We don’t all measure the Great Commission the same way … and the differences aren’t trivial.
I’m a big fan of John Piper and have been helped tremendously by his teaching. However, he recently wrote a paper, How Much is Left to Do in Great Commission, which reflects a very narrow understanding of Christ’s task for the church. He basically proposes that the Great Commission will be completed once churches are planted in the remaining unreached people groups.
Granted, this is probably the dominant understanding of the Great Commission in evangelical circles. But it doesn’t comport with what Jesus actually told us to do. He said “make disciples of all nations” and “teach them to obey all I have commanded.” These are different than making converts and planting churches. I would submit that evangelism and church planting are essential parts of accomplishing this larger task, but not the whole.
Dr. Piper defines missions as “crossing a culture, learning a language, and planting the church through preaching the gospel among people groups that have no churches strong
enough to evangelize their group.“ In this context, an “unreached” people is one “fewer than 2% evangelical.” Once again, these concepts have wide agreement in the evangelical missionary community. Yet by this definition, many nations have been reached–they have churches and are over 2% evangelical–yet are rife with poverty, corruption, and injustice.
Probably two-thirds of Rwanda’s citizens were in church on any given Sunday in 1994, including the Sunday in April before the genocide erupted in which over a half million people perished. Is Rwanda before the genocide a model of the Great Commission accomplished? Another example is Guatemala, one of the poorest, most corrupt … and most evangelized nations in the Western Hemisphere.
We cannot fulfill the Great Commission without making disciples, training believers to be like Christ. And because Christ is Lord over all creation, the task also includes bringing God’s truth into every sphere of society and every arena of public life. These goals are somehow missing in the prevailing definition of the Great Commission. The line needs to be pushed out much farther. I would set as the end goal of the Great Commission the visions given in prophesies like Habakkuk 2:14, For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Here’s another picture of the fulfilled Great Commission:
Psalm 67. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
The narrow view of the Great Commission has another weakness: it limits the task to a tiny minority of the church, i.e. those who are called to cross-cultural, pioneer church planting. Are we to assume that Christ gave the Great Commission only to these people, as important as their task is? What about the rest of the church? In the broader view of the Great Commission, we all play a part. We are all called to the mission Christ gave.
- Scott Allen