(This content is originally from an online post for my Intro To Missions class, the question, quoted below, asks how I can help those in my ministry understand the Great Commission so I figured I might as well post my answer on my blog as well)
“In light of what you learned in the biblical section, how could you help those in your ministry better understand the Great Commission?”
The biblical section of this Intro to Missions class has been insane! I’ve been encouraged by new elements of biblically rooted missions and I’ve been reminded of great truths about God and His love from all peoples. I’ve had some of my beliefs challenged and other firmed up. From what I’ve learned in the biblical section of the Intro to Missions class, I believe I can help those in my ministry understand the Great Commission by explaining it in three perspectives: The Normative Perspective, The Situational Perspective, and the Existential Perspective. Through these three perspectives, we can learn how God’s Word give us the warrant, provides the method and changes our hearts for The Great Commission.
The Normative Perspective
God’s word sets the norms of human thought. We are made in God’s image and have always depended on both His general revelation through creation and in his specific revelation through prophets, Kings, burning bushes, angels, His Son and His apostles. So it’s awesome to be reminded that God’s word also sets the standards for the Missio Dei.
John R. W. Stott really hits the nail on the head in chapter 4 of the Perspectives book when he says, “Without the Bible world evangelization is impossible. For without the Bible we have no gospel to take to the nations, no warrant to take it to them, no idea of how to set about the task, and no hope of any success. It is the Bible that gives us the mandate, the message, the model and the power we need for world evangelization.” (pg. 26)
Stott is bold enough to say that “without the Bible, world evangelism is impossible”! I believe that to be true. After all, the Bible is where we get the very concept of the Great Commission, as well as the gospel. The Mission of God is diffused all throughout the entire Bible, from the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 to the great multitude from all tribes and peoples standing before the Lamb in Revelation 7:9.
The Bible gives us the standards, norms, warrant, justification etc. for engaging in the Great Commission. Through the Bible, God commands us to carry out the Great Commission. Through the Bible, God provides an example for us to follow as we carry out the Great Commission. And Through the Bible, The Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts, changes our desires, and encourages us to join in the mission to find God’s lost sheep, our own brothers and sisters.
The Situational Perspective
God reveals, through His Word, the command to share His good news with the nations but He doesn’t just stop there. He gives us specifics on what the good news is, where we’re supposed to share it, and who we’re supposed to share it with. The situational perspective helps us see the “where” and “who” of the Great Commission, the various situations in which the gospel is to be presented. This perspective can be described as “the Gospel in the Air” to use Matt Chandler’s term, or the “big picture” gospel. Through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, God shares His gospel, the good news that we can have eternal life by turning from our sin and clinging to Jesus who died for our sins, rose to life again, ascended to Heaven and will return to judge the living and the dead.
In each of the Gospels we get a different look at the Great Commission. Before this class I probably would have only pointed to Matthew 28:16-20 as a proof text but Dr. Timothy Tennent helped me see the Great Commission in all four Gospels and understand their respective perspectives.
Matthew’s emphasis in Matt. 28 is on making disciples, contrary to the popular opinion that he is telling us to “go therefore”. Matthew is really saying “as you go” make disciples/plant churches of “panta ta ethne”, all the peoples of the nations. Mark’s emphasis in Mark 16:15-16 is on preaching/proclaiming the good news to the world as different geographic locations. Luke emphasizes bearing witness to ethnic people groups in chapter 24:44-49 of his gospel account. In Luke’s second book, the book of Acts, he shows how the good news passes from Jews to the Samaritans (half Jews) to the Gentiles as the Apostles bear witness around the world. And in John 20:21, The Disciple whom Jesus loved emphasizes how those who share the good news are to be sent into the world, a theme that Paul picks up and uses in chapter 10 of his letter to the Romans. Steve Sellers, the Cru National Campus Director, sums up the Situational Perspective well when he said “the gospel comes to us on it’s way to someone else”.
The Existential Perspective
If the Normative Perspective focuses on the biblical warrant for the Great Commission and the Situational Perspective focuses on the “big picture” of the gospel in the air, the Existential Perspective focuses on “the gospel on the ground”, the heart behind the Mission of God, the motivation of the evangelist to glorify God, and the personal side of the gospel reaching out to find God’s lost sheep. And of course, as with the other two perspectives, it’s the Bible that informs, conforms, and transforms our understanding.
In Matthew 9:36 we see that Jesus, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This is a theme that can be found throughout the Scriptures. God continues to show us that He loves people. He continues to show His mercy and compassion to those who don’t deserve either. He made us in His own image to be His arbiters here on the earth, to love and enjoy Him and carry out His will. Adam and Eve sinned and plunged us all into sin. Yet it’s not just because of our inherited original sin that we will die, we have acted out of our sinful natures and we’ve loved our own sins everyday.
Instead of scrapping mankind and starting over, God promises to crush the serpents head and save mankind in Genesis 3. God invites us to taste and see that He is good. He invites us to become His children and experience eternal life knowing Him, glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. In chapter 2 of the Perspectives book, Walter C. Kaiser, reminds us that God rules and guides all nations, He has been good to us personally, and He continues to be good to us by choosing to use us as instruments to show His goodness to the rest of the world.
God shows His loves for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! In the gospel, God shows us that He is a just God, He must punish sin, but He is a merciful God, He shows compassion for lost sheep. The good news is extremely personal, God loves ME! But the gospel isn’t just about me. God has been working His mission from day one and you and I get to play a role in this grand tale of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.
God revealed His will for us to join His mission, He told us what we’re to do and He’s given us a framework for how to go do it, and God loves to use His flock to reach the rest of His lost sheep.