Idahoan Pastor Toby J. Sumpter recently tweeted what he deems is the newly edited version of the Great Commission for modern evangelicals:
“A moderate amount of power has been given to Me — mostly in Heaven and a little on earth, therefore try your best to make disciples, maybe a few from every nation? — baptize them and teach them only your favorite parts of the New Testament.”
The quote makes some chuckle, but to a large part of the evangelical world it is a sad, but true reality: Welcome to the great omission! In 2018 Barna Group , a Christian research organization, released the results of a study conducted on pastors, churchgoers, and U.S. adults which demonstrated that 51% of those surveyed did not know what the Great Commission was! If 51% of the surveyors had never even heard of the Great Commission (this included pastors mind you), I wonder out of those who have heard of the Great Commission, how many actually understand and are actively obeying this great command?
The survey and quote demonstrate a catastrophic failure of the Church to understand what she is for and why on Earth (literally) are we here. It’s like we have embarked upon a ship not knowing where we are going, why we are getting on a ship, or what the purpose of the trip is. I once heard Pastor Jeff Durbin say that “culture is the report card of the Church” and if that’s the case we are failing tremendously. The Church’s disobedience to know, comprehend, and obey the Great Commission is the direct result of the darkness and sin encroaching upon the bride of Christ. Think about it, God’s solution to save, redeem, and restore the world from its cursed state (Gen. 3:15), is the Great Commission implemented and obeyed. It is not plan A or B or C, it is THE plan and for too long we have engaged in the great omission. It’s time for the bride of Christ to repent of her disobedience and be awakened to the inheritance that already belongs to her (Ps. 2:7-8), purchased by Christ’s blood-bought payment for the world (Matt. 28:18-20;Jn. 3:16-17; 19:30).
Let us compare and contrast Pastor Sumpter’s satirical formulation of the Great Commission with the actual passage from Matthew 28:18-20. First he says: “A moderate amount of power has been given to Me — mostly in Heaven and a little on earth”. Now it’s probable that most Christians would not actually profess this with their mouths, yet we do confess it by the way we live. The misconception comes when trying to understand the idea of Christ’s Lordship. Scripture says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth often means to Christians that He is supreme Lord in the heavenlies, in some other dimension way-out “there”. He is Lord over all of the angels, over all of the deceased saints that are now in heaven, or Lord over the Church, but when it comes to His full authority, kingship, power, and sovereignty over all his earthly creation, we have a hard time not limiting His authority because we are under the guise that “this world is not our home”, we’re just “passing through” and that the earthly world actually belongs to Satan. Yet Jesus is saying the exact opposite! At his ascension, Jesus was attending his coronation session. The Father gave Him all authority and made a regal pronouncement to the world, to every individual, every family, every city, every nation, every president, every political authority, every business, every educational system, that everything must be submitted under the Lordship of Christ because He has been crowned as King over all kings and Lord over all lords (Rev. 1:5). Universal dominion belongs to Christ (Ps. 2, 72; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:18-22; Col. 1:15-20). This scene is the capstone moment of God’s great story of covenantal and redemptive work throughout the world. Therefore, Christians are commanded to press the Crown rights of King Jesus in every area of life and thought. Hallelujah, truly “all authority” has (past-tense) been given to the King.
Pastor Sumpter continues, “Therefore try your best to make disciples, maybe a few from every nation?”. While Jesus’ words, in contrast are, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations".
“Therefore try” sounds like a suggestion or a gentle-lighthearted invitation, similar to Rick Warren’s statement on national news to “just give Jesus a 60-day trial”. “Therefore try” is the modern-day mantra for kids sports: “hey kids it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just go out there give it a try, have fun, and remember it’s all about participation”. But is the Great Commission merely a suggestion? Is the Church truly out for a participation trophy? I don’t think so. Our Lord has not invited us to go out there and try to participate.We can’t just stay home and play monopoly if we come to find the call is too difficult. Jesus is the cosmic King of the universe and he has commanded His Church to engage in a military operation that results in world conquest; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. Could you imagine the great hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” sung to the tune of the modern church, “Onward, Christian Voluntary-Participants” Consider what three pioneer missionaries said concerning the obligation of the Great Commission:
"Is not the commission of our Lord still binding upon us? Can we not do more than now we are doing?" -William Carey
"The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed." - Hudson Taylor
"If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?" - David Livingstone
A misconception that I would add to Pastor Toby’s phrase here would be the following: “Therefore try and make [converts]". This is not what the Great Commission commands. Jesus is clear that to “make disciples'' is the target at hand. On the contrary, many Christians take “make disciples” to mean simply evangelism or involvement with social programs (feeding the poor, painting orphanages, digging wells, etc.). The great founder of Methodism, John Wesley once said “The church changes the world not by making converts but by making disciples.” The discipleship process begins by recognizing the absolute necessity of the new birth, Jesus said in John 3:7, “You must be born again!”. There is no way around this reality. God could care less if you’ve fed a million orphans if you are still in your sins. Making the world a better place for people to go to hell from is not the goal. That being said, the new birth is only the first step to the process. It is the front door to the house, hence, to be a disciple of Jesus does not mean to just get saved so I can go to heaven one day. The Greek word for disciple is one who is a pupil. The disciple is one who is engaged in the life-long process of hearing and obeying every word from his Lord (Matt. 4:4; 5:17; Lk. 11:28; Jas. 1:22-25). A disciple is one that actively seeks to submit his mind, body, and soul, and everything in him under the Lordship of Jesus (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 10:5). Principally a disciple of Jesus Christ is one who is born again, therefore subjecting himself to the authority of Scripture, which leads to hearing and obeying, and resulting in a Christian producing a lot of righteous-holy-love-filled fruit (Jn. 13:35; 15:8).
Pastor Sumpter continues, “maybe a few from every nation?” in contrast to Scripture which states “from all nations”. As previously mentioned Jesus says that because he is the owner of absolutely everything, we are commanded, on that basis, to make all nations Christ’s disciples. Therefore, a Christianized world is the goal. This good creation, that God made, is not going to hell in a hand-basket. God’s intention is not to pluck a few branches here and there from the fire. Rather, it is God’s creational-purpose to redeem the whole cosmos (Gen. 1:26-31), “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn. 3:17). This is consistent with God’s covenantal nature. Consider one of the hundreds of promises, this one given to the father of faith Abraham, “... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; Rom. 4:13). The Great Commission entails all nations be Christ’s disciples, not just a few people here and there.
Pastor Sumpter’s last section says, “... baptize them and teach them only your favorite parts of the New Testament.”, but the passage actually says, “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.”
This type of thinking, “teach them only your favorite parts of the New Testament”, is not specific to modern evangelicals. In ancient times, one of the first heresies the Church fought off was called Marcionism. Marcion pushed a dichotomized theology that said, the God of the New Testament is radically distinct from the God of the Old Testament. Fast forward to the 19th century, we see the inception of a non-heretical and less radical view of this, yet still extraordinarily damaging to the Church, by the name of Dispensationalism  . This system’s most distinguishing facet is its strong separation between ethnic/national Israel and the Church. It makes them two separate entities , which ought to produce for the Christian, a very antagonistic view of the law of God (particularly in the Old Testament). A dispensational framework leads many Christians today to think that the Church began in the New Testament and that she stands only on the shoulders of Jesus and the Apostles. But what were Jesus and the Apostles then standing on? What was their foundation? What Scriptures were they reading and obeying? Does the story of Scripture scrap everything before Matthew 1? Is most of the Bible (Old Testament) to be disconnected or “unhitched" from 21st century Christianity? That is how many have taught the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and I am here to plead, please stop! This is blasphemous and a slander to the character and nature of the Triune God of Scripture. Yahweh, from Genesis to Revelation does not have two stories, two peoples, two plans of redemption, or two ethical standards (law & gospel). This is a man-made dichotomy. The Bible is one story of redemption connected by the thread of covenants gradually building upon each other through the conquest of the Old and New Covenant Church, the Israel of God (Jer. 31:31-34; Gal. 3:16;6:16; Heb. 8:8-12). The law of God is gracious, merciful, holy, and good (Rom. 7:12), it was not created to save anyone (Rom. 10:1-4), but to be established by faith (Rom. 3:31), hence bringing righteousness amongst God’s covenant people so that the nations of the earth would know that Yahweh is the Lord (Deut. 4, 6). Christians must not pit the law versus gospel, old versus new, Israel versus Church. These strange dichotomies arise precisely when we stop reading both testaments with equal importance, one is not more inspired than the other.
Therefore, as Christians seek to make whole-Bible disciples instead of New Testament converts. We must remember that Jesus commanded to teach them (the nations) to obey all that He has commanded (Matt. 5:17-20; 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 16-17; Rom. 15:4). To relegate the Great Commission to certain parts of the New Testament is to butcher the entire point of the passage. The Great Commission is the climactic point of the longstanding covenantal program of God to respond to sin and it is the fruition of the development of the history of redemption that is continuous with the Old Testament. Thus, understanding the Great Commission properly is absolutely essential to comprehending what the Church is for and why on Earth we are here, because the Great Commission is the mission of God.
2 I am not saying that a Christian who holds this position is the equivalent of being a heretic or a Marcionite, however, it is inevitable to see the many similar traits both systems agree upon.
3 Charles Ryrie, J. Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, and other leading Dispensational theologians state this very clearly.
4 In 2018, famous Atlanta-based Pastor Andy Stanley told his congregation that they need to unhitch themselves from the Old Testament.