The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. Undergirding both of these hopes is the conviction that there is only one mission that encompassed all that Jesus desires for his church, and that is the Final Command. (Mt 28:19) But is this so? Do the other gospels give us a different choice?
In the Twentieth Century, the majority of New Testament scholarship became focused on the way the New Testament came to be, rather than on the authority of what it taught. As part of that transition, the question of which gospel was written first came to the fore. The primacy of Matthew was generally denied. The moment someone lifts up Matthew 28:19 as the mission of the church, he can expect to be challenged by someone querying the priority of that command over the teaching of other parts of the gospel witness. The implication is almost always leaning toward the assertion that the social dimensions of the gospel must be given at least equal, if not more, authority. But is this so?
All four gospels record clear commands of the Lord Jesus, at the very end of his earthly life and ministry, to carry on his mission by the preaching of the gospel. For anyone who is truly submitted to the Word of God written, that is a true Christian, the evidence is overwhelming. Were that not enough, the witness of the Acts of the Apostles makes manifest that the early church grew exponentially because it believed the command of the Lord to be central. Can it be doubted that the church grew because all Christians were committed to making disciples? Not just a few. They were obeying the absolutely clear commandment, given to the church, as evidenced most clearly by Matthew’s recording of the Risen Lord’s Final Command. It encompasses all the others. Nothing Jesus commanded is left out. Nothing.
Believing this to be so, and preaching and teaching it, an Anglican in North America would have been thought odd over the last several generations. Many thought that this priority made one a Baptist. But gradually that has changed. The Book of Common Prayer (2019) actually incorporates the Final Command at several places, most significantly within the Prayers of the People in the Standard Text. But sadly it places it fourth in the petitions. In the Renewed Ancient Text, it is eliminated. Permission is even given (in the Additional Directions) to eliminate it always.
Is the Final Command really the mission of the church? If it is should it not have the priority in the life and ministry of the church, as Mathew 28:19 clearly suggests? If it is the Final Command of the Risen Lord Jesus, which the generations have always believed, shouldn’t every faithful leader and layman know it and live by it today?
Next Week: Collective Denial