Summary: Christ our Master has commanded us to baptise disciples rather than baptising rebels to make them disciples.
“Jesus came and said to [the disciples], ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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.’’”
Our Great Commander issued a binding order that has never been rescinded—make disciples of all nations. If we are not personally making disciples, we are AWOL in the battle for life. Though discipleship is often discussed within the Christian community, it is not often practised. If discipleship were practised, each professing Christians would be a disciple-maker, and disciples would multiply!
A recent news item suggests, “Religion may become extinct in nine nations.” Our own nation of Canada is one of the nine nations studied. The news cited studies reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas and published earlier this year. It is doubtful that religion will become extinct now or in the future. There will be a most vigorous religion promoted and practised during the reign of the antichrist preceding and continuing throughout the Great Tribulation. Though religion will likely change dramatically during coming days, I remain quite confident that the Faith will continue until Christ returns.
In our world today, many people claim to be “spiritual”; but too often there is no evidence that they are “saved.” People call themselves “Christian”; but they remain largely unchurched. People use the church to mark transitions—one wag has said that modern Canadians are “hatched, matched and dispatched” in a church; but those same people do not support the labours of the churches. People expect the church to be available for them in times of distress; but they do not attend the services. The pastor is expected to be hail-fellow, well met, praying at every turtle race that comes to town.
One can observe throughout contemporary society a generalised spiritual malaise (otherwise recognised as “rot”) that is manifested in a failure of commitment. Increasingly, couples choose to test marriage through living together without making a commitment to one another. The result is an exaggerated divorce rate. Vows declared before the altar of God during marriage ceremonies apparently mean little since the divorce rate among professing Christian couples matches the divorce rate among non-Christians. Even patriotism, love of one’s country, has taken a beating. We have raised a generation of “world citizens” who don’t believe their culture has any redeeming value; they are unwilling to sacrifice to ensure a brighter future for their fellow citizens.
Christendom, also, has suffered from the same deficit of commitment. The call to commitment is seldom proclaimed from the pulpit. Rather, we hear the benefits of being a Christian. We do not hear the call that George Verwer once issued for believers to “Come! Live! Die!” Consequently, individuals willing to enjoy the benefits of salvation without commitment to Christ disproportionately occupy the pews of the churches. Evidence for this is seen in the refusal of professed Christians to identify as belonging to Christ; they will not receive baptism, but they insist on being counted as Christians.
MAKE DISCIPLES — As disciples of the Risen Lord, we are responsible to disciple others. This is a task for all Christians—not only for a few. “Too much and too little have often been made of this observation. Too much is made of it when the disciples’ ‘going’ is overly subordinated, so that Jesus’ charge is to proselytize merely where one is. Too little is made of it when all attention is centered on the command to ‘go,’ as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so that foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity. To ‘make disciples “of all nations” does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be.”
Discipleship begins with the Gospel, and continues with baptism and teaching. Without exception, each follower of the Lord Jesus has received the charge to disciple. The verb translated into English as “make disciples” commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The subordinate participles in VERSE 19 explain that making disciples involves “baptising” and “teaching” obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments. The first of these will be a once-for-all, decisive initiation into the Christian community; the second proves a perennially incomplete, life-long task. It is on the basis of this Great Commission that we baptise believers, though this is not the only basis for restricting baptism to those who openly confess faith in the Son of God.
The basis for discipling those who have faith in Christ is the authority that has been granted to our Risen Lord. Jesus began his instruction to His disciples with this affirmation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” [VERSE 18]. Immediately before Jesus spoke those delightful words inviting the weary and fatigued to find rest in Him, He gave thanks to the Father. Listen to His blessing. “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” Then He affirmed that the Father had entrusted all things to Him. “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father” [MATTHEW 11:25-27a]. This truth is iterated in JOHN 3:35 and JOHN 13:3. Whatever can be meant by the term “all things?”