Matthew 28: 16-28 – The Great Commission
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Allow your authentic witness to shine for the world to see
When reading this scripture and you get to the phrase to “go and make disciples of all nations” you may get a warm, fuzzy feeling.
You may even pump your fist in the air and say, “Yeah, that’s what Christ told us to do … let’s go get ’em in the name of Jesus!”
But while reading “The Next Christendom: the coming of Global Christianity” by Phillip Jenkins, you realize there are so many complications.
Throughout history Christians embark on areas of the world with the intention of proclaiming the gospel but often end up doing as much harm as good.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, a missionary girl in the Belgian Congo remembers how “we came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”
Jenkins writes the “overtly religious content of such missions is minimal – one girl “prayed the dumb prayers of our childhood: ‘Our Father which art in heaven …’ I could not remotely believe any shepherd was leading me through this dreadful valley, but the familiar words stuffed my mouth like cotton.”
Jenkins writes by 1970 African churches were calling for a moratorium on Western missions because they stunted growth of local initiatives. He stated truth had to be reconciled to traditions and religion that failed to synthesize old and new would "maim a man’s soul.”
On the opposite end of missionaries force-feeding beliefs is indoctrinating oneself so deeply in another’s culture to skew the theology, mission and grace of Jesus Christ into something Christ wouldn’t recognize.
In 17th century India, Jesuit Robert De Nobili posed as Hindu guru, who instructed his disciples on the mysteries of Christianity. He wore local dress while respecting and following the complex Indian caste system.
Respecting the caste system was controversial because of its belief in reincarnation. It almost meant acknowledging the refusal of treating the poor on equal terms – in contrast to what Jesus taught.
In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries to China began taking a relaxed attitude toward Chinese customs and practices “preferring to absorb peacefully anything not flagrantly contrary to Christian teaching.”
However, within several years, the Jesuits became under attack for “permitting the Chinese to worship their ancestors, for canonizing Saint Confucius, and including names of pagan Gods in translated scriptures.”
The Vatican ruled against the Jesuits cultural compromise, prohibiting the movement from continuing its practices. The Pope declared new regulations be put in place and their foreign presence was no longer tolerated by the Chinese emperors and the church was persecuted.
In making disciples of all nations, one cannot force feed their beliefs on anyone, but one also can’t alter their beliefs so dramatically that it’s distant figment of Christ’s teachings.
In First Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul speaks about “becoming a slave to everyone to win as many as possible” and to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
But Paul isn’t advocating departing from the true gospel.
In Matthew 10, Jesus gives specific instructions for sending out the disciples. He says if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words to leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
In verse 16, he also says to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Being shrewd does not mean exuding force, lying or deception.
But it does mean utilizing the gifts and talents God has given you.
I’ve been involved in prison ministry in Alabama the last 10 years.
With my experience in sports journalism, I know I can talk to inmates about sports – which is a passionate topic – that can lead conversations to other directions that include God.
But if my Christ-like beliefs that I speak so passionately about don’t match my actions, I’m nothing more than a fraud – a missionary attempting to make disciples that may end up doing more harm than good.
At the correctional facility where I volunteer, ministry groups come into the prison Monday through Friday generally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (in non-coronavirus conditions).
After several years, I began to see the wide variety of prison ministries through the eyes of the inmates. They are not trusting of many groups that come into the facility offering ministry.
They think about what each group is trying to get from them. Are they authentic? Do they put into practice what they say they believe?
Several large community churches come into the institution and offer expansive programs. But many of the inmates I’ve ministered to over the course of several years want nothing to do with them. Why? Because the message they preach isn’t backed up by their actions.
We’re in a unique time in our history.
Because of sickness, quarantines, social-distancing, anxiety over loss of finances or lack of personal connection, people are seeking answers. They want to know why and may seek the peace that surpasses all understanding that can only come from a relationship with Christ.
If someone comes to you asking questions, learn from the past.
Don’t force your beliefs on someone. Don’t act like you believe everything someone tells you for the hope of simply winning them to your side. Be open. Be conscientious. Be loving.
But don’t back away from your beliefs. Allow your beliefs to be transformed into the action that exemplifies Christ that is alive in you.
How do you do it? Make sure you know what your beliefs are. Keep in contact with God through prayer, study and action that benefits and show how you care for others.
In the book of Esther, Mordecai tries to persuade the queen to take a stand for the Jewish people so they will not be destroyed. He says: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
With all the uncertainty in the world, who is to say God isn’t calling you at such a time as this to make disciples of all nations by your authentic witness that begins in your family, neighborhood, state and country?
Brad Zimanek is the Associate Pastor at Mulder Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry.