Sunday, June 01, 2014

Revisiting Scripture 2

I find it constantly amazing (and a little amusing), that so much of what I thought I knew by way of interpreting scripture has been wrong! (Ouch!)
Often, my understanding of a particular passage has proven to be the exact opposite of that which culture or tradition has led me to believe!
Perhaps not so surprising I suppose; when you consider that we are talking about ‘an upside down kingdom’!

Let me give you an example from Matthew’s gospel:

In Matthew 28:19-20, we read:
19 Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.

Firstly, let’s unpack the verse in the original language:

Verse 19:

‘Make disciples of’,,, (μαθητεύσατε - matheteuo) alternatively to teach, implied: to enrol as scholars in order to instruct.

‘All the nations’ … (panta ta ethnē). Not just the Jews scattered among the Gentiles, but the Gentiles themselves in every land. And not by making Jews of them, though this point is not made plain here.

[Perhaps a parallel here, consider … not just make ‘converts to religion’ but rather converts to Christ and His mission.

‘In the name of’ … (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) More correctly - “into the name of.”

Baptizing them … into the name has a twofold meaning.

1. Unto, denoting object or purpose, as εἰς μετάνοιαν, unto repentance (Matthew 3:11); εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

2. Into, denoting union or communion with, as Romans 6:3, “baptized into Christ Jesus; into his death;” i.e., we are brought by baptism into fellowship with his death.

Verse 20:

Teaching them … (didaskontes autous)

‘… to ‘obey’ all things … (tereo) better: to hold fast, guard, observe.

Now, my previous understanding of this passage went something like this:

‘Go (mostly to church and bring someone with you – leave the ‘all the world’ to the missionaries) … get them saved (actually this was the pastor’s job - right) … (then) disciple them (sort of mentor them) … (then) teach them (take them through the 12 steps of discipleship 101) … (and this bit … definitely leave to the pastor) baptise them etc’.

All of this was taught as the church’s (Great) Commission and somehow the emphasis seemed always to be on ‘getting them saved’ and into Church.

Now some of you may see nothing wrong in this interpretation; but consider the following by contrast.

Go into ‘all’ the world (i.e. wherever you find yourself) … and make (friends first … who because of your Godly witness and authenticity of friendship want to become) disciples (i.e. give them something to follow - first) … teaching them (as your relationship grows they will inevitably learn from your example) … baptising them (trusting that they will be encountered by the Holy Spirit, who at the appointed time will convict and draw unto salvation etc).

This emphasis on making friends in the world i.e. where-ever you find yourself throughout your everyday life, is not difficult. No need to go to college for years to learn how to become a ‘missionary’ or an evangelist etc, or to raise large sums of money for the mission field or city-wide outreaches etc. Simply be led of the Spirit DAILY.

(Please note here, I’m not decrying the need for training etc. or making light of the great work done by many fulltime Missionaries. I simply make the point that ALL of us are called to be missionaries. We cannot therefore abandon this call to the relatively few who give up so much to follow this command).

Also note here; that when we make friends based on an authentic desire to relate to them and NOT to get them saved, we base our relationship on integrity. If however we have an ‘ulterior motive’ for befriending them (i.e. getting them saved) our integrity abandons us (oops). Even in the Kingdom the end DOES NOT justify the means!

Consider also, the ‘disciples’ of Jesus who followed him for 3 years while he walked the earth. At one point he told his disciples that he considered them friends! But when was it that they were saved? Before they became disciples … or much later?
Please Note: They followed him (learning to become ‘disciplined ones’) … they … became His friends … and afterwards … they were saved!

Why is it then that we consider we have to get them saved FIRST … and only then do they become disciples? I now consider that this erroneous thinking has led to a great many people simply giving intellectual assent to a salvation challenge, but NOT actually becoming saved!

Surely it is more appropriate (read authentic) for someone to increasingly desire to be changed (saved) because of an ongoing and transforming relationship both with an earthly friend and the supernatural One they are both following!

Imagine if we all did this! Imagine the amazing journey that we would experience as we invited the Holy Spirit into our everyday relationships and DARED to become radical in our obedience to his leading!

Certainly worth considering don’t you think?


Steve Sensenig said...

Thanks for this post. Great job deconstructing our modern mis-interpretations of some of these concepts! :)

I think you hit on a very important point with regard to salvation not being a point in time at the beginning of the discipleship process.

Lots of food for thought here.

steve :)

John Purcell said...


Thanks for that, the implications are far reaching in terms of the way we have always approached salvation. Hence it is all the more important for us to allow scripture to interpret itself, rather than our 'denominational filters'!