Their monasteries went out into the culture, a very pagan culture, to live and preach the Good News. The monks were clear in their belief that they were called to impact the culture and to transform lives through the finished work on the Cross. Their revival lasted (approximately 450AD to 800AD) and spread from Ireland into Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and England. It crossed the English Channel into France and the Low Countries, Germany, Spain and northern Italy, to the west as far as Greenland and into Newfoundland, Labrador and possibly New England. There is much that we can learn and utilize today, in this 21st Century culture.
One of the problems today is that we have compartmentalized our salvation message and our serving ministry. It is time that we move from either extreme to live as our Lord has instructed us, both as messengers of the Good News and as ones called to serve even as He did.
It is popular in evangelical circles to claim that we have no interest or responsibility for impacting the culture in which we live. It is an extreme interpretation of “being in the world, not of it.” And extreme is the attitude of the sect in which I was raised. We did not participate in the government or society in any way; we did not vote, we did not run for office – but we did not forget how to criticize.
Much of the criticism took the form of “it must be a sign of the times that there must be so much .…” We can all fill in the blank: divorce, promiscuity, public malfeasance, adultery, wars and rumors of wars, etc. It was usually stated with an air of somewhat smug superiority: “We evangelicals do not have to soil our hands with these things, the Lord is coming to take us out of this.” We did not approve of the social-liberal bent of the government; but since we were not of this world, we did not participate. Furthermore, God had selected those in authority over us and we were to be obedient to them. Vote in an election? That would be usurping God’s authority to select his temporal agents. The proof text for our spiritual lethargy was “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).
We need to understand that God has given His people two equally important commissions – the Great Commission and the Cultural Commission – which we disregard at our own peril. To disregard either one diminishes the effectiveness of our witness: we become very dim light and salt without savor.
What is the Great Commission?
The first and most widely acknowledged commission among evangelicals is known as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. There Christ directs his disciples to “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.” It is usual to take this, and the authority to do so as conveyed in v. 18, as a commandment to evangelize. This is correct, but not complete.
We need to take a quick look at the various instructions contained within this very important commission to make sure that we are all looking at it from a common perspective. It is indeed the foundation of our life as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are told to:
To get off our duffs, but more importantly, to get out of our comfort zone. A more accurate translation of the phrase would be that we are to make disciples “as we go.” This brings in the thought that our going involves our everyday routine. As we will see in a later section, there should not be any separation between our life as a Christian and any other aspect of our lives. “As we go,” our first and only priority is to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” 2 Cor. 5:20
To take those whom we find and show them how to become disciples of Jesus. To preach the simple but good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ crucified. What is a disciple? Dallas Willard tells us that a disciple is a trainee,2 which has an implication of an unfinished project.
Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
These new disciples are to make a public commitment to their new allegiance. And to
join the team.
Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
We are told to roll up our sleeves and lead the new trainees along. Not our own ideas
and thoughts, but what we have been instructed to teach.
What is a Disciple?
According to Dallas Willard, “A disciple, or an apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is… How does this apply to Jesus? … he lives in the Kingdom of God and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves.”3
This is what the Great Commission instructs us to do. To make disciples of all the nations is to teach them how to enter the Kingdom and how to implement the Kingdom for the good of others. To do as Jesus commanded us is to apply the Kingdom of God for the good of others. That good involves both their spiritual good and their physical good. It involves the restoration of God’s order to the extent that it is possible in this fallen creation.
How is a disciple brought to maturity?
Someone recently mentioned the analogy between marriage and becoming a mature disciple of Christ. It is a strong analogy and goes something like this. Betty and I have been married since April 18, 1958 at 7:30PM, CST. We were married that evening as soon as the minister said “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” We are no more married today than we were that evening 50+ years ago. But, our relationship has changed drastically and deeply. By comparison, even though we had dated for several years, what we knew and understood about each other was shallow and immature compared to today. We have been through a learning process involving many joys and disappointments, many successes and failures, sometimes at counter purposes and sometimes working together. We are approaching that “one flesh” that God desires.
Even so, as we begin our walk as a disciple of Christ Jesus, we must seek to nurture our relationship with him by learning to seek his guidance, learning to trust him, learning that he always seeks our good and our blessing. We need to learn how we fit into the Body of Christ, how those gifts and talents that he has given us are to be used for his glory and to fulfill his commissions to us. This is where the spiritual disciplines enter in – those practices of Bible study, prayer, meditation, etc.
Where the marriage analogy breaks down is that there have been many times that I have not lived up to Betty’s expectations of me. That is never the case with our Lord. “Now to Him who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine…” (Eph. 3:20)
We find that Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13 instructs that we are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” a clear instruction to build up the Body of Christ for life in the Kingdom --- NOW. As we will see, this is far more than teaching the saints to avoid lives free of the various lists of sins throughout the epistles.
In John 15:8, Jesus clearly told us that “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” In other words, we are to be productive in doing the works which he has prepared for us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Another scripture that has bearing and direction here is James 2:17: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” In other words, faith without results is dead, useless, nada.
It is easy to find examples of faith in action within our own congregations: the families who have adopted foster children come immediately to mind, couples who have seen a need to provide shelter and parenting to children without either and then who have been moved by the Lord to make these children a permanent part of the family. This indeed is faith WITH results. It is faith which is made evident by what is accomplished. Very importantly, this has not been cheap discipleship, but costly, in some cases, very costly discipleship. These families are examples of the application of the Great Commission at a level of personal conviction and applied to needy, hurting individuals.
To be continued
1 All Scriptures cited are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers., unless otherwise noted.
2 Dallas Willard. Renovation of the Heart. NavPress, 2002. p 14
3 Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy. San Francisco: Harper, 1998. p 282-3