doesn’t know it yet. God is a kind and loving Father who always does what is best for us. Those difficult passages would not be in the Bible if God didn’t want them there to benefit us in some way.

7. The Bible is useful.

 I can’t say it better than Scripture itself does:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God uses every verse of Scripture – even the hard ones – to save us, grow us, conform us to His will, equip us, and reveal Himself to us. Why would we deny those saving, growing words to people who desperately need to hear them by shying away from them just because they’re difficult to say or unpleasant to hear?

Steve Lawson once said, “The Bible is not hard to understand. It is just hard to swallow.” And he’s so right. It’s not difficult to understand the concept that wives should submit to their husbands or that the God who sovereignly gave people life has every right to take it away. What’s difficult for us is to humble ourselves and cede control to Someone else. We think we know best. We want to run things and make the rules. We don’t want to submit to God’s authority.

In the end, there really aren’t any tough passages. There are only passages that come up against tough hearts. Tough hearts that need to be broken by the gospel, that they might repent of their sin and be forgiven by a great and merciful God.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

ps-19-7-9

Mailbag

The Mailbag: I Have to Preach Because No Man Will Step Up

Originally published February 19, 2018

 

I’ve recently met a woman who is a “pastor” of a church. When asked why she is preaching to men, her response was this:

“Men will not teach. None will stand up. We started as a congregation of women and slowly some husbands came, as well as their sons. But none will take responsibility. So if I do not speak truth and stand up, who will?”

This was in another country I recently visited where men do not take authority, nor do they desire it. Women are primary in every area.

This is a difficult situation to be in, and I do sympathize. I’ve been in church and family situations in which men were not being the godly leaders they were supposed to be. It’s very frustrating. Even more so in the case of your friend, because Scripture prohibits women from stepping in and taking over when a man will not lead the church.

But in addition to the fact that the Bible is very clear that your friend is not to preach to men, she’s doing a terrible job as “pastor” on several other counts:

✢ She doesn’t believe God’s Word.

✢ She doesn’t trust God enough to obey His Word.

✢ She doesn’t fear God enough to obey His Word.

✢ She doesn’t believe in the necessity of prayer, or in God’s provision, enough to ask Him to provide a pastor.

✢ She’s not teaching her “congregation” to cry out to the Lord and trust Him to provide. Instead, she’s teaching them to take matters into their own hands when they need something, even if it means disobeying God’s Word. (Kind of like Sarah did.)

✢ She’s teaching her “congregation” that they it’s OK to disobey God if it’s difficult or inconvenient to obey Him.

✢ She’s teaching the women that they don’t have to submit to God’s design for biblical womanhood.

✢ She’s teaching the men to continue to be lazy and shirk their God-given duty to lead. Why should they when a woman is all too willing to step in and do the work for them?

She asks, “If I do not speak truth and stand up, who will?”. My answer to that question is, “That’s God’s business to take care of, not yours.” Her business is to obey Him and trust Him to work out everything else. And besides, she’s not “standing up and speaking truth”, she’s standing up and speaking or demonstrating all the untruths I enumerated above.

My counsel to this woman would be to immediately step down as “pastor,” stop preaching to and instructing the men, and publicly repent to God and to everyone in the church for her sins of disobeying God’s Word and setting a bad example for the church. She should inform them that she will no longer be preaching but that she will be praying for God to raise up a pastor, either from among the men of the church or from outside the church.

The men and women can, and should, meet to pray and sing together every Sunday. One of the other women (the former “pastor” needs to sit out of leadership for a while) can certainly teach a women’s Bible study class. But if the men want a Bible teacher or pastor, one of them is going to have to step up and do it. And the women need to be sure they’re holding their ground and refusing to step into that role. What a godly testimony of obedience they will be to the men! Hopefully, it will shame the men over their own disobedience.

God doesn’t give anyone permission to disobey Him just because it’s hard or inconvenient. It was the hardest thing in the world for Jesus to go to the cross, but He did it anyway because He was obedient to His Father. He was willing to die rather than disobey. That is the example she needs to follow.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrews 12:4

In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:6

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:5

When we face tests of our faith, it is not time to take the easy way out and sin, it is God stretching us and giving us an opportunity to trust and obey Him so He can use that situation as a vehicle for growing us to greater maturity and Christlikeness.

This lady, and the rest of the church, has the opportunity here to cry out fervently to God to provide them with a pastor and then trust Him to act on their behalf.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:7-11

Which would bring more glory to God and be more of a testimony to His greatness: for this lady to have taken matters into her own hands and sinned, or for her and the rest of the women to obey God, for everyone to pray and trust God for a pastor, and then to have the awesome experience of God answering that prayer?

There’s nothing amazing, especially in that culture, about men being lazy and women stepping in and picking up the slack. Why have a Christian church that is supposed to be following the all powerful God of the universe be just one more example of that? Instead, they could have an incredible testimony of God providing a pastor and changing the hearts of the men of the church to take responsibility and lead. What kind of an impact would that have on the surrounding culture? How many doors might that open for that church to share the gospel?


Additional Resources

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways to Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture

Basic Training: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

1&2 Peter Bible Study

Living Stones: A Study of 1 & 2 Peter ~ Lesson 13- Wrap Up

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Wrap Up

As we wrap up our study today, think about the things God has taught you through His Word and how you might apply them to your life.

Questions to Consider

1. Was there anything new God taught you in this study that particularly impacted you? What was it, and why was it so significant?

2. How is your walk with the Lord different after this study than it was before?

3. How has this study helped you to prepare for living as a Christian under persecution? Are there any practical steps you are taking as a result?

4. What have you learned about false teachers from this study? How will you apply this to your personal spiritual life or to your church life?

5. What have you learned from this study about the sufficiency of Scripture, suffering, the church, baptism, and submission to authority?

6. Have there been any passages or concepts in this study that God used to convict you of disobedience and lead you to repentance? How will you walk differently in this area from now on?

7. What have you learned about God and His nature and character from this study?


Homework

Spend some time in prayer this week asking God to show you how to put into practice one thing you learned from this study.

Recite all of your memory verses from this study. Which one is most meaningful to you right now?