So we must ask, what has Christ commanded us? We do not have enough room in this paper to get into all of Christ’s commands. Fortunately, he gave us a summary.
Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, and he replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:34-40).
This has come to be known as the Great Commandment. According to Jesus, the commandments to love God and your neighbor summarize all of the commands in Scripture. Therefore, when Jesus says that part of making disciples is teaching them to obey everything he commanded, we can summarize his commandments in the Great Commandment.
This point is critical because most people who argue against the Great Commission, making disciples, being the mission of the church contend that it makes evangelism (good news) a priority over service (good works).
They point to the examples of Jesus healing the sick, caring for the poor and modeling what it means to love others. But they miss the point that making disciples is not just about evangelism. It includes teaching people to obey the Great Commandment, which would include our obedience as well.
So making disciples includes good news (baptizing) and good work (obeying). Jesus sent the church in the Great Commission.
We are to make disciples. And how do we do that? Baptize them (which requires sharing the good news), and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded (which results in doing good works).
Going back to the earlier pendulum analogy with good news on one side and good works on the other, we can see why this is a bad paradigm of thinking. The goal is not a balance between good news and good works, where we limit good news in doing good works, or we limit good works by focusing on good news.
Even if the pendulum were perfectly in the middle, some would think it should be more toward one side or the other. I believe that the mission of the church and the pull of evangelism and service is more integrated than that. Good news and good works do not compete with one another.
Instead of seeing the mission of the church like a pendulum, perhaps it would be better to view the mission of the church more like a coin.
The entire coin represents making disciples, but it has two sides: baptizing and teaching. You cannot have one side without the other. They are both partners in creating the whole picture of making disciples.
Therefore, when people debate whether or not good news or good works should have a priority in the mission of the church, it is like two kids looking at different sides of the same quarter arguing that the coin is more “heads” or more “tails.” Their perspective is off.
The mission of the church is to make disciples, but disciple-making is two-sided. We make disciples by baptizing and teaching.
THE MISSION OF THE EARLY CHURCH
The example of the early church provides further support that the mission of the church is to make disciples. From the beginning, the church focused on baptizing and teaching.
In Acts 2, we can make three important observations:
First, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit first came upon the disciples and empowered them “to speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Hearing the commotion, people “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) gathered to see what was happening. This was a confirmation of Jesus sending the church to go “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
The first gathering of the early church went to all nations.
Second, Peter takes advantage of the situation to stand before the crowd and preach the gospel (Acts 2:14-36). Immediately after he shares the good news, he calls the people to “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Many believed, so the church baptized about three thousand people on its first day (Acts 2:41).
This was a direct fulfillment of the church’s mission to make disciples by “baptizing them” (Matt 28:19). But they didn’t stop at baptism.
Third, while most Bible translations place a heading in Acts 2 between verse 41 and verse 42 creating a division that was not in the original manuscript, these two sections are tied together. Immediately after three thousand people are baptized in verse 41, we see what the church did with thousands of new believers in verse 42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching” (2:42).
What did the apostles teach them? While the Bible doesn’t say specifically, it is safe to assume that the apostles taught them what Jesus taught in the Great Commission, to obey all that Jesus has commanded (Matt 28:20), because we see the fruit of their obedience in the following verses. They practiced fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, giving generously to those in need and worshipping God together (Acts 2:42-47).
In other words, their obedience to Christ’s teaching resulted in doing good works.
We also see many examples of the Great Commission playing out in Paul’s missionary work. In Corinth, Paul preaches the good news but receives some opposition. However, Acts 18:8 tells us that “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” So Paul preached the good news and baptized those who believed.