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Are You Following the Great Commission?
Tom: You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage all who desire to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him!
We’re going through Dave Hunt’s book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, which underscores the critical necessity of searching the Scriptures for understanding the Christian faith. Dave, you begin chapter eight with this scripture verse: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew:28:19-20).
Dave: And it is Christ who is commanding the disciples . . .
Tom: Right. And that’s the Great Commission.
Dave: . . . and us today. His command to us today.
Tom: Yeah. Now, Dave, this chapter is about discipleship. How are the Great Commission and discipleship—how are they related?
Dave: Well, Jesus said, as you just read, “Teach them,” or, that means, “Make them disciples.” I mean, if you’re teaching someone, you’re teaching them to be a follower of the Word of God, and then He goes on and He says, “ . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
So, Christ very clearly says that the disciples are to go out, and they are to win others to Christ through the gospel—Mark:16:15 says, “Preach the gospel to every creature.” You know, go into all the world; preach the gospel to every creature. So this is what He’s talking about.
And those people that you win with the gospel, they become of the followers of Jesus Christ, and they are to be commanded to observe everything that Christ commanded the original disciples. That’s what He says: “You teach them to observe all things that I commanded you.” So it’s a call to discipleship, because Christ called the disciples: “Follow Me.” And now, He’s spent several years training them, teaching them. And now He says very clearly, you cannot escape it—and I think it’s a very important scripture, Tom, for all of us to realize—He doesn’t say a certain class of clergy, or of priests or bishops, or seminary graduates. He says, “Every one that you win to Me to become My follower through the gospel, you are to teach them to observe everything that I commanded you.”
Now, I can’t escape that. That means that the successors of the apostles are not a certain class of priests or bishops or whoever you want to set them out to be. But they are everyone! Every Christian is to be a successor of the apostles. I’m a disciple of the man who won me to Christ, and he was the disciple of a disciple of a disciple, all the way back to the original disciples, to whom Christ said, “Go out, and you teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
Tom: Dave, this may sound a little farfetched, but you know that we have in a religion like Hinduism, we have guruism. What’s the difference? As you know, a guru has his disciples, and they sit at the feet of a guru and it’s through his wisdom that they gain knowledge.
Dave: Yeah. Of course the guru is the way to “god,” and the disciple who makes disciples is not the way to God. But also, it’s very clear—I mean, that’s the whole . . . you began, saying that we must search the Scriptures daily. Why do we search the scriptures? Because it’s the scriptures that even tell us this command. It’s the scriptures that tell us about Christ, that tell us what Christ taught. It would be the only way that we would know what Christ taught the original disciples, which has been passed down.
So, Acts:17:11, which is the basis for the very name of The Berean Call and for this program—the Bereans searched the scriptures to check Paul out. So on the one hand, Paul was making disciples. He was teaching them to observe what Christ had commanded him and the original apostles. On the other hand, the authority was not Paul. He had not been given some special office or position that then empowered him to have authority over others so they had to obey what he said. No, his authority came from Christ.
I like the way the Centurion said it, remember? He sent his servant to say to Christ, “Could you come and heal my servant?” And he said, “I didn’t consider myself worthy to even come and ask you. That’s why I sent my servant, because . . .” He didn’t say, “I’m a man of authority.” He said “I’m a man under authority, and I can say to this man, ‘go,’ and he goes, and to this one ‘come,’ and he comes.” So his authority came from his general, or whoever was over him—colonel, general, whatever they called them in those days—and, ultimately, Caesar. And our authority comes from Christ. It comes through His Word. And so His Word is our authority.
So, Paul would say to the Corinthians, for example, 1 Corinthians 14: “Let the prophets speak, two or three by course [that is, one at a time], and let the others judge, and if something is revealed to another, let the first one hold his peace,” it says, “and let the other speak.”
So we are all under the authority of the Word of God. On the other hand, it does say, Hebrews 13: “Obey them that have the rule over you, who watch for your souls,” and so forth. So there are deacons, elders, in the church who have authority because they are watching over the flock. But they do not have authority in and of themselves by their office. Never is that taught in the Bible! Their authority is the Word of God.
Therefore, all of those who are being taught by them can at any moment say, “Wait a minute! What you’re teaching is not according to the Bible.” Or, at least respectfully say, “Wait a minute! How do you get that idea from the scriptures? Could we discuss this?” So there is a discipleship, but we don’t become gurus.
Tom: Right. You know, Jesus himself said, “If you continue in my Word, you are my disciples indeed.” So there we have the Lord himself pointing to His Word as that which has authority.
Dave: Right. It can’t be otherwise. If the Bible (and we’ve probably said this 100 times on this program)—if the Bible is not our authority, then what do we look to? We could look to some theologians again, the so-called Jesus Seminar “biblical” scholars, who sit around and vote—they’ve just been in the news again recently—“Searching for the Historical Jesus.” I don’t know how you’re going to do that. We have history. We have eyewitness accounts. And it is inspired of the Holy Spirit. But they don’t like it. They don’t believe it. So, they’re going to sit around and discuss? Well, then that’s their opinion. If we don’t have something better than someone’s opinion, why is your opinion better than my opinion? Why is any opinion worth listening to? In fact, they’re not.
So, we must have an authority. The authority is the Bible. This tells us about Christ. This tells us about Christianity. This tells us what the church is supposed to be. It’s the Bible that describes the Christian life, that tells how you become a Christian. It tells us about Christ and what He taught.
Why, then, would I go to some other source? Furthermore, why would then I turn to someone who is the authority to tell me what the Bible means? If there must be an authority to tell me what the Bible means, then I’m not in touch with God. I’m at the mercy of someone who claims to be the authority.
Now someone could counter and say, “Well, then, what are you guys doing on the radio trying to teach us from the Bible? Aren’t you setting yourselves up as an authority? Or why is there a pastor or a Bible teacher? What is their function?”
Well, because, Tom, as I study the Word of God, the Lord can show me some things that He didn’t show you as you were studying, and when you’re studying, He shows you some things that I didn’t see. And that way we can help one another, but neither one of us is the authority, that you must now obey me.
So the pastor, or the Bible teacher, whatever they want to call him, Sunday morning Bible teacher, he has studied the Bible, he has learned from it some things that he believes are clear in the Word of God, and he is calling this to mind to the people who sit in his class. But they are not supposed to just accept whatever he says. They have a responsibility to study and know the Word of God themselves. So we help one another that way.
Tom: A. W. Tozer, one of my favorite statements that he made, he referred to himself that he wanted to be nothing more than a signpost. And that’s a terrific analogy, because you don’t sit at the foot of a signpost and expect to go somewhere.
Tom: In addition, a signpost points in a direction, and if it’s a direction to a city, or something like that, you have a map. You know, you don’t necessarily take the signpost’s word for it, but you check it out according to your map. And I think that’s a great analogy, because that’s what we’re to do with teachers in reference to the Word of God.
Dave: Now, the problem, Tom, arises because like the children of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai, they heard God speak with an audible voice. They didn’t like it! It terrified them. He gave them the Ten Commandments. He literally spoke the Ten Commandments audibly from the top of the mountain. But they said to Moses, “You go up! You talk to God. Then you come back and tell us what He said.” And this is the attitude of many if not most, probably most, people in most evangelical churches. “Pastor, you be a holy a man of God. You spend time in study of the Word and in prayer. You get a message from God, and then you sally forth from your prayer closet Sunday morning and give us a three- or four-point sermon. Don’t make it too long.” And then they think that they are absolved from any responsibility before God; they can blame the pastor if he hasn’t taught them fully enough. And they imagine in their minds that all they are supposed to do, now, is follow what the pastor says.
One day, you’ll stand before God. He says, “Why did you do that?”
“Well, I listened to those two guys, Hunt and McMahon, on Search the Scriptures Daily, and I saw a picture of them, and they both had beards, kinda looked like Elijah, you know, and they sounded authoritative, and I just believed what they said.”
God says, “Wait a minute. I’ve given you My Word. I’ve given you My Spirit. I’ve given you some common sense! And you are accountable to know it for yourself.”
Tom: Dave, going back to the Bereans, Acts:17:11, you had to know Paul was very excited—first of all that they listened to what he had to say, but he was more excited that they didn’t put that responsibility on him. They searched the scriptures to see if what he was saying was true. Now, I would think every pastor out there—this is another aspect of what you’re talking about—a pastor ought to delight (and I’m sure most do) when his flock, his sheep, as it were, don’t just buy into everything that he says, but they search the scriptures daily. I think that would be an encouragement to each pastor, and a pastor ought to encourage them to do so.
Dave: Right. The earlier part of that verse that I guess we neglect to quote as often as we should, it says, “They received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures. . . .” So they’re open to the Word of God. They are eager to receive what God has to say. On the other hand, they’re checking this man, Paul, out, to make certain that he’s not deviating from what the scripture teaches—that he’s not introducing some esoteric . . . some . . . . That’s another temptation that we have: “Oh, I’d like to belong to an exclusive club. I’d like to have some understanding from the Bible that nobody else has seen!” That’s how all the cults begin. Joseph Smith gets revelations. In fact, he even wrote his own version of the Bible. That’s a temptation: “Oh, I’d like to have some new truth that nobody has seen in 1,900 years of Christianity! Wouldn’t that be great?”
Well, you’d better be a little bit cautious if for 1,900 years, men and women of God, studying the Bible on their knees, never got that idea out of there, and suddenly somebody comes up with a new one, and now you’re going to follow him. It’s probably not true. But that’s a temptation, because we want to be exclusive. We want to be ahead of somebody else. We want to have some esoteric understanding that other people don’t have.
No, the Bible is very plain. It’s very simple. It’s very straightforward. There are “some things that are hard to be understood,” Peter says, but in general the Bible was written in very clear language. I don’t remember the exact statistics, but compared with other books, the Bible uses a very small number of words, for example. It’s like a fifth-grade vocabulary or something. It’s not coming up with words that are seldom used. It uses common phrases, and so forth.
Tom: Now, Dave, Paul, writing to those in Galatia or in Thessalonica—was he writing to the seminarians there? Was he writing to the Hebrew and . . . well, then it would have been the Greek scholars? No! He was just writing to common people.
Dave: Exactly. So common people should be able to understand the Bible.
Tom: Right. Now, Dave, we have the Great Commission. We quoted that right up front. But we also have discipleship. Some people worry that if they lead somebody to Christ, or God uses them to help bring somebody into the kingdom, now they have a responsibility to nurture and then disciple. Sometimes you can do that, but sometimes you can’t.
Dave: Well, if I have the option—here’s a person that I meet on an airplane, for example: “Well, but I’ll probably never see them again, so I’d better not give them the gospel, because I won’t be able to follow up!”
Tom: Some people think that way!
Dave: I possibly could follow up in letters, and so forth. No. Primarily, I’m to go into all the world and preach the gospel, Mark:16:15. I am to make disciples, and I am to teach them to observe everything that Christ has commanded me—but only to the extent that I am able to do it. Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered, God gave the increase.” So, the Lord is going to pick that person up wherever they go in the world, and bring someone else into their life to nurture them and teach them. Also they have, if they’ve been born of the Spirit of God, they’re indwelt with the Holy Spirit, He’s their teacher! He’s their Counselor and Guide. They have the Word of God, but if we have the opportunity, then we should seek to disciple them
Tom: Dave, one of the statements you make in your book, you say, “One of today’s greatest needs is for solid Bible teaching that produces disciples who are able to ‘earnestly contend for the faith, once delivered to all the saints.’”
Dave: You know, Tom, one of the things that really—I don’t know the answer to it, and I don’t understand it—perhaps part of it is the day in which we live, the apostasy in which we live, but when you read 1 and 2 Thessalonians, those were the first two epistles Paul wrote. I love them for that reason, but for many other reasons. He was there no more than three weeks—three Sabbath days. Well, you could say then he was there, then almost four weeks, okay? Read those epistles and see—he taught them almost everything! They knew about Antichrist. They knew about the coming Day of the Lord. They knew about the Rapture. They knew about apostasy. It’s staggering, what he taught them in less than a month! And then, you see people who claim to have been Christians for years, and they don’t understand what, apparently, the Thessalonians—who, by the way—were pagan idol worshipers. Paul said, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.” I think there are a lot of Christians today who aren’t waiting for His Son from heaven! They’re too busy with this life.
So it should be an encouragement to us that with the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, people can be nurtured very quickly. Of course, Paul then wrote to them. But in his epistle, for example, 2 Thessalonians, he writes, “You remember that when I was with you, I taught you these things.” So, I think we should be encouraged that where there is a readiness of mind, if they receive the Word of God with readiness of mind, and they’re willing to search the Scriptures, there will be a rapid understanding, insight, and growth.
Now, why don’t we see that today? Well, maybe people are not searching the Scriptures daily. I guess if you took a poll, and you calculated how much time the average Christian spends watching television in comparison with time on their knees in prayer or studying the Word of God, that would probably explain a lot.
So it all depends upon what we think is important. I think we find time for what we think is important.
Tom: Dave, I remember the . . . when we were following the beginnings, the development, of Promise Keepers. There was an interesting aspect that McCartney wrote about it. He was sharing the history, and he said it began with, really, another gentleman who was encouraging Bill McCartney to put this together, and they both talked about their visions for it. McCartney’s was unity. And this other man’s vision was discipleship.
And you’d say, “That’s great! We want discipleship.” But as you follow the development of the organization, discipleship went by the boards because of unity. Because the unity was not unity in the truth.
So, as you know, when they started to develop their rules, their promises, and so onyou find that they excluded discipleship because of their concern for unity. If somebody believed in baptismal regeneration, for example, you weren’t to talk about that. And they began to knock off certain things that they felt were “separating the brethren,” as it were. But how can you have discipleship when you can’t address the teachings of the church?
Dave: Well, it’s very simple again. Jesus said it, and I think you quoted it earlier, “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Well, then, if I’m going to fulfill that, I’m going to have to continue in His Word. Now, His Word has some definite things to say. His Word has teaching in all of these areas. Am I going to say, “Well, it really doesn’t matter. There are certain things, now, let’s not become too particular about that.” But the Bible says I must earnestly contend for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. But for the sake of unity, “Well, let’s let that go, and we’ll let that go . . .” And one of the seven promises is that we will not observe denominational barriers. On the one hand, I can understand what they want. “Let’s not be divided because you’re a Baptist and I’m a Presbyterian or whatever, if we believe the same gospel, welove the same Lord.”
On the other hand, many denominational barriers have been erected over doctrines. There’s a division over doctrine. I can’t just ignore doctrinal differences if they pertain to the gospel and to obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.
“Well, yeah, but you’re going to cause division!”
Well, everywhere Jesus went—read it in John’s gospel—at least four times there was a division among the Jews because of Him. There was division because they had to choose between the truth of God and the lie of Satan, or the ideas of men. And we still have to stand for that!