TRA Wordtalks

The Great Commission
TRA: 22nd August, 1999

MISSIONS RESEARCHER PATRICK JOHNSTONE has published a new book under the title "THE CHURCH IS LARGER THAN YOU THINK", dealing with recent missionary developments. He writes: "From the birds-eye view of history, we can see an incredible pattern in God's missionary action over the last 200 years: in the 18th Century, the focus was on the North Atlantic, in the 19th Century the Pacific, in the 1960s, Africa, in the 1970s it was Latin America, East Asia in the 1980s and Eurasia in the 1990s. The 10/40 Window, particularly Central and Southern Asia and the Middle East are the final great challenges for Christianity."

Johnstone sees evangelical Christians as the main force behind the growth of Christianity. For evangelical Christianity has grown dramatically in the West even while liberal main-stream denominations have shrunk significantly. But the real growth of evangelical Christianity in recent years has been in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Protestant Christ-ianity is expanding faster than Islam at 2.9% per year, which is almost double the rate of population growth, currently at 1.7%. Protestantism is growing almost twice as fast as the world population, but this is almost entirely due to Evangelicals. Evangelical churches like Wesley Mission are growing strongly but churches that follow liberal theology in the Uniting Church are shrinking. Patrick Johnstone writes that "liberal theology is being preached in ever-shrinking churches in increasingly empty church buildings." Evangelical Christianity is expanding more than three times as fast as the world population, and is hence the only religious group in the world with significant growth through conversion.

The 1960s saw massive church growth following the end of colonial rule, as most African nations became independent. Never has there been such a change in a whole continent, with Christianity winning over 50% of the population within a century.

The 1970's saw Latin America, a Catholic continent for the past 500 years change to being an Evangelical continent. Evangelicals have grown from under 250,000 in 1900 to over 40 million in 1990, with over 60 million probably in the year 2000. Each Sunday, more Latin Americans attend an evangelical service than a Catholic one. There are more evangelicals in Brazil than in all of Europe.

The 1980's saw the growth of churches in East Asia. The growth of the church in South Korea is legendary. Seven of the world's ten largest churches are in Seoul alone, a city in which there was not even a single church 110 years ago. In China there was significant church growth after Mao's death. Today there are over 70 million Christians, three quarters being evangelical. As a result, there are now more Evangelicals in Asia than North America. Singapore's churches are now the most evangelistically active in the world, with one missionary sent out per 1,000 Christians. In the 1990's the collapse of the Iron Curtain brought a massive evangelical increase in former Communist countries, where the church had previously been marginalised and brutally persecuted. Why has the evangelical protestant church grown so rapidly round the world, at double the rate of aggressive Islam? Two reasons!


The Sunday after Ascension was originally the loneliest day in the history of the Christian Church. Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven having given His disciples a great Commission which was to send them, into all the known world to proclaim the Gospel. This is known as Ascension Day. Ten days later, the disciples were energised with the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that great day of Pentecost. In between is this Sunday when the disciples know Jesus gave them a great Commission to fulfil, but feeling powerless to fulfil His mission.

In the closing verses of Matthew, we read one version of the Great Commission which is recorded by each of the gospel writers, is repeated in the Acts of the Apostles, and reiterated by the Apostle Paul Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8; 26:13-18. This Great Commission is unique among the words of Jesus. Each version records something of individual significance, yet each has a unity of purpose. Matt 28:16-20 "Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus commanded His disciples and those who believe in Him to evangelise the world and make the gospel known to every creature.

When Jesus gave His disciples the commission to evangelise the world, He was not turning the church into a missionary agency. The Church was always the agent of God's mission by its composition, source, and design. The Apostles were involved in God's mission not because Jesus told them, but because they were involved in His life as His body. Because of His mission, they were involved in God's mission. John 15:26; 16:8-15 Jesus was sent, and He sent them. Hence the two imperatives: "make disciples" and "preach the Gospel". We proclaim the gospel so people will turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour. They then must become committed followers. Not decisions, but disciples are the objective, supplemented with the imperatives "going", "baptising", and "teaching".

Hence the Church as God's agent in mission has the primary task of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. However, in the Church today there is a crisis in understanding that mission. There is a decline in membership in mainline Churches. Church leaders are searching for cause and cure. Many cry for renewal, reformation, restoration, or revival. Others grab at every social and politically correct perversion of the Gospel in the vain hope that modern agnosticism will revitalise the church. The answer lies in recovering the mission of the church. The root idea of mission lies in the concept of sending and contains four elements: the sender expressing concern; the message which is sent expressing that concern; the messenger who brings the message of concern; the recipients who receive the message of the sender's concern. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament these four phases of mission are emphasised.

God is always the sender. The message of man's fulfilment and wholeness in relationship with God is always the same. However, in the Old Testament the messengers of God were the chosen people and prophets of God, whereas in the New Testament the supreme messenger is Jesus. The recipients in the Old Testament are the people of Israel, whereas in the New Testament the emphasis is upon the whole world as the recipients of God's message.

In the Old Testament the commission to proclaim to the nations was seen in a centripetal sense. Israel was to so live that other nations would be attracted to Jerusalem and her God. In the New Testament the commission is to proclaim to all the nations in a centrifugal sense starting in Jerusalem. The Church, as the chosen people, bearing the message of God, was to go into all the world. The function of the mission of God was transferred to the Church, as the new Israel. 1 Pet 2:9 The Church, as the new Israel, was to bear the message of God brought through His Son to the uttermost parts of the earth. This task was the evangelisation of the world.

The early disciples had this enormous task, yet they were ordinary, uneducated men. The probabil-ity of success in their mission was slight. Yet it was this overwhelming sense that they were fulfilling the mission of God through the command of Jesus, that propelled them into every known part of the world. The early Christians believed they were to carry their message to the uttermost parts of the earth; that this task would be theirs until Jesus would come again, and that this mission would be energised by the Holy Spirit who would empower them to continue until the end.


Today Christians live in the most urgent era of the history of the Church. Only a full recovery of the dynamic of mission can enable us to fulfil our purpose as the people of God. We have the capacity and the technology, but we lack the dynamic! The dynamic that motivated the Apostles and centred their preaching on Jesus as Christ, lay in the equipping of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in a new way, the Spirit of God equipped and empowered the disciples to fulfil their mission to the world.

The Holy Spirit did not merely come on that first Pentecost. He came to abide, and to continue the fulfilment of the mission of God. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit the mission of God has a new energy. The "come" of the Old Testament, is replaced by the "go" of the New Testament.

Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is the guide in the formation of Churches, the dynamic behind the ongoing spread of the gospel, and the inspiration of Christian mission. The Holy Spirit is God's enabling power available to His people today. The emphasis in the New Testament is on evangelism by direct proclamation of the message of God. 140 times the New Testament uses "to announce", "to tell", "to spread good news", "to talk", "to herald" and "to proclaim".

That is why Wesley Mission Sydney does not concentrate only on its huge ministry of service, but promotes through television and radio the spoken word of the Gospel. Every year people are counselled to receive Christ as Saviour, are baptised and discipled as Christians.

There is no other Church than the Church sent into the world, and there is no other mission, than that of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to separate the Church from mission. The Church is only the Church when it is the Church in mission. The Church is God's agent on earth through which God expresses Himself to the world. Eph 1 22 God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

The Church is at the very centre of God's cosmic purpose and is the means through which God fulfils His mission to men. The Church is the earthly agent of God's cosmic reconciliation. That mission is the primary task of the Church. If the proclamation of the gospel in the fulfilment of the mission of God, is the primary task of the Church, it ought not to be only proclamation by word. It must also be proclamation by deed. Christ gave us an example not only of preaching, but of service; not only of worship, but of witness; not only of individuals, but of society. The witness is both evangelical and social, private and public, individual and corporate.

Christians ought to be deeply involved in the social ills, and struggles of society, and be energetically striving to bring reconciliation, peace and welfare to all of mankind, but at the same time to be proclaiming the Gospel in all of its wholeness. The Church finds its foundation in the biblical charter of mission, its faith in the centrality of Christ, its power in the Holy Spirit, and its commission through the presence of Jesus. Decide now to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour and by His Spirit find power to be part of His Mission everywhere!

Gordon Moyes 1999

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