Monday, March 23, 2015

From My Mailbag - 8 Reasons Why the Great Commission is Personal

Dear _________,                                                            

Please forgive me for the delay in answering your letter. I wanted to answer it carefully and I appreciate your patience with me. I will begin by including the text of your letter in italics here followed by my response.

I have a great deal of respect for you, as one of the most helpful messages in recent times has been the "39 Years..." message.
Like you, I have examined much of what I believe and have kept most of it because I find most of it to be Biblical.  There are four areas in which I think teaching I've received is rather weak (without much Scriptural support) - in no particular order, they are (1) total ban on alcohol  (2) multiple pastors  (3) tithing and (4) soul-winning.
I am writing about #4; allow me to say that by the grace of God I have never drunk any alcohol and I have no desire to. I think the Bible clearly indicates that it is very dangerous.  I am not looking for an excuse to drink.
Likewise with #3, I believe that the NT teaches that every Christian should give as the Holy Spirit leads him; that may be 10% for many, and 25% or 50% for others. I have always at least tithed, and am not trying to get out of the obligation to support my church.
With all of these, I think the standard arguments used by the IFB preachers I've heard are pretty weak.
But I'm writing to ask for thoughts regarding soul-winning.  It seems to me that the so-called "Great Commission" was given to the church as a whole, and not to individuals.  (Most churches I've been a part of do not allow any member to baptize - part 2, reserving that for the church, and also don't let every Christian teach - part 3.  So, I fail to see why the "Great Commission" part 1 is supposed to apply to everyone.  I worked at a bank in my youth. Not everyone was a teller, out in front of people; some worked behind the scenes in the bookkeeping department; others made decisions about loans; others filed checks. Not everyone had the same job, even though we were all part of the same bank.  This seems, to me, to more of the model of the New Testament church.
Furthermore, when I read the New Testament, I  find lots of passages where Paul is encouraging Timothy and Titus to tell people to live godly and love one another, etc... but "soul-winning" is strangely absent from ALL of these commands.  I find examples - Paul says something like "woe is ME if I preach not the gospel", but he doesn't say "woe is YOU if YOU preach not the gospel"

So, I would welcome your thoughts on this subject... I am also a very shy person, so this going door-to-door among strangers, interrupting their time at home (as it seems to me), and insisting that I have answers for them (as I think I appear to them) has always been very hard for me.  On top of that, my unsaved parents were dead-set against us selling anything door-to-door during school fund raisers - they insisted that no one wanted the junk stuff we were selling, and only purchased it out of kindness, and they were completely unwilling to reciprocate, so they were against us going out.
Your replies have generally been reasoned and not hysterical, so I wanted to seek your input, if you have the time.

I commend you wholeheartedly for your desire to discover the why behind what is preached and taught. I greatly wish more people had that same desire.

Now, in relation to the specifics of what you asked…

It seems to me that your position here is that the Great Commission (GC) applies to the Church corporately but not to the Christian individually. My position both agrees and disagrees. I believe the GC applies to the Church corporately but also to the Christian individually. IOW, to be perfectly clear, I believe that every Christian has a mandate/command given to him by Christ to witness to the lost.

Here are my reasons…

1) The GC was given to the Church but the Church is composed of individuals.

Matthew 28:19–20 
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

If this is the case why then do not all individuals teach and all individuals baptize? First, I also think all individuals should teach. That does not mean I think every individual is capable of teaching in a class setting/format. Such are limited to those with the gift of teaching (teachers are a gift to the church, Eph 4.11) in my view. But even those without the gift of teaching to groups are still supposed to be teaching – in a mentoring capacity one on one, their children, etc. Every Christian ought to be teaching somebody something about Christianity. Second, I also think all Christians could baptize. Yes, I realize that puts me out of step with many of my brethren but I don't see anything in Scripture that limits baptisms to ordained clergy. If you were a member of my church and you won someone to Christ and you wanted to baptize him I would let you. Additionally, the 'lo I am with you always' is not just corporate; it is corporately personal, to coin a phrase. It applies not just to the Church generically but to each person in it – just like the rest of the GC. Ergo, I think I am being consistent when I say that the first of the three parts of the GC also applies to the individual.

2) The GC is explicitly connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church; that gift is not just corporate but extremely personal.

Acts 1:8–9 
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

One of the primary reasons the Holy Spirit was given was to enable God's people to witness. If I, as a child of God, want the multiplicity of great blessings that come with a personally indwelling Holy Spirit then I also must take the corresponding responsibilities that come with it – to live holy (Romans 8) and to witness (Acts 1).

3) There is no indication in the New Testament that personal evangelism is a gift only given to a few.

I can't give you a verse for this one. Which is the point. There are many different gifts mentioned in the epistles. Soul winning is most definitely not on any of those lists. If it is, as you basically maintain, something that only some people in the church are gifted to do then why isn't it on those lists anywhere?

4) Personal evangelism was modeled by Jesus and He is the example for every believer.

Matthew 4:19 
19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Is there anything Jesus did that you and I aren't supposed to do? In a sense the answer is yes – we are not supposed to do the things specifically associated with His first advent such as miracles, be crucified, etc. But I don't think any right minded person would argue that the personal witnessing He did was mission specific. It was normative. It was designed not only to win the person to whom He was talking but also to be an example to those who followed Him.

5) The GC is implied to every individual in the command of Luke 19.

Luke 19:10–13 
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

The context of each servant receiving the pound and the command to occupy is one of witnessing. 'Occupy' literally means to go into business. My business, whatever else it may be as a human being, is God's business and God's business in this context is the salvation of humanity. That task and instruction is committed to all of His servants.

6) Fulfilling the GC is in no wise dependent on whether it will bother or harass or offend the lost.

Luke 2:49 
49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

One of the statements I make often in preaching is that every word in the Bible is there on purpose. That word 'business' here directly links this passage to the one in Luke 19. Jesus knew His parents would take offense to how He chose to serve the Lord; He did it anyway. We see that pattern all through the Scripture from one end to the other. Does that mean we ought to be careless about causing offense to the lost while trying to win them? Certainly not. But it does mean that I do not allow a misplaced concern about pestering, harassing, interrupting, or bothering the lost man to keep me from trying to witness to him.

7) Fulfilling the GC is in no wise dependent on my personality.

Luke 14:18 
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

I realize God created every one of us different. I realize witnessing is easier for some people than others. So is being kind but all of us are supposed to be kind. So is being cheerful but all of us are supposed to be cheerful. So is being patient but all of us are supposed to be patient. So is controlling our temper but all of us are supposed to control our temper. To take any other approach is to offer a justification for any number of people disregard any number of commands simply because they find them difficult to fulfill. I understand shy people have a harder time witnessing that outgoing people. Witness anyway. An excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. A retiring personality is an excuse not to witness rather than a reason.

8) Lastly and most importantly, Paul most emphatically did not say 'I' (referring only to himself) am supposed to preach the Gospel; he said 'we' are supposed to preach the Gospel.

This is really key to my whole response to you. Paul did not just personally witness; he also laid on every Christian the same personal responsibility. And he did so repeatedly in a plain context in relation to witnessing.

2 Corinthians 5:6–20 
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

You believe in the personal comfort of the 'we' in verse six. You believe in the personal instruction of the 'we' in verse seven. You believe in the personal comfort of the 'we' in verse eight. Etc. etc. Then you must believe in the personal command of the 'we' in verse eleven, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty. You cannot pick and choose in this chapter. 'We', 'us', 'all', 'every one', 'any man', clearly and repeatedly refer to every single Christian.
Allow me one more word in closing. I do not believe the Bible teaches that you have to walk up to a stranger's door on Saturday morning at 11 AM and witness to him. I do that and I encourage my church people to do that for a large number of very good reasons but I do not believe that is a specific command. But you do have to personally be active in witnessing to the lost. That is most clear in the Word of God. The GC is not just a corporate responsibility. It is a personal command given to every single Christian.


Tom Brennan


  1. Anybody who has never gone soul winning should try it at least a few times. It’s not nearly as scary as people think it is. If you’ve ever tried sharing the gospel with unbelieving family or friends, I can tell you that sharing Jesus with strangers is 100 times easier. Because they don’t know you they can’t point out your hypocrisies. Because you go out two at a time, they rarely try to argue with you. And best of all, because you can’t truly love a stranger with all your heart, there’s not much pain for you on their behalf if they reject the gospel.

    1. I'm on try #6 of posting a response to this. I did "try it" several times - I thought I would have a mental breakdown from the combination of despair and anger that filled me. (This was a Hyles-type church)

      I'm getting ready to leave about 6:30 to be there at 7pm. First, we had a "sales" talk about how to be good salesmen. (It was identical to the talks I had at my sales job). It seemed needless and took up time.

      Then, we were partnered up (I went with a staff member). It was memorable that at places that didn't have time for us, he would have a nasty comment about how they were living in sin.

      When the "gospel" was given, it certainly seemed to be more about getting people to say THE PRAYER. God's holiness was was not mentioned. Being a sinner was reduced to "we all make mistakes".

      The lying that we did to prospects bothered me:
      (a) The "Can I take a few minutes and show you what the Bible says about going to heaven?" - few minutes -- hah! more like 15-30 minutes. No wonder people would rather slam doors in our face than deal with liars like us.
      (b) The lie that we don't want to take people away from their church - we were taught, basically, that anyone not going to our church is probably not saved. If we got someone to say THE PRAYER, it was ALL about getting them to come to OUR church.
      (c) If they came to our church, at the invitation, we were supposed to say that WE wanted to go to the front and ask them to go with us. Then we would present them as saved during the week, trapping them at the front.

      How we treated prospects bothered me... When someone did say THE PRAYER, we began to treat them like irresponsible children:
      1-We were supposed to call them Saturday and remind them to come Sunday.
      2-We were supposed to call them Sun morning to wake them up.
      3-We were supposed to pick them up; we didn't want them to drive as they might leave the service before we could work on them to come forward.

      The frustration between "I cannot make myself treat others like this!" and the anger over "This cannot be God's method" made me ill.

      Bill O Edacity

    2. I meant to add that I would get home from this fiasco about 9pm to 9:30 pm... having spent an evening that seemed to me wasted. We could get people to say prayers at home once in a while, but the people that came to church and started growing in Christ were very few and far between.

      B Edacity

    3. May I humbly ask... What in the world does your experience have to do with the validity of a personal responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission?

  2. I think that is rather perceptive. I do gently disagree with one thing. I believe it is possible to grow to the place where you have the ability to love a stranger with all your heart. I don't think I'm there by any means, but I do think it is possible. Of course, even then there will not be the same history/relationship as there would be with, say, your own mother or father. The urgency you feel to see them trust Christ and the pain you experience if you don't I think will always be greater than with a stranger. But that doesn't mean you can't love a stranger.