Friday, May 8, 2009

Treading Water in the Baptismal

I find myself asking questions again:

What form should evangelism take? Is the Great Commission really the most important part of the Bible? I thought the whole thing was important.

In fulfilling the Great Commission why is so much emphasis placed on just the "Go" and "baptizing" parts while the rest appears to be completely ignored?

How is it that this church is satisfied to be always at the point of conversion and does not seek to grow past that point?

Why are we treading water?

Let me explain. I'm seeing a pattern:
  1. Someone goes forward in church to show that they want to accept Christ (usually in answer to an alter call).
  2. They repent of the sinful life they have been living and pray to receive Salvation through Grace.
  3. They are baptized and become members.
  4. Nothing else happens. They don't come to Sunday School, they don't join a Bible Study. People (other Christians) hug them, promise to pray, and then abandon them.
  5. A month later they answer the alter call again (as backsliding Christians now).
  6. They get hugged and prayed for again. Still, nothing changes. A couple months after that they are answering alter call again -- still dealing with the same thing, or just finding out "I never knew it was a sin."
  7. And a week later yet again ... and still all we have to offer them by way of guidance is a hug.

Mind you, I'm not saying Christians never sin -- we do. Humans are, by nature, fallen and need repentance. So maybe I'm missing something, but.... Where's the part where we go to the Scriptures and figure out how to do better? REPENTANCE means to ask for forgiveness and to turn away from our sins. I don't see the part where someone explains what constitutes sin and says "Go and sin no more" as Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:11). You know what you have done wrong. This act is a sin, He told her, but you do not have to keep on sinning. So don't do this anymore.

Why aren't we more helpful like that?

The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20, states:
"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.” "

That's a three part commission with a bonus:

  1. Go and Make Disciples
  2. Baptize
  3. Teach them to Observe (Obey) Scripture
  4. Bonus: Christ will be with us always.

Part one: Go ... where to go Jesus does not say exactly, but we learn from the journeys of the apostles in the rest of the New Testament, and from Jesus' actions during His time on earth, that anywhere we go there will be people who need to hear the Word of the Lord.
And Make Disciples... disciples are followers. Followers of Christ will be those who recognize the Truth when it is told to them and these disciples will want to learn more. Disciples choose to follow God even when it might be difficult. And even when they make mistakes or don't understand right away, disciples want to do better and are eager and excited. They just got hold of TRUTH and it's intoxicating.

Part two: Baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In Jewish custom, the ritual of Baptism was a sort of rite of membership. To be baptized in the name of Christ would be to signify and witness to the other Jews of the day that these disciples had chosen to align themselves with the newly forming Christian church. Ideologically and in every other way they became Christians (i.e. their tithes would go to that church and not the synagogue). But the commission given to the disciples (and by extension us) does not end there. Baptism, or membership, is just names on a list and the eagerness of a new Christian will fade away if the third part is lacking.

Part three: "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded." To observe in this context means to obey. A new Christian or a mature Christian cannot expect to know everything and to live perfectly. We need guidance, which is found in Scripture. But where in Scripture?

Do you remember the first time you went to the Smithsonian Museum, or the first time you tried to drive in New York City, or the first time you had to find the gate for your connecting plane in one of those big hub airports? It's confusing, can be overwhelming, even paralyzing for some. But maybe you had someone with you, someone who had been there before and knew which wing the exhibit would be in, or could tell you not to turn left because you'd never get through the traffic on that street, or knew that airport and could say 'we've got 28 minutes and our plane's on the other side of that far terminal we'd better hustle.' It helps. We need to do that as Christians. Is it really that hard? To say, hey, I've been there before, let me help you find your way... This is that passage you're looking for... Here's where Scripture talks about that... The Bible says this about what you're dealing with...

I suspect we are afraid. I think churches are so happy that someone actually shows up on Sunday morning that we pander to feel goodism. We don't want to tell people what sin is because we don't want to appear judgemental. We hesitate to tell people how to live according to Biblical principles, because they might take it as a personal criticism. We don't offer gentle reproof to help others stay on track or get on track because we are afraid that they will be offended and stop coming to church. And we're just so thrilled to get someone into the baptismal that we want to stay there.

We have forgotten the bonus part. We do not need to be afraid. Christ is with us always. We do not need to be afraid of offending when we approach in the Love of Christ. We will not drive away new members who are fellow followers. We don't have to be afraid to teach the commandments. (If someone is uncomfortable because of a sin in their life -- that's a good thing, God wants to make us uncomfortable with our sins so that we move past them.) To fulfill the Great Commission we need to do all three parts. We don't need to tread water.

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