Key Points During this Time
- Christianity developed within the community of Jesus’ earliest disciples on the basis of core Jewish beliefs, as interpreted and exemplified according to Jesus’ teaching, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.
- The most significant controversy in the very early Christian church concerned the terms by which Gentiles would be accepted into the community.
- With the church’s expansion from Jerusalem, traditions about the work of particular apostles became associated with specific locales by the end of the first century, most notably: James in Jerusalem; Peter and Paul in Rome; John in Ephesus; and Thomas in Syria.
- Early Christianity was not uniform, yet a common faith in Jesus and a common core of apostolic traditions helped shape a specifically Christian set of doctrinal commitments, worship practices, and ethical expectations.
Jesus’ first-century ministry of healing and teaching not only attracted large crowds, but he also gathered a number of disciples with whom he worked closely. Many acclaimed him as the Messiah, the Lord’s “anointed” who would deliver God’s people, Israel. After the Romans put Jesus to death as a political threat, reports of his resurrection led his disciples to become convinced that God had vindicated him as Messiah (Christ), and the events of Jesus’ atoning death and subsequent resurrection became the pillars of Christian faith. Early Christian beliefs, worship, and ethical practices owed much to the traditions of Judaism, to which were added distinctive Christian convictions about the role of Jesus Christ as the world’s savior.
The early church in Jerusalem consisted mainly of Jewish believers, though they were a diverse lot; some were Judaean, but many were Hellenistic Jews from the Diaspora. They looked to Peter and then James, the brother of Jesus, for leadership. Once persecution at the hands of the Jewish establishment broke out against Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem, the Hellenists in particular were scattered, taking the message of Jesus’ gospel (or euangelion, meaning “good news”) into the synagogues of many different cities of the Roman world. Soon, even large numbers of Gentiles were being attracted by the Christian message and lifestyle, causing the most significant controversy for the church of that era: the terms by which Gentiles should be received into the church. The Apostle Paul effectively championed a liberal position on the issue, with the result that Gentile Christians were in the majority by the end of the first century.
Fairly strong evidence supports the tradition that both Paul and Peter ended up in Rome and were martyred there under the emperor Nero. Peter probably played a significant leading role in the church at Rome, though the claims that Peter was the “pope” are anachronistic. Other locations came to be associated with the work of specific apostles, namely John in Ephesus and Thomas in Syria. The church at Ephesus may have been the most influential church of the mid- to late-first century, very likely the point of origin of some or all of the Johaninne literature of the New Testament. Strong traditions also place Jesus’ mother Mary in Ephesus, under the care of John. East of Antioch, the gospel spread among communities of Syriac-speaking people, whose traditions preserved certain Semitic features and a literature with strong ties to the name of the Apostle Thomas.
First-century Christian communities were diverse. Yet they enjoyed a significant measure of unity, due to a common faith in Jesus, a shared heritage in Judaism, a core of apostolic teaching, and habits of frequent travel and communication between churches. Out of this matrix arose characteristics that would come to distinguish churches far and wide, such as a shared commitment to interpret the Old Testament scriptures in light of Christ, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Sunday assemblies, and moral emphases.
William Perkins writes on this topic the following, “Election is God’s decree whereby of his own free will he hath ordained certain men to salvation, to the praise of the glory of his grace. There appertain three things to the execution of this decree, first the foundation, secondly the means, thirdly the degrees. The foundation is Christ Jesus, called of his Father from all eternity to perform the office of the Mediator, that in him all those which should be saved might be chosen.”
How did William Perkins see predestination as being carried out through the covenants?
Perkins taught that God established a covenant of works with Adam in paradise, thus setting a covenantal context for the fall. Similarly, He made the covenant of grace as the context for the salvation of the elect.
How did William Perkins see reprobation as a logical concomitant of election, and what were the differences he emphasizes between the two?
Perkins wrote “If there be an eternal decree of God, whereby he chooseth some men, then there must needs be another whereby he doth pass by others.” Two differences of emphasis exist between reprobation and election, however. First God willed the sin and damnation of men but not with the will of approval or action. God’s will to elect sinners consisted of His delight in showing grace and His intent to work grace in them. But God’s will to reprobate sinners did not include any delight in their sin, nor any intent to work sin in them. Rather He willed not to prevent their sinning because He delighted in the glorification of His justice. Second, in executing reprobation, God primarily passes over the reprobate by withholding from them His special, supernatural grace of election.
How did Williams Perkins see preaching as essential for bringing in the elect?
Munson writes, “Perkins’ golden chain of the causes of salvation is linked through the instrument of preaching. Perkins wrote on the preaching of the Gospel “This gospel must be preached. It is the allure of the soul, whereby men’s forward minds are mitigated and moved from an ungodly and barbarous life unto Christian faith and repentance.” Perkins also said “The gospel preached is that ordinary means to beget faith.” Plain and powerful preaching of Scripture was not merely the work of a man, but a heavenly intrusion where the Spirit of the electing God speaks.
In response to Timothy Beougher’s article “Must Every Christian Evangelize?” I should have titled this post, “the difference between the elder’s calling to evangelize and laity’s mandate to witness,” but who has time to write that book. Instead I decided to stick to dealing with the major concern, the
Great Apostles Commission and the theological importance that it has on the Church today. I am by no means arguing that laity are not called to be a witness, but the question that must be asked with dealing with such issues is this, how does one get anything about lay evangelism from Jesus Christ’s Commission to his Apostles? The apostles were officers, they were not laity. Matthew 28:18-20 reads,
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
One of the more popular passages of the Scripture within Evangelicalism is what is commonly known as the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. At times this particular commission serves as the foundation for Evangelicalism and other cross-cultural mission work. More recently in the past century American evangelicalism has embraced the need to see that all Christians, of all generations must carry out this particular commission more so than others. Often times the Great Commission is used as the vision or mission statement in various Evangelical ministries. Some of these ministries may include private education, missionary organizations, and various para-church ministries. The unfortunate mishap of these organizations is that the majority of them misinterpret the Great Commission, limiting its original meaning and intent for the Church of Christ. Jesus’ command to teach disciples and baptize whole nations has been replaced by various educational, missionary, and para-church ministries. This gives the aim of this problematic passage paper – an examination of Matthew 28:16-20 and understanding its original meaning and significance for the officers of the Church.
Most commonly Evangelicals see that the Great Commission gives the case for lay evangelism within the Church. How this goes about being carried out within the Church is where Evangelicals lose the theology of the Commission. The most common misinterpretations of the Great Commission can be found in a number of various evangelical ministries that claim to help serve the Church, but in such cases stop and rob the Church of what it is called to do. Of all places, it is in Christian education as well – in private elementary and high schools, college and universities, to higher education like seminaries that commonly mistaken and misinterpret Matthew 28:18-20 using it as the goal of their institution.
Offering an historical biography of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Gospel According to Matthew covers a historical time period from 4 B.C – 33 A.D. As the prophets of old predicted, long awaited the coming Messiah who would come to save their people, Matthew serves Israel’s long awaited event. The promise of a redeemer from Adam (Genesis 3:15), the awaited Redeemer of Job (19:25), the day Abraham rejoiced to see (John 8:56), the reward Moses waited to see (Hebrews 11:24-26), the awaited resurrection of David (2:29-31), and “the prophets who prophesied about the grace” in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:8), has now come in the flesh, to earth, to “not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). This brings much light for the reason of Matthews gospel account, written by a Jew, to the Jews that may represent the questions of Israel pertaining whether or not Jesus was who he said he was, namely Israel’s long awaited Messiah.
The Church has traditionally connected the Gospel of Matthew to the authorship of Matthew, once named Levi (Mark 2:14), once tax collector in Palestine (Matthew 9:9), and better known as a discipline of Jesus Christ (Mark 2:15). Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook makes note of this accepted tradition of authorship by referring to “the early Christian leader Papias said that ‘Matthew composed the logia in the Hebrew language and everyone interpreted them as best they could’ (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.16).” In reference to the type of translation Papias makes mention, “Hebrew language.” It is important to note that no Aramaic gospel of Matthew has been found, and most scholars agree that Matthew is not a greek translation of an Aramaic original. Furthermore both Drs. Wilkinson and Boa have made mention that, “some believe that Matthew wrote an abbreviated version of Jesus’ is saying in Aramaic before writing his gospel in Greek for a larger circle of readers.” Matthew’s gospel account is the only reference to refer to Matthew as a tax collector (Matthew 10:3). Some scholars have noted that a constant theme of money is woven in and throughout his gospel account. One example of this would be the only account of Jesus paying the temple tax can be found in the Gospel according to Matthew. For most scholars, the dating of the Gospels can be hard to track down, and a precise date of the writing of the account is not known. Scholars have argued for a vast difference in dating between 40 A.D. to 140 A.D, while others (post-millennial) argue for a more specific dating at 70 A.D. Dr. Michael J. Wilkins with explanation of this stance, “for a date later than the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, since Jesus alludes to this event in 24:1-28. Of course, such a conclusion is warranted only if one denies Jesus’s ability to predict the future. In light of Irenaeus’s assertion that Matthew composed his Gospel while Peter and Paul were still living it is traditionally dated to the late 50s or early 60s.” Some critics have taken the argument that Matthew relies heavily upon Mark’s earlier written account of Jesus Christ. If this is true, then Matthew would follow the dating of the Gospel According to Mark after 58 A.D. One can conclude from its authorship, Christ prophesying of future events, relationship with Mark’s Gospel, and its audience that the Gospel According to Matthew is written between 58 – 70 A.D. and “may have been written in Palestine or Syrian Antioch.”
A most striking feature of Matthew’s account is that a “60 percent of Matthew’s 1,071 verses contain the spoken word of Jesus.” Thus, Matthew lays out his account of Christ in a way that relates to his readers – discourses, miracles, parables, and questions. Something that his readers, the Jewish community would have been quite familiar with during its time, thus making Matthew the most Jewish gospel of the four. Dr. Wilkins points out, “many scholars have suggested that the prominent church in Antioch of Syria, whose members included both Jewish and Gentile Christians, was the intended audience of Matthew’s Gospel.” This thought comes from the influence that Matthew’s Gospel had on the early church father Ignatius, an early church bishop of Antioch. As one scholar has pointed out, “Matthew is very concerned to show that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who fulfills God’s promises made to Israel,” making one of the central themes of Matthews account the Kingship of Jesus Christ, the one whom Israel awaited.
Geographical & Historical Context
For most theologians, the assumption is that the author of the gospel wrote his account to meet the needs of those in their area. This is not the case for Matthew’s account. D.A. Carson comments on this issue making reference to Matthew’s geographical location saying, “there is a prima facie realism… that Matthew was working in the centers of large Jewish populations… since the book betrays so many Jewish features,” tying together Matthew’s historical and geographical background with its audience to the Jewish people. Throughout Matthew’s account there are different types of prominent Jewish customs and traditions, without their explanation. Thus his readers of his account would have been familiar with that which they read during his writing. One cannot suggest that Matthew’s account was for only Jewish readers. D.A. Carson writes, “but it is not implausible to suggest that Matthew wrote his gospel with certain kinds of readers in mind, rather than their geographic location.” Carson goes on to add that “tensions between Jews and Christians must have been high when this book was written.” One reason for such a claim is that while Matthew’s gospel account assumes and includes much Jewish culture, it includes at times common Church order that was happening during his authorship.
The Great Commission in its early context can help shed light and give a reader much aid in properly interpreting its meaning. Robert Thomas has done this when it comes to studying the Great Commission passage. Dr. Thomas when beginning to take a look at the Great Commission comments, “A comparison of the early church’s handling of the Commission lays a historical foundation for proceeding through various periods to see the similarities and differences. A century-by-century survey of the ancient church reflects how the early fathers responded to Jesus’ parting commission.” It is evident from the 2nd and 3rd centuries that the ancient church father’s agreed, and took the Great Commission seriously within the New Covenant Church. Of the many historical church fathers that wrote on the topic, two of them are worth making mention, Ignatius and Tertullian. Ignatius writes on the Commission, “Wherefore also the Lord, when he sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” not unto one [person] having three names, nor into three [persons] who became incarnate, but into three possessed of equal honor.”
While the focus of Ignatius writing here is placed upon being baptized in the name of the trinity, one can see by whom the administration of the baptism is done. Ignatius saw that it was the apostles that were commissioned to carry out the word and deed. Tertullian follows the thought of Ignatius when he writes regrading Jesus’ instructions to the apostles, “Accordingly, after one of these had been struck off, He commanded the eleven others on His departure to the Father, to “go and teach all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost.” While both church fathers agree that the Commission was an historical event having meaning for the Church, they also agree with one another that this historical event was closely related with it being designated to specifically the apostles, and what they were to carry out, namely the preaching of the word, and sacraments.
Information on Textual Problems
One of the largest textual problems that lie in the Great Commission is who exactly the Commission extends to. While commentators Ignatius and Tertullian make mention who the recipients of the Great Commission are, how does the end of the text “and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” fit within the interpretation that Christ’s Great Commission was the Apostles Commission? Here lies one of the largest separations between New Covenant believers interpretation of the Commission. Is the (Great) Commission for the whole of the Church, or to the (Apostles) Officers of the Church? As one great Dutch theologian has commentated on this question,
“His (Jesus) authority is manifested in… the means of Grace which the church must administer, namely, the word and the sacraments, Matthew 28:19-20. In these matters no one else has the right to legislate.” Louis Berkhof saw that Christ’s Commission was the Apostles ordination. The keys of the Kingdom of God were passed from the authority of Jesus Christ to the Apostles, to carry out the duties of the New Testament Church, namely making disciples (preaching) and baptizing (sacraments). Louis Berkhof goes further in his explanation, “he gave to the church its constitution and officers, and with divine authority, so that they can speak and act in his name.” This one sees the first officers of the New Covenant being ordained as officers of the New Testament administration of the Church, given authority and power, and what duties they are to carry out.
Grammar and Syntax
The giving of the (Great) Commission has been debated throughout Christendom and gives much weight to how a Church practices its evangelism, or goes about its witness. Specially the debate lays to whom exactly was the commission directed to and who are its beneficiaries? Exegetically breaking down the text will help one see its original meaning and application to the question above.
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee” shows that during this commission only some of Jesus’ disciples were present. As Dr. Freeman has made mention concerning this, “the phrase ‘the eleven disciples’ is a reminder of the tragedy of Judas’ failure and subsequent suicide.” The fact that the disciples went on to Galilee shows two points of importance. One, that the disciples followed Jesus Christ’s command in Matthew 28:10, “Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” This shows that the beginning and the end of Jesus Christ’s minstry was in Galilee, full of Gentiles.
The second item brings much weight to the greater context of the Commission. John Calvin writes about this stating, “Matthew, passing by those occurrences which we have taken out of the other three evangelists, mentions only in what the 11 disciples were completed to the apostolic office… Matthew has therefore selected what was of the greatest importance to us, namely, that when Christ appeared to the disciples, he likewise commissioned them to be apostles, to convey into every part of the world the message of eternal life. Jesus Christ’s intention to meet with his disciples, who would soon become apostolic officers of the New Covenant community, given a specific task that would be carried out with the coming of the Holy Ghost, that they might tell the world of the message of Jesus Christ. For this was the very reason that Jesus Christ summoned his brothers to Galilee. For if Jesus Christ’s Commission was given to the whole of the Church, then why not include Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who went to see the tomb in Matthew 28:1. No, instead Christ appeared to them, the eleven, so that he might summon His officers of the New Covenant, that they might meet him alone for His own purposes, namely that is to Commission them to their New Covenant duties of Apostleship. For “to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them,” this likely refers to the mountain in Galilee known to Mary. John MacArthur has commented, “This seems the most likely location for the massive gathering of disciples Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. 15:6.” Dr. MacArthur speculates that Matthew’s account is in accordance with Paul’s reference of the “500 brethren at once” that Christ appeared to. Matthew’s account gives no indication that this is fact. Matthew’s account to “now the eleven disciples,” no more, no less, these are who were summoned by Jesus Christ for Mary and Mary to send, and these are who Matthew accounts for being present at the mountain in Galilee.
Many, like Dr. MacAruthur read the following in Matthew 28:17, “and when they saw him they worshipped, but some doubted” as proof to the assumption that many more were gathered at the mountain in Galilee, because how and why would have the disciples “worshipped” by yet still “doubted.” Dr. Freeman list three possible interpretations of this text.
- One possibility is that Matthew describes the responses of two different groups within the circle of the eleven
- Two, that Matthew refers to a group other than the eleven disciples. Thus, the disciples worshipped Jesus while others, who were also present but not mentioned, doubted.
- The third interpretation takes the nominative in hoi de to have the same subject as the main verb. That is, those who worship and those who doubt are, in fact, the same individuals.
Interpretation three seems to be what Matthew is writing. Matthew’s intent is not to state whether some of the disciples had no faith at all, but to mention that some of the disciples still yet hesitated to approach Jesus, while yet some of them instantly went to worship Jesus Christ after seeing him. Here Matthew relays the message to his readers that when the disciples, and they alone came to Jesus Christ, they came in confusion, some in worship, some in doubt, but they came to be Commissioned. Calvin shows how an individual might reconcile the same two feelings in one act, “then they worshipped, because the splendour of his divine glory was manifest. And perhaps it was the same reason that suddenly caused them to doubt, and afterwards led them to worship him; namely, that he had laid aside the form of a servant, and had nothing in his appearance but what was heavenly.” Here the disciples hung in the balance of what was about to take place, while worshiping Jesus Christ, and some in doubt, they awaited for what reason they were called upon by Jesus Christ. This very well could have been the reason some of them doubted, for what reason were they summoned to meet Jesus Christ in Galilee? Matthew uses the term “ἐδίστασαν” (doubted) not because it was another people group, but in conjunction (δὲ [but]) to “προσκυνέω” (worshipped). The same individuals that came to “ἰδόντες ” (they saw) came with the same doubt and worship. Some may then ask as to why Matthew then included a negative connotation such as this doubt within the disciples? One can agree with Dr. Freeman’s critique, “he… lets the reader know that a disciple still lives with a certain amount of tension. Disciples are those who know Jesus is the risen Lord and yet may still be confused.”
As the resurrected Lord, Jesus calls his apostles to make disciples of all people groups through the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus then comes to the disciples saying to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With sovereign authority, lordship over all, Jesus Christ comes to his disciples by making the claim that his authority, is given from heaven. Some scholars have noted, “Their doubts were quickly dispelled, for Jesus spoke to them claiming all authority in heaven and on earth.” Matthew here uses “ἐξουσία” to show the official right and power that Jesus Christ has been given by his Father. Matthew has elsewhere used this term describing the person and work of Jesus Christ, including the forgiveness of sins in Matthew 9:16 and that all things have been given to Him by the Father in Matthew 11:27. The importance of the later authority brings light to the authority Matthew includes here give by Jesus Christ. The authority given by God that Matthew perviously has written of, now is the same authority that Jesus Christ comes with to commission the disciples. Jude makes mention of Jesus’ authority in the same specific apostolic that Matthews has when he writes in verse 25, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” It is in this authority Jesus Christ comes that gives the disciples such confidence in carrying out the coming Commission they are given. John Calvin writes on this matter,
“Never, certainly, would the Apostles have had sufficient confidence to undertake so arduous an office, if they had not known that their Protector sitteth in heaven, and that the highest authority is given to him; for without such a support it would have been impossible for them to make any progress.” The authority from God, given to Jesus Christ, is now coming before and to the disciples. Some scholars have noted that this claim to have been given authority is in fulfillment to Daniel. Jesus most certainly is the fulfillment of Daniel’s reference to the “Son of Man,” it is not clear if “all authority is given to me” is directly drawn from Daniel 7:14, “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” Dr. G.K. Beale comments on this theme in his Biblical Theology, “Jesus is the “last Adam figure,” and this is partially why he did not listen delete identifies himself with the Daniels “Son of Man” in issuing the universal commission to his followers in 28:18 he is the “son of Adam,” the equivalent to Daniel’s “Son of Man,” finally accomplishing what the first Adam should have and what Daniel predicts the messianic end-time Adam would do.” The main thrust of Matthew’s reference to Jesus Christ’s authority is that He, is who the disciples must fully rely upon for the Commission, and submit to in obedience fulfilling the Commission.
Matthew moves on in his gospel account by using “οὖν” (therefore) to give his readers the understanding that the coming commission flows out of the previous reasoning, Jesus’ authority. Dr. MacArthur has pointed out that it is, “His (Jesus Christ) authority, the disciples were sent to make disciples of all nations.” Theologian R.D. Culver have argued that since “πορεύομαι” starts the verse, that one may translate it not as a command, but as a present participle “as you go.” Seeing that “as you go” is a present participle (going), leaves the only command in the entire commission being “make disciples.” The question that lies here, is to what length does this particular command “make disciples of all the nations” extend to? If further than only the Apostles, to exactly who? While some theologians are inclined to believe that this (Great) Commission is given to the whole of the Church, the importance of the passage lies here in the directive command give by Jesus Christ, by his authority, to a selective group of people, namely the Apostles. These men, were in a sense, moving forward from being discipled and now commanded to teach others, like Jesus Christ taught them. For Christ’s work was complete, and the present leader of His people was soon to leave. It is here that Christ authorizes by his God given authority the new officers of the New Covenant Community, the Apostles.
Matthew in verse 20 personalizes the command “make disciples” by adding personal pronouns “ὑμῖν” and “ὑμῶν.” Thus, the recent individuals (disciples) are the same individuals that have been commanded to meet in Galilee, have worship and doubted, and now been commissioned. Here Jesus Christ extends his God-given authority to those that have followed him for the past three years. G.K. Beale writes on this stating, “Even the divine accompaniment formula occurs in Matthew 28:20 to indicate how the disciples will be empowered to carry out the commission.” It is the authority by which God has given Christ, that now Christ is passing on to the officers of the Church, the Apostles. For there are no more prophets or kings in office to govern God’s people, but the Prophet and the King is ordaining his disciples to a new office of Apostles. John Calvin comments on this office and passage stating, “let us learn from this passage, that the apostleship is not an empty title, but a laborious his office, and that, consequently, nothing is more absurd or intolerable than that this honour should be claimed by hypocrites, who live like kings at their ease, and disdainfully throw away from themselves the office of teaching.
Before looking at what the Commission requires of the Apostles to administrate in “making disciples,” one sees that this command is to extend to “all nations.” This is commonly where 20th century evangelicalism has gone to defend, prove, and use the Great Commission for the Church today. The text states “all nations” including Brazil, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, as if they existed when Jesus Christ’s command was given. Yet, this is what happens hermeneutically when the application is placed before the proper exegesis. The command “make disciples of all nations” does include Brazil, Spain, Mexico, South Africa, and many more, but here the Apostles understood that their message and process of “making disciples” was to go further than their nationally, the Jewish people. For Jesus has now established his Kingdom, and its message is to be offered to all. “Of all nations” entails the extent of the command, not the nationality of the command. Matthew Henry explains this by saying, “Not that they must go all together into every place, but by consent disperse themselves in such manner as might best diffuse the light of the gospel.” Henry goes further giving three theological points of the command given to “all nations”: “First, That the covenant of peculiarity, made with the Jews, should now be cancelled and disannulled. This word broke down the middle wall of partition, which had so long excluded the Gentiles from a visible church-state; and whereas the apostles, when first sent out, were forbidden to go into the way of the Gentiles, now they were sent to all nations. Secondly, That salvation by Christ should be offered to all, and none excluded that did not by their unbelief and impenitence exclude themselves. The salvation they were to preach is a common salvation; whoever will, let him come, and take the benefit of the act of indemnity; for there is no difference of Jew or Greek in Christ Jesus. Thirdly, That Christianity should be twisted in with national constitutions, that the kingdoms of the world should become Christ’s kingdoms, and their kings the church’s nursing-fathers.”
Matthew Henry draws the significance of the Apostleship’s office and its relationship differences from that of the Old Covenant. Jesus Christ’s unlimited authority is addressing the length to which the Apostles are to go proclaiming the Gospel. As long as there is Jew and Gentile, they are to continue proclaiming the truth concerning Jesus Christ’s person and work. Under the Old Testament administration kings, prophets, and priest had limitations in their duties of the Old Covenant. Here Jesus Christ removes this Old Covenant distinction by commanding the new officers of the New Covenant that there are no distinctions, or limitations to who they are to make disciples. John Calvin writes on this distinction, “Here Christ… makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant.” The Commission for the Apostles is to “make disciples.” Jesus Christ includes two items that the Apostles are to carry out in their process of making disciples. One, to baptize and two, teaching. Of the first, baptism, three notes can be made from the text. To paraphrase Matthew Henry, they are: who administrates baptism, how baptism is administrated, and how baptism makes one a disciple. Jesus Christ commands this duty of administration to his officers of the Church. Reformer Robert Rollock stated, “for the Lord gives his apostles commission to preach the gospel, and to baptize.” The instructions/duties for Apostleship are to administrate both the baptizing and the teaching says Jesus Christ. Dr. Freeman notes here that, “Baptizing is referred to without any explanation, so Matthew must have presupposed his reader needed no explanation.” Matthew here uses three participles in the Greek to include the duties of this office: going, baptizing, and teaching. It is by dispersal of the Apostles, and their teaching the word, and practice of the sacraments that all nations will be made disciples. Robert Rollock preached a message dealing with the issue at hand, stating, “These words teach us that these two points of the calling of the ministry, teaching and baptizing, were not committed to divers and sundry persons, but both were committed to one and the self-same person. So that he who is ordained to preach is ordained to baptize; and he who cannot preach has no power nor liberty granted him of the Lord to baptize; and if he baptized, he does it without the Lords commandment, he has no award of him; and, therefore, is doing is but a profanation of that holy sacrament of baptism.”
Rev. Rollock saw the importance of those that Jesus Christ has given unto office for his holy bride. One can certainly understand and agree that not all of the Church can baptize, or all of the Church can preach and teach the Scriptures. Then how can one interpret that this (Great) Commission is extended to all of the Church to evangelize? By understanding that Christ Commissions his disciples to office bearers of the Church, specifically, to Apostles. When the Apostles administrate this baptism, they are to do so in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. John Calvin notes that this particular administration was only to be done by those to whom Christ’s command was given. He writes, “Now since this charge is expressly given to the apostles along with the preaching of the word, it follows that none can lawfully administer baptism but those who are also the ministers of doctrine. When private persons, and even women, are permitted to baptize, nothing can be more at variance with the ordinance of Christ, nor is it any thing else than a mere profanation.”
One of these duties of the Apostles Commission is to administrate (those that believe upon Jesus Christ) the sacrament of baptism for the sake of identification with Jesus Christ. Such an act associates one with Jesus Christ, making them a disciple of him. The verb here “βαπτίζω” (baptizing) serves as a present active participle, used as an imperative. Robert James Utley has commented on this stating, “This (baptizing) is balanced with “teach” (v.20)… They cannot and must not be separated! The two items that Jesus Christ includes to make disciples for his Apostles look very similar to the same two items the officers of the church carry out today – teaching the Word, and carrying out the sacraments.
The second item of “making disciples” includes “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The second present active participle that is place in conjunction with “baptizing.” Along with baptism, teaching is the way that Jesus Christ commands his Apostles to “make disciples.” Scottish pastor and theologian Iain Campbell writes, “Disciples are made by teaching and are nurtured by teaching.” The Apostles are not to use their own laws, or own inventions, but are to teach believers the commands of Jesus Christ, the same commands that Christ himself had taught his disciples while on earth. This one sees the duties of the office of Apostleship – teaching the Scripture, and practicing the sacraments. The same elements that later would be passed down from the Apostles to the office eldership. Jesus Christ though does not entirely resign from his office, but continues to teach those by his Word through the officers and teachers of his Church. At the end of the Commission, Christ gives the Apostles a promise, “I am with you always” along with assurance “to the end of the age.” “I am with you always,” is given with the conjunction “ἰδού” (behold) “to strengthen their faith, and engage their observation of it.” This emphatic introduction to Jesus Christ “I am with you always” promises the personal presence of him with his Apostles. Matthew Poole comments, “I am and I will be with you, and those who succeed you in the work of the ministry.” While Christ does not psychically remain with his Apostles, his spiritual presence is promised to them as they carry out the office of Apostleship during the progress of the New Testament Church. Many scholars have noted, “At the outset of the Gospel, Jesus was named ‘Immanuel’, God with us (1:23), and he promises in the course of the Gospel narrative that even where two people gather in his name he is there (18:20).” The very presence of God, placed in Christ, by the Holy Spirit is now promised to the Apostles as they carrying out this Commission.
As the Apostles follow Christ Commission, preaching the Word and practicing the sacraments, it is this promise that aids their process in “making disciples.” Many have argued that “to the end of the age” gives textual proof that this Commission is great in recipients. This cannot be the case, the promise is to those who are the officers of the Church, not laity. For how can a woman, let alone child preach and teach the Scriptures, and carry out the administration of the sacraments for the congregation? While the promise is true for the whole of the Church, it does not state that all are called to the Commission. Calvin notes, “for the Lord promises his assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world. It is as if he had said, that though the ministers of the gospel be weak and suffer the want of all things, he will be their guardian, so that they will rise victorious over all the opposition of the world.” Jesus Christ, establishing His Kingdom, sends out his officers of the New Testament Church in his comforting promise as they await for his bodily return to judge and gather those that are his. Promising “to the end of this age” gives the Apostles assurance that what Jesus Christ started with them over three years ago will not cease when he ascends to heaven. As the Apostles are sent out to preach and teach the Word and administrate the Church, they had Jesus Christ’s great promise till time is no more.
Meaning of the Text
Jesus Christ as King and head of his Church has appointed a government, in the hand of the church offices which remains distinct from the civil magistrate. To the officers of the Church the keys of the kingdom are handed (Matthew 16 & 18). Jesus Christ did not authorize the civil magistrate to use the keys of the kingdom, but has Commissioned his disciples unto the New Testament Office of Apostleship. Jesus Christ gave the keys to the visible, institutional Church to be administered by her officers under his authority. This (Great) Commission was the ordaining of the Apostles unto this office, so that they may preach and teach the Scriptures that Jesus Christ himself had expounded to them (Luke 24:44-47), and carry out the administration of the sacraments, Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:17-30) and baptism (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus ordaining the disciples into the office of Apostleship, passing the keys and authority that had been given to Him from His father, sending out the Apostles on their commission, “to teach and baptize… to all the nations” meaning both to the Jew and Gentile takes place before His ascension. Later in the New Testament, it is this office of Apostles and commission of teaching and baptizing that had been given to them by Jesus Christ himself that is passed to the office of eldership (Acts 14:23, 20:28; Titus 1:5). Jesus Christ commands the twelve apostles to go and reproduce that of which Jesus Christ had done with them. Thus the Apostles, officers, are called to evangelize, and not the laity.
Application for the Church Today
The question that must be asked is this, how does one get anything about lay evangelism from Jesus Christ’s Commission to his Apostles? The apostles were officers, they were not laity. Something that seems evident, yet consistently forgotten when reading and interpreting the text. Robert Rollock while preaching on Matthew 28:18-20, interpreted that Christ’s Commission was directed and given to the Apostles, and the officers of the Church. As the keys of the Kingdom were passed from Jesus Christ to the Apostles, so the Apostles ordain elders to the preaching and practicing of the sacraments. Rev. Rollock spoke, “for the Lord says, I shall be with you unto the end of the world; but so it is, that the apostles are now dead, they are no more in the world. Therefore this promise is made unto the ministers of the church, to the successors of the apostles, who should remain in the church until Christ’s coming to judgment.” The Commission, is the passing of the keys of the Kingdom, with all his authority given by God, through Jesus Christ, and the coming enablement of the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ established his church of the New Covenant on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets (Ephesians. 4:11). It is here in Jesus Christ’s commission that the apostles are appointed to be witnesses of Jesus Christ, testifying by the enablement of the Holy Spirit, of what they had seen and heard.
In what way might this apply, better yet change the way that the Church sees evangelism? By understanding that not all are called to the spiritual gift of evangelism. No doubt is the whole of Jesus Christ’s bride to be a witness, a city on a hill, both salt and light to the earth, but as the Apostle Paul has said in Ephesians 4:11, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” It is the Evangelists here Paul speaks of that are called unto ministry, gifted, and commissioned unto office by the authority and power in heaven, Jesus Christ. The Evangelists, in common with other ministries, is elder, one who functions like that of the pastor, who is distinctive to the role of an Evangelist. This gift and calling is not for everyone, but for those called upon by the authority of Jesus Christ, through the promise of God the Father, enabled through the Spirit to serve and promote his Church.
Where did Baptists come from and, historically, what are their beliefs? The majority of historians agree that today’s Baptists were derived from three major sixteenth-century streams: Particular Baptists, General Baptists, and Seventh-day Baptists. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these denominations birthed a multitude. Separate Baptist, Primitive Baptist, American Baptist and Southern Baptist are just a few of today’s 100-plus Baptist denominations. Each of the three major Baptist groups claims a different line of descent. The Particular Baptists claim a heritage going back to the Protestant Reformers and Puritans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The General Baptists trace their roots from the earlier Anabaptists of the fifteenth century, and the Seventh-Day Baptists came later, in the sixteenth century. All three major Baptist denominations started in England.
Other Seventeenth-Century Baptists
The Seventh-Day Baptists, known to follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of worshipping on the seventh day of the week, were never large in number, nor are they today. They number less than 50,000 worldwide. The General Baptists were named for their theological stance of having a general, and thoroughly Arminian, view of the atonement. Lead by John Smyth, they were a noncreedal denomination. By the eighteenth century, English General Baptists had mostly moved into Unitarianism, while most of America’s General Baptists were overtaken by the diverse strands within the Regular Baptist denominations.
The Particular Baptists
Particular Baptists were also commonly called Strict Baptists because of their practice of closed communion, their theological stance on Christ’s definite atonement for His elect, and their two-office congregational polity. It was the Protestant forerunners, like the Reformers & Puritans, that brought about a strong confessional emphasis among Particular Baptists’ theology. The Particular Baptists first appeared in a London church organized by Henry Jacob following his exile from Holland. This church was founded on a basis of confession of individual faith and of a covenant, and it contained both Independent Puritans and radical Separatists. In 1633, the issue of who would administer baptism splintered the two camps. In 1638, the first Particular Baptist Church was established in London under the leadership of John Spilsbery.
The theology of these Baptists appealed to the nation’s prevalent Calvinism and offered no obstacle to the mass of Englishmen. With the rapid growth of the Particular Baptist came serious accusations, such as Pelagianism and Anarchy. This is important to note because both groups were part of the radical wing of Anabaptism; thus, Anabaptism cannot trace its historical roots to the Particular Baptist denomination.
By 1644, the seven Particular Baptist churches in London were quick to follow their Protestant forerunners’ confessional examples. To document their doctrinal differences from the General Baptists and Anabaptists, the seven closely associated and London-based Particular Baptist churches prepared to published their own confessional statement of theology.
The London Confession of 1644 served as an apologetic theology, defending Particular Baptist views against the Arminian General Baptists and other radical groups like the Anabaptists. Henry C. Vedder called it “one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history.” There were five key futures that made it different from the multitude of Protestant Reformed Confessions of its time:
- Two representatives from each of the six Particular churches and three from Spilsbery’s church were included in the signatories of the confession.
- It had a strong Christological focus.
- It was building a confessional theology that gave structure to the New Testament’s administration of the Covenants of Grace—not attempting to reform the National Church.
- It charged that the act of baptism was to be a complete immersion of the individual and gave an outline for conduct in case of civil persecution.
It gave the Particular Baptists of its time a distinctive Baptist theology of the church, all while affirming the Reformed view of salvation
The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
1644 brought a year of growth for the Particular Baptists as they more clearly defined the doctrinal standards in their confessional statement. 1645 brought a year of trouble. . Arminian General Baptists charged the Particular Baptists with not addressing free will, communalism, and falling from grace enough, especially within the L0ndon Confession of 1644’s first edition.The General Baptists’ response to the London Confession of 1644 was documented in a pamphlet titled “The Foundation of Free Grace Opened,” which gave their dictional stance against limited atonement, clearly siding with Arminian theology.
The differences and disagreements between 1645’s General and Particular Baptists gave rise to a second edition of the 1644 London Confession and of the First London Baptist confession of 1644. Third and fourth editions would be made later in 1651 and 1652. As William L. Lumpkin commented, about the Particular Baptists,
“In the Army of Cromwell, Baptists had distinguished themselves and had risen to positions of leadership . . . (Calvinist) Baptists were everywhere in prominent positions, and no longer lived in fear of the King and Parliament. The Westminster Confession has appeared in 1646, and by comparing the London Baptist Confession with it men could see that Baptists indeed belonged to the mainstream of Reformed life.”
Calvinistic theology can be seen in a number of areas within the Particular Baptist’s confessional documents. Here are just a few examples taken from the second-edition London Baptist Confession of 1646.
Article VI: first Eve, then Adam being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator, for the which death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sin, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sin in this world and for ever, being considered in the state of nature, without relation to Christ.
[See also Article V.]
Article V: Subject to the eternal wrath of the great God by transgression; yet the elect, which God has loved with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, neither by their own works, lest any man should boast himself, but wholly and only by God of His free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.
[See also Article XVII and Article XIX.]
Article XXI: That Christ Jesus by His death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave Him; and that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the ever blessed God, filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritual excellencies, and that salvation is only and alone to be had through the believing in His name.
[See also Article XXX.]
Article XXII: That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.
[Se alsoArticle V and Article XII].
Perseverance of the Saints
Article XXXVI: To this Church He has made His promises, and given the signs of His Covenant, presence, love, blessing, and protection: here are the fountains and springs of His heavenly grace continually flowing forth; thither ought all men to come, of all estates, that acknowledge Him to be their Prophet, Priest, and King, to be enrolled amongst His household servants, to under His heavenly conduct and government, to lead their lives in His walled sheepfold, and watered garden, to have communion here with the saints, that they may be made to be partakers of their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
[See also Article XXVII.]
Connections to Today’s Current Situation
Where do Baptists come from, and what are their historical beliefs? The question lives on, surfacing again in the twenty-first century within America’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol stated, (during the Southern Baptist Convention of 1995), “Never in our history have we stood in greater need of reexamining our roots.” The issue is the same today as it was in 1995.
With regards to today’s current situation involving soteriology within the Southern Baptist denomination, members must look past the “traditional” views of the twentieth century and back to their historical fathers of the seventeenth century. We must not forget the theology that the Baptist church is founded upon. Southern Baptists need to clearly see the historical value of their Protestant Faith and its theological stances. As Baptist historian W. T. Whitley once stated (on Baptists’ redress of their own history), “. . . if a later generation finds that it does not agree with its predecessors, whether in content or in emphasis, it has openly revised and re-stated what it does believe or it has discarded the old confession and framed another.”
Additional Reading Information on Calvinism and Baptist Church
- Baptist History Out of Focus and From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva To Do with Nashville? by Tom Ascol
- The English Baptists of the Eighteenth Century by Raymond Brown
- Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery
- Being Baptist and being Calvinistic: The Four-Fold Impact of Being Both According to Thomas Chalmers by Michael Haykin
- Baptist Beginnings, The Baptist Heritage, and A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage by Leon McBeth
- Confessing the Faith in 1644 & 1689 by James M. Rehihan
- The First London Confession of 1644 by Walter B. Shurden
- Ready for Reformation?: Bringing Authentic Reform to Southern Baptist Churches by Tom Nettles
- The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century by B. R. White
As Boyce stated and made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) “Three Changes” were a must to build a common theological seminary in the South. Boyce suggested three ideals that SBTS should embody, that they may stand strong for the years to come. The first being openness, a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. Second, was excellence. Boyce was intent upon establishing an advanced program of theological study which in its academic rigor would be compared with they type of instruction that was being offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. However it is the third change that Boyce brought to SBTS that would establish a set of doctrines that must be held and a confessional guidelines for those that taught at SBTS. Timothy George sheds light about this in his work Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (which I started reading this week and highly recommend reading);
The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”
Two things come to mind. One while all three are true of SBTS today, some more than others, it does interest me today why SBTS would use dominantly and primarily use Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine and not their own confessional standards, The Abstract of Systematic Theology written by their founder James Boyce’s. Then second, if the Abstracts by Dr. Boyce truly came from the Philadelphia Confession, which came from the 2nd London Baptist Confession, which had agreed with the Cannons of Dort, then how could an Arminian Professor sign and adhere to the Abstracts to teach at SBTS?
***Quote taken from Timothy George and David S. Dockery, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 77.
I am often struck by the number of church congregation services that seem to have an evangelists approach rather than a pastor leading his congregation in true worship of God during their Lord’s Day morning worship. I think one of the largest issues with this problem in America is a question that is commonly asked among pastors, elders, small groups and within the church. It goes something like this, “what type of worship do you like?” or “what style of worship fo you favor?” or “how to you feel worship should be done?” Besides the problem of creating a dichotomy between singing and preaching on the Lord’s Day (as if only one of them are worshipping) lies the problem that Evangelicals continues to create, address, fix, create, address, fix again, crate, address with a different group, and are left to fix once again. The never ending cycle of programed worship, leading to only selective groups, leaving out others, left with continually fixing the worship style, pattern with man’s thoughts, feelings, and what they themselves enjoy during worship service. The problem, the church continues to ask the question “what do we want during worship service?” and not the question “What has God commanded of His people during worship service?” As long as Dispensational roots are sunk in deep to American Evangelicals, who really applies Deuteronomy 12:32, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” Dispensationalism or not, understanding the use of moral law would be of great help and discernment on what one does during worship,
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
This is just one of the many reasons why confessional protestantism helps again at truly understanding the Scriptures. Systematically looking at matters of importance throughout all of the Scriptures, identifying the Truths within Scripture and standing firm upon them within the Church. Recently chapter 22, section 1 of the London Baptist Confession has become a constant read for reminder in my family and personal life. It reads,
The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
As Jeremiah has said, “Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations And in all their kingdoms, There is none like You.”