Monday, January 10, 2011

Unfolding the Great Commission from Ascension to 28

By Max Strange

Gathered gospel communities of Christians are essential to the grand unfolding of the Great Commission. For many decades and seasons, it has been common to view church mission as being a philanthropic enterprise. Clarification is greatly needed since many things have side-tracked and deterred us from the primary task. Where can we go to understand the primary task in mission? For some, the definer of mission is the inward whisper to simply launch out.  Unfortunately, many on mission get caught up in this individualistic enterprise prompted by the rising hairs on the back of the neck. Church wide, missions at home and abroad appear to have minimal lasting results. In the end, we find that true disciples were never made or well schooled and that the work to multiply believing gospel communities, from which mission evangelism and philanthropy could rightly pour from were never initiated. It is my aim to trace briefly this historical unfolding of the Great Commission all the way through Acts 28. I believe this will help Christians gather their bearings, find true north, and throw a ray of sunshine on Jesus’ intention for the churches participation in His Great Commission.

God’s plan all along was to give spiritual life to dead people and call into existence a multitude from across the world to worship, love, and adore Him. This was the gospel seed promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. He would become the father of many nations who would share in the same sola fide (justification by faith alone) that Abraham had and thus making Abraham the spiritual father of us all (who first led the way of faith) and we the sons of Abraham(Romans 4:16-25;11:11b; Gal. 3:7-9; Eph. 3:6). All those who share in the same kind of faith as Abraham are gathered into the Christian church.

God’s divine plan for the ages has always been to bring about the Christian church as His arm to reach the nations (Eph. 3:10). The New Testament described the church in various ways that endear the church to any believer in Jesus Christ. The church is building (Eph. 2:19-21), it is Jesus' spiritual body (Eph. 1:22-23), and the object of His love and dedication called His bride for which he died (Eph. 5:25-33). This is the “one new man spoken” in Ephesians 2. The gaze of Jesus is on this “one new man” whom He has brought near by His grace and mercy. He loves the household of God and all those who are fellow citizens of it. Jesus is vitally apart of the church as its cornerstone. He built it upon Himself and upon the Christological expounding of the Apostle’s teaching. In this last eschatological day, God is consumed with and in love with His people, consisting of both Jew and Gentile. Jesus builds it, structures it, joins it, grows it, indwells it, and raises it as a holy-temple-people by the Spirit. The Jewish people are also included if, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, they believe. There are not two distinct tracks in the New Testament-Israel and the church, Jew or Gentile. Jesus has created in Himself one new man in place of the two (Eph. 2:13-22). The church is God’s plan in these last days of grace (Eph. 3:10).

Now, the Great Commission is vitally tied to the local church. In Matthew 28:16-20, the risen Christ with all authority issues mission to his men and promises the power to carry out the global enterprise in Acts 1:8. He gives the promise and courage to carry it out by not leaving them or us to accomplish it alone. He promised that the mission will be Spirit-driven through regenerated hearts by the sons of Abraham.

As the book of Acts progresses we begin to see the pattern of the mission. Acts 1:8 reveals the pattern of an unstoppable force called the Gospel to the ends of the known world at that time (Rome). This force runs next door, next neighborhood, and next nation through the proclamation of the gospel. Believers are gathered, baptized, gathered into local churches, and instructed. This is the heart of Christian mission and the essence of Jesus’ charge in Matthew 28:16-20.

As Acts unfolds, we see a geographical ripple of the gospel and we also see another pattern indicated by Luke. Luke gives us several markers that indicate this: when the Word increased-disciples multiplied (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30). To say it plainly, Word proclamation produced Kingdom expansion. The Gospel created the church because it is an organizer, a gatherer, a magnet into the one Body. It is like a tornado that sucks everyone into its funnel and then shoots them out on mission. The Gospel fetches people into a spiritual house called “the one new man.” The Gospel creates and sustains Christians and it necessarily then creates a community of people called the church. This global church is not some man-made institution. It exists as a bi-product of Gospel pronouncement when the Spirit moves to bless the declarative Word (See Peter in Acts 2; Stephen in Acts 7; Paul in Acts 17; 22:1-29; Acts 24; 26).

Paul’s primary mission was to preach the gospel, and then gather the newly converted people for gospel instruction. The massive outreach that Paul endeavored upon shows signs of a solitary strategy which was, in the final analysis, always left to the Holy Spirit’s redirection and rerouting. Furthermore, Paul was not alone in this endeavor. There were the twelve Apostles, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Titus, Lucius, Manaen, and others all engaged in Word proclamation, kingdom expansion, and church formation. They all contributed to the founding of churches and the establishment of gospel communities. Those communities included the churches in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Antioch, Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Lystra, Iconium, Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Corinth, etc…and eventually to Rome.

This all unfolded in a relatively short time. The commission bomb was dropped in Acts 1:8. This exploded outward when the Holy Spirit gave the power and the presence to the Apostles and the disciples. Through the proclamation of the Word, the Kingdom of God expanded by the Spirit of Christ. It was the Apostles intention to preach the Word and to organize the new disciples into local gospel communities. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was the agent that multiplied disciples and pulls them together into a new heavenly citizenry called the church (The One New Man).

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