IF YOU CAN’T GO, SEND?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my life I have heard preachers, “missionaries” and elders urge their listeners that since it was the business of the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world, but since not all of us could go into the whole world, we should realize that “If you can’t go, send someone else.” In all probability I have urged that on more than one occasion. A few moments ago it struck me with considerable force that this concept is erroneous and dangerous, as it causes us to think in directions that are destructive to New Testament Christianity.
The reasoning behind the kind of urging we have heard and done as suggested above is, “The Great Commission has 4 imperatives –Go into all the world –make disciples –baptize those disciples –teach them to observe all things commanded. Since it is evident that not all can go, then the elite corps who are willing to make that sacrifice will do that job for you, if you will provide support for them.” It still sounds pretty good to most of us, doesn’t it?
Let us examine some things wrong with those concepts. In the first place, the Great Commission does not have four imperatives. It has ONE imperative –make disciples. The going is suggested in a participle phrase, not in an imperative. What is the significance of that? It is at least twofold. First, God recognized that we all CAN go, and ARE going! A man in an iron lung who is being moved frequently from his hospital room down the hall is “going” –and I heard of one who converted 14 of his nurses and attendants in the process of those frequent goings! It is an improper exegesis of the passage to suggest that the Apostles obeyed the original command of Jesus as each one of them went into some foreign nation. This in no sense denies or downgrades the importance of going into foreign nations, nor implies that those who make great sacrifices to leave the relative ease and security of this nation to go into foreign fields are not worthy of praise and support. But it does suggest that one is no less a servant, and a worthy servant of God if he makes the same kind of loving sacrificial effort yet never leaves the city limits! Of course that is rarely, if ever, done. But the point is that the Great Commission does not involve the necessity for every obedient Christian to go into a foreign field. Even if every Christian went into a foreign field, he would not be going into all the fields in the world.
The real power of that Commission is that it is to everyone, and CAN be done by every Christian, WHEREVER HE IS, for he is going into the world wherever he is! And the commission simply says, “As ye go, when ye go, wherever ye go, make disciples!” So the second thing significant about that participle phrase is that it is a continuous process. One does not have to wait until some “missionary” comes with a plea for help to get into a foreign field to carry it out. It has been demonstrated numerous times that those who are most eager to have a “missionary” come by and tell of their needs and are most liberal in their support of them are those who are already involved in carrying out the Great Commission where they are! You can almost be certain that when a congregation refuse to allow one who is making a sacrificial effort to go to a foreign field to come by and speak because “it will decrease the local effort” that congregation does not have much local effort! That is, it has very little local effort in carrying out the Great Commission! It may be making a good local effort to enlarge the parking lot, or put in padded pews or put a more elegant steeple on the building, or build a bigger gymnasium, or support another “Minister of involvement,” but I have never known such a situation where there was much concern with personal evangelism, or really carrying out the Great Commission in any fashion.
But one of the biggest things wrong with the concept of which we are now making a critical analysis is that it fosters the false and dangerous notion that if you feel that you can not do what God commanded, you can substitute some other activity in its place! “If you can’t go, send!” What about, “If you can’t sing, play!” There was once a rich person in a congregation where I preached who let me know that there were certain things that I might expect the other women to do that she was not going to do, but she would make up for it by giving more than they did! How many of us have encouraged that false concept? The truth is that if you have money you are supposed to give, but you can not substitute it for some other duty. You can not pay your preacher (or anyone else) to visit the sick for you, or do your praying for you, or come to Bible class for you! “Each man must bear his own burden” (Galatians 6:5).
Involved in this is another false and dangerous concept. That is, that there is an “elite corps” that has the responsibility of going into a foreign field, and the “common herd” has the responsibility of supporting them in doing it. There is no question that there are greater and lesser persons in thekingdomofGod, but they are not on the basis that we often determine and assume! Neither the preacher, the missionary or the “discipler” is in the “elite corps” by virtue of his “office” or title, or in what part of the world he may happen to go. Greatness in the Bible is on an altogether different basis — “Whosoever sill be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew20:27).
But another false idea is one that we probably have heard more often than the rest, and which did not seem so dangerous many years ago when we first heard it. That is, that the commission says to make disciples, then baptize those disciples, and then teach those baptized disciples to observe all other things commanded. We were told that a disciple is “a learner” and since a person had to learn before he was a “fit subject” for baptism, then he was a disciple first and was baptized some time later. This may be one thing that gave rise to the “Disciplining movement.” The idea that a “disciple” is one thing, a “Christian” is something else, and a “discipler” is yet another is not a Biblical concept. Every Christian is a disciple, and has the responsibility to be a “discipler” –that is, try to make another disciplined follower of Jesus. A disciple is not merely a learner, but is a learner who is following the teachings of the one about whom he is learning. One may learn the principles of Communism, but one is not a disciple of the Communist party if he is not following Communist principles. “The disciples were called Christians” (Acts11:26) because a disciple WAS a Christian!
Even the grammar of the Great Commission bears that out. It does not say, “Make disciples AND baptize those disciples” (either with a “Lordship baptism” or any other kind). It says, “Make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all things commanded”. And if I understand the meaning of the participle phrase in this sentence, it is approximately equivalent to, “Make disciples BY baptizing them –teaching them to observe all things commanded.” It is very similar to the expression, “Clean the floor, vacuuming it.” You do not clean the floor THEN vacuum it. And if you tried to clean the floor by mopping it, you would be disobedient! That means that a person cannot be a disciple who has not heard about the Lord, been baptized AND taught the necessity of doing ALL Christ commanded. If a person comes to you and says, “I want to be saved, and I want to be baptized for the remission of my sins, BUT I am not going to take the Lord’s Supper except when I WANT TO, and I am going to substitute something for God’s ordained plan for worship IF I WANT TO, and I am going to serve ONLY if, as or when I SEE FIT,” he cannot be a disciple, no matter if you baptize him –and even make a deacon, elder, or preacher out of him!