Last week I argued that a biblical understanding of both worship and evangelism will understand evangelism to be subservient to worship; the gospel creates worshipers. This is essentially God’s mission, and it should significantly influence our understanding and practice of worship and evangelism in the church. Today, we explore another significant point regarding the relationship between God’s mission (missio Dei) and the church’s mission.
Even if God’s mission of redemption is a high ultimate end (to use Edwards category) for him, God’s mission and the mission of the church are not the same.
Missional advocates, often citing John 20:21, insist an equality between the two. But while God seeks to redeem, the church’s mission is never explained in Scripture in terms of redemption—especially in terms of redeeming culture;1 rather, the church’s mission is to make disciples. Dave Doran suggests that “we should . . . [question] the somewhat arbitrary choice to make John 17:18 and 20:21 the definitive texts regarding mission.”2 He continues,
In light of the unmistakable emphasis in all of the other commission texts on proclamation,3 it seems very strained to redefine mission on the basis of these two somewhat obscure texts. By obscure, I mean that they do not specify the nature of our commission, that is, they do not at all tell us what we are to do. In terms of biblical interpretation, the proper way to approach the issue of mission would be to correlate all of the commission texts by moving from the clearest texts to the more obscure.4
Instead, Doran suggests that the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20 reveals the Lord’s “desire for the church during the [church age].”5 DeYoung and Gilbert agree, including also Mark 13:10, Mark 14:9, Luke 24:44–49, and Acts 1:8 as texts that are part of the Great Commission.6 They argue that the church should limit its understanding of its mission to these key texts since not everything God is doing in the world is necessarily also the task of the church. Rather, they insist that the church’s mission should rest “on Scripture’s explicit commands.”7
These texts known as the Great Commission provide such explicit commands for the church. Treating the Matthew 28 occurrence, Doran argues that there is a single command in the text, modified by other participial phrases, and that single command is “make disciples of all nations.”8 Thus “go” is not strictly a command but rather the circumstances in which the primary command of making disciples finds its place.9 Likewise “baptizing” and “teaching” describe “characteristics of disciple making.”10 Doran argues that since making disciples is the primary command of the Great Commission, this task involves not only the proclamation of the gospel but also teaching and nurturing new converts; it “means to make someone into a learner or follower of Jesus Christ.The commission given to us by Jesus involves the transformation of rebels into followers. This means that, technically speaking, the Great Commission involves more than what is normally called evangelism,”11 by which Doran means leading someone to a decision for Christ only.12 Wilder agrees: “Thus, the Great Commission involves not only sharing the gospel . . . but another great responsibility: ‘make disciples.’”13 Sharing the gospel is certainly the first step toward making disciples, but it is not enough. Instead of understanding salvation to be a mere “intellectual acceptance of certain biblical facts,” Doran insists that
Saving faith sees the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Saving faith involves a heart response to the gospel where the affections are turned, by the Spirit, to him in love. . . . Saving faith also involves the will, that is, the believer embraces Jesus Christ as the only hope of eternal life and entrusts himself to him.14
In other words, true conversion is not simply assent to certain facts; it is a life-changing entrance into communion with God. It is “turn[ing] to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9–10).15 Conversion is drawing near to God through Christ by faith, the essence of Christian worship, and this results in change of behavior (“culture”). This has significant implications for contextualization in the realms of evangelism and worship, which we’ll explore in weeks to come.
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.