An Introduction re: Mission & A Biblical Theology: Part 1, The Mandate

For all of their differences, there is something that nearly every business, church, school, and organization have in common. This commonality is what guides their respective actions, spells out their own specific goals, charts a course forward into their futures, and helps them make decisions – big and small. This tool widely utilized by nearly every one of these entities is called a mission statement. A mission statement is a formal summary of the purpose of a company, organization, or individual. And even though most are likely unaware of their favorite restaurants and stores’ mission statements, the companies all probably have one!

McDonald’s is a place that all are familiar with and have likely frequented on numerous occasions during their lives. It may be surprising to discover that their mission statement sounds very business-like and value-driven and does not admit to tricking every adolescent into being a loyal, lifelong consumer by enticing them with a toy in every Happy Meal.

“Our mission is to be our customer’s favorite place and way to eat and drink. We’re dedicated to being a great place for our people to work; to being a strong, positive presence in your community; and to delivering the quality, service, cleanliness and value our customers have come to expect from the Golden Arches – a symbol that’s trusted around the world.”

Read enough mission statements, and they all start to sound the same as they are chock-full of buzzwords like: dedicated, community, quality, service, customer, value, success.

Mission Statements Aren’t All Created Equal

At times, mission statements should serve as a warning. A well-known university once had this as its mission statement: “To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Believe it or not, that was the founding mission statement of Harvard University in 1636. Clearly, mission statements are not anchors. They are no guarantee of what will happen in the future. In fact, without careful attention, everyone drifts from their initial purpose and mission. The drift might not occur quickly; usually it will be a slow, silent slide from the designed intent, but it will happen if a mission isn’t internalized deeply, often recalled, and reinforced by intangible values and tangible steps of action that are meant to fulfill it.

When mission statements are used properly, mission drift isn’t an inevitability. They can be a very useful tool for individual believers, family units, churches and other organizations. When values, priorities, goals, vision, culture, and actions are continually evaluated through the prism of an intended mission, then these intangibles coalesce into tangible fruit that are products of a mission being fulfilled. However, it doesn’t take much research to uncover the slightly unsettling reality that churches, missions agencies, non-profit organizations, and other Christian entities have mission statements with differing aims and emphases. In some instances, small missional differences are the result of foci that should rightly differ. A food bank and a seminary are going to have largely differing aims, of course. But, for any individual or organization that flies the banner of Jesus Christ, there need be a common missional foundation. The best way to determine this shared missional foundation for the Church and for the believer is to go straight to the source Himself.

The Mission: The Great Commission

At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus gave some final instructions to His Apostles. He gave them their mission. It’s a mission that continues to be passed down through the generations and will continue to each new generation of disciples until the day that Jesus returns again for His Church. And so, it’s not only a mission Jesus gave to the Apostles. It’s a mission to every believer today. His parting words are quite familiar; they are referred to as “The Great Commission.” We know these words were of utmost importance because they were among the last words that Jesus shared with His closest followers before ascending to heaven in the days after His resurrection. This was His last chance to leave a strong impression, a final mark, a legacy that would be passed down through the ages. Just as a dying relative chooses their final words thoughtfully and carefully to their loved ones, Jesus spoke powerfully and poignantly as He delivered the mission.

Though many believers are well acquainted with the Great Commission, if they aren’t purposeful, then they will drift from the initial mission that Christ delivered over two millenniums ago. Furthermore, for many of them, their understanding of the Great Commission is too small, too narrow, too focused on the individual and thus, incomplete. To have a full grasp of the Great Commission and to be used in significant ways – both big and small – to accomplish it, they must have a full biblical theology in place regarding it.

The Word

Matthew 28:16-20 is regarded as “the Great Commission passage.” It’s a great launch point for developing a full biblical theology of the Great Commission. In this biblical text, we enter the narrative after Jesus Christ has died, been buried, and rose again. These are the final words that the Apostle Matthew, one of the twelve disciples, recorded in his Gospel account. Again, not only were these words among the final words that Jesus spoke pre-ascension, but Matthew regarded them as so important that these were the final words of Jesus that he desired to leave with the first century recipients of His Gospel. These are the final five verses of the Gospel of Matthew.

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The mandate

This passage describes the MANDATE of the mission. A mandate is an official order or commission to do something. And as a verb, to mandate is to give (someone) authority to act in a certain way. Both apply here. Jesus gave an official commission and gave the Apostles His authority (verse 18-19) to carry out the order. To do what though? There are three participles in the original Greek language: going, baptizing, and teaching. However, the main imperative in Jesus’ words was to make disciples. As the Apostles were going, they were to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, baptize those who believed, and teach them to observe all that Jesus had commanded. And again, these are “standing orders” until Christ returns. No believer should see themselves outside of the biblical narrative! Instead, each Christ-follower must realize they are a part of the biblical timeline, living in the Church Age, until the return of Christ. The task is not complete. Believers today have a mission! And it is a colossal undertaking, one that has likely overwhelmed many individuals into thinking this is a mission for pastors, missionaries, church planters, and the seminary-trained. But that is not the case! It is a mission for the entire body of Christ to accomplish together. And the mandate of the mission is clear: we are to make disciples of all nations as we go, baptize, and teach!

Unfortunately, with the understanding of Matthew 28:16-20 in place, many think, or have been taught, that they have a proper understanding of the Great Commission. But, that is not all that Jesus had to say about the mission! Therefore, it is a not a full, proper biblical theology of the Great Commission. It is vital to delve into a handful of other passages to possess a robust theological understanding of the mission so that individuals, families, churches, and organizations can take practical steps to accomplish the Great Commission for the name and glory of Jesus Christ!

The Final Words

While the final words that Jesus delivered were of utmost importance and directly tied to the lifework that He was commissioning His disciples to carry out, the Master Teacher had been planting seeds in the minds of the twelve as He spent about three years with them. These men ministered with Jesus, traveled with Him, ate meals with Him, and saw Him do incredible miracles and teach multitudes of people. Yet, for all that they saw during Jesus’ earthly ministry, their eyes were temporarily darkened to the truth that Jesus was to be the spiritual Messiah for all people and not merely a political messiah for the Jews within the Roman empire. After Jesus had resurrected and then returned to heaven, It’s fair to wonder how often Peter, James, John, or one of the other disciples reflected on past words and teachings of their Lord with a fresh understanding now in place of what Jesus actually meant.

The next installment of this series will examine one such interaction between Jesus and His disciples, namely Peter. A discussion that provided them – and us – the METHOD of the mission. A discussion that was impossible for the disciples to understand at the time and often over-looked by believers today!

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