After 2,000 years of the Christian church in the world, it's amazing to realize we still ignore some of Jesus' clearest teachings. When Jesus left the disciples and ascended to heaven, he established a new ordinance—something that goes beyond the basics.
It is very important to remember that those who keep the commandments do only the basics—what every living soul is obliged to do. There is no merit in not stealing or killing. That's just what everyone should do at the very least. Jesus said unless our righteousness “does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20, NCB), we will never see the dawn. Jesus left a new command that goes beyond that.
In Matthew 28, after saying He has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (verse 18, ESV), He adds His ordinance. Using the verb in the imperative, he begins by sending the disciples: “GO”! As a Christian, you must know this order.
“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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Did you notice the order in which Jesus establishes these actions? Follow the sequence with me:
- Make disciples of all nations
- Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
It is common to see Christians 1) going, 4) teaching doctrine, 3) baptizing, and only then 2) making disciples. I will explain why, but first, let's go back to the original order.
I am always amazed at how much I have learned from studying the first church, the movement Christ left on earth as soon as He ascended to heaven. If we look closely, we have a lot to learn from this special corner of history.
Preachers All over the World
The church was born to go; literally, Christ's disciples had to travel to other cities and regions. The objective was all too clear: to spread the gospel to "all nations." And we can't do that where we are. Christ sends us where the message is needed: to the hearts of those who do not know it.
Imagine arriving in a new city where you know only a few people or none at all. What do you do first: a) establish a preaching point and start indoctrinating people or b) seek to make yourself known to the people in that community, blending in (see Matthew 5:14) and seeking to make new friends, making yourself trustworthy?
To make a disciple is to lead by example. That's how Jesus made His. He "earned their confidence," as mentioned in Ellen White's The Ministry of Healing (p. 49), and then told them "Follow me." A disciple does not follow a master because he has titles or knowledge, but because he is someone worth following; someone he can trust; someone he wants to imitate because he follows his life.
The disciple was sent (go) to regions where he could demonstrate the truth by living what Christ taught him (discipleship), gaining the trust of the people. Then, he could tell them about Jesus.
When the new disciple learned about the Master of masters, he was then invited to enter into a covenant with Him—a public vow of belonging to Christ: baptism. After that, he would then learn all about Jesus so he could imitate him and also make new disciples, restarting the process and spreading Jesus to all nations.
Change of Scenery
Why has this order of doing things changed? When Christianity began, it was a minority of believers working with a secular majority. After the fourth century, with the end of persecution and the establishment of the church, the official religion of Rome dominated the world at the time. We became a Christian majority in a secular minority. In this context, without persecution, travel was reduced. It was no longer necessary to flee, and where Rome was (most of the world), the Christian presence was assumed. The church stopped going to the fields and started calling people to its buildings.
Preaching became an act of conviction and no longer discipleship. And because there were benefits to being a Christian in a majority and government context, people were required to study first before being baptized to ensure they knew the “rules” and would be a “fit.” The study became a filter and a confirmation instrument for religious adherence.
Thus, the new converts did not see themselves as disciples, but “members” of an institution that represented Christ. As this institution had resources, human instruments dedicated to it, and structure, discipleship died and disappeared from the church.
Today, we live in a world that again returns to a secular majority with a Christian minority (and here, I am not talking about religions, but about true followers of Jesus); a world that questions churches and their buildings (institutions); a world that is tired of hypocrisy (when words diverge from our actions, like talking about love and being hateful).
In this context, notice how the original order of Jesus makes complete sense again. We need to go where people are and, because they will not come to our buildings, earn their trust as true followers of Christ, with love and honesty (see Matthew 5:16). Then, we will introduce Jesus to them so they follow the Master, who gave His life for all of us. Then, we will baptize them and teach them what He taught us regarding how to live our lives according to His will.
It's time to turn to the Master's direction. There is no more space for our human experiences; there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Let's follow what the Master asked us to do. The kingdom is simple and efficient.