Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

Why I don’t hate Jesus’ religion

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I started to write a response to the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” shortly after it appeared, but never got around to posting it. The video turned up on my Facebook timeline this morning, so I guess it’s still getting views. That being the case, I decided to freshen up the post and belatedly publish my thoughts. My comments are based on a transcript since I grew up reading, not watching videos.

This video – the work of a man named Jeff Bethke – has had more than 27 million views on YouTube. As a Christian (that is, an adherent of the Christian religion), I find his love of Jesus admirable. Beyond that, I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to say. I know I don’t understand the title of his video. Maybe it was just meant to be catchy – a title that might send a video viral and get a lot of attention. It worked.

A catchy title is one thing, but I don’t understand the content either. To be clear, I know who Jesus is and why Jeff might love him. It’s the hatred of religion, including, apparently, the Christian religion, that I can’t quite fathom. Perhaps a starting point would be to define what it is that he hates. Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Edition (in my and many others’ opinions the best paper dictionary) gives us a good working definition:

The service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands, esp. as found in accepted sacred writings or as declared by recognized teachers and in pursuit of a way of life regarded as incumbent on true believers.

If Jeff has made up his own definition of religion to rail against, then there’s no point in responding. But I assume he understands the word to mean something like the definition above.

I’d like to answer some of the questions Jeff asks and challenge a couple of his claims.

Jeff: What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

Grumpy: I’d ask you where you got the notion that Jesus came to abolish “the service and adoration of God” and “obedience to divine commands … in pursuit of a way of life regarded as incumbent on true believers.” My Bible says Jesus came to encourage those things, not abolish them.

Jeff: What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t his mission?

Grumpy: I’d wonder if maybe you were under the mistaken impression that voting Democrat (or Green or Whig, or some other party) was his mission.

Jeff: What if I told you “Republican” doesn’t automatically mean “Christian”?

Grumpy: I’d remind you that "Democrat", "minister", "poet", "wife", “student”, and "cowboy" don’t automatically mean “Christian” either; then I’d ask why you’re obsessed with Republicans.

Jeff: And just because you call some people “blind” doesn’t automatically give you vision?

Grumpy: Neither does it mean the blind have vision. I assume you’re talking about spiritual blindness. Are you promoting blindness? Or discouraging the recognition of it in either ourselves or others? The Bible doesn’t encourage spiritual blindness and it doesn’t direct us to either ignore or affirm spiritual blindness.

Jeff: I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?

Grumpy: Jeff, you have fallen for a secular myth; the reality is that religion has played only a minor role in starting wars. If you think about it, religion can’t really do anything. Only people – sometimes acting as they believe their religion directs them [see definition above] – can do things like start wars. If that’s what you mean, I’d ask you, if religion is so bad, why did adherents of the Christian religion abolish the slave trade in England? Why did Christian religious organizations establish countless medical missions in Africa? Why are they so quick to respond with help in places like Haiti or Japan or the Gulf Coast or Joplin, Missouri, or Indonesia?

Maybe some religions promote war while others promote peace. Maybe some religions spread through murder and conquest while others spread through martyrdom and sacrifice.

Jeff: Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor?

Grumpy: Another good question and here’s yet another – why does it sometimes build modest buildings or none at all and feed the poor, the homeless, the displaced, and the refugee? Why do you think it’s a zero-sum game? Don’t you believe God’s resources are sufficient to build dedicated houses of worship that express his grandeur and feed the poor?

Jeff: Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce?

Grumpy: Or welcome them and their children and provide help, support, and encouragement? Do you honestly mean to say that you’ve never seen anyone who embraces the Christian religion do these things? If you haven’t, you need to get out more.

Jeff: But in the Old Testament God actually calls religious people “whores”. Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.

Grumpy: You’ve discovered hypocrites. Congratulations. You’ve doubtless found them in churches. You’ll find them on street corners and all over the internet; you’ll find them on YouTube. You’ll even find them among the most ardent lovers and followers of Jesus.

Jeff: Now back to the point: One thing is vital to mention, how Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man-made invention

Grumpy: A “man-made invention”? Jesus selected and taught the apostles. He picked his own theologian (Saul), renamed him Paul, personally trained him, sent him out to plant churches, and inspired him to write letters explaining the Christian religion to them. Paul wrote about both doctrine (grace, salvation, the sacraments, and much more) and such practicalities as accountability, church governance, and the qualifications of elders and deacons. I don’t understand why Jesus thought those were good things if religion is a bad thing. When he ascended into Heaven, Jesus left behind an organization complete with a mission statement. At least that’s what my Bible says.

Jeff, you say you love the Church. But you hate the structure that Jesus left behind to preserve, guide, and grow it. You exhibit a trendy cynicism about “organized religion” that seems to arise from an inability to separate the structure from the jars of clay Jesus entrusted it to.

Jeff: See this was me, too, but no one seemed to be on to me, actin’ like church kid while addicted to pornography. See, on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday gettin’ faded, actin’ as if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted. See, I spent my whole life buildin’ this façade of neatness.

Grumpy: This seems to be an indictment of your own hypocrisy – passing as a “church kid” while denying in your life everything the Church stands for – not the religion of Jesus Christ. Do you actually hold that religion responsible for your sins? Still, it couldn’t have been a complete failure – that religion introduced you to Jesus.

A final note: I doubt this video did anything to reform those parts of the Church that need reforming, but it may have misled some Christians into believing that the Church is Jesus’ enemy. I’m pretty sure Satan enjoys the idea that the religion Jesus created – the service and adoration of God as expressed in forms of worship, in obedience to divine commands, esp. as found in the Bible – should be scorned by his followers. And the video seems to have launched a career in social media and YouTube consulting for Jeff. I was going to read some of his blog posts, but they turned out to be videos too.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal | 2 Comments »

What do educated evangelicals know?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Chuck Queen is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. He posted an opinion piece entitled “It’s time for evangelicals to come out for evolution” on the ABPnews/Herald (Baptist news) web site. He decries the fact that “76 percent of evangelicals doubt that life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection” and thinks it’s time for evangelicals to get with Darwin’s program. And it’s up to the educated ones to take the lead in transforming the great unwashed masses of presumably uneducated evangelicals:

Educated evangelicals know that the creation stories were never intended to be history lessons or science reports, because the Bible is not a history or science book.

Educated evangelicals also know:

• That evangelical Christians need not fear or deny the enormous amount of scientific data supporting evolution.

• That the story of evolution and the biblical story are not mutually exclusive.

• That a healthy faith welcomes and is informed by science.

As an educated evangelical myself, I thought to challenge Pastor Queen’s assumptions about what we know. I preserved our dialog and present it here. (Notes: My last comment was not published before all comments disappeared from the page. I have inserted a link and added a little formatting that was not possible in the original online conversation.)

Grumpy: "Educated evangelicals" also know that Darwinian evolution is a theory that has some explanatory power but is unable to explain some phenomena, such as the Cambrian Explosion. And educated evangelicals know that no form of neo-Darwinism (natural selection operating on random mutations) has ever been observed in nature or demonstrated in the laboratory. Educated evangelicals also know that such evolutionary staples as junk DNA have been debunked by ENCODE and other studies. And educated evangelicals know that evidence for evolution is so shaky that its promoters have had to come up with such outright propaganda as staged photographs of peppered moths and Haeckel’s phony drawings of embryos. Finally, educated evangelicals know that there is no settled science and that claims that there is are made by people whose livelihoods, philosophical views, tenure, or government grants require propagating the myth that evolution is, to use your word, "truth". Yes, definitely a truth that evangelicals should "come out for".

Pastor Queen: I know . . . I shouldn’t have used the term "educated evangelicals" because it sounds condescending. Sorry about that. Should have used the phrase "evangelical university and seminary professors." I stand by my claim that if the truth were told many, if not most, evangelical university and seminary professors hold to some form of evolution. All of us see God engaged in the process. Exactly how is the great mystery of divine oversight and creaturely freedom. And I stand by my claim that they know that the Genesis stories as "religious myths" contain much truth, though the truth is not factual or historical.

G: Thanks for the reply and the clarification. IMHO, it all depends on what you do with the first five words in the Bible. They aren’t "In the beginning, God engaged …". They are "In the beginning, God created …. " If those five words aren’t a "myth", then God created. He didn’t "engage in the process"; he was the process. If the first five words contain any falsehood, then there’s no reason to accept the rest of them. Ultimately we’re left with what the extra-Biblical sources confirm about the historical Jesus – he was a moral teacher who did some parlor tricks (essentially what the Jesus Seminar would have us believe). In similar fashion, you seem to be suggesting that we limit our understanding of God’s role in the creation of all things to what can be confirmed by extra-Biblical sources masquerading as science.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m no fan of "creation science"; it’s nothing more or less than the flip side of "evolution science". They both start from an a priori assumption (a statement of faith, if you will) and conform their results to that assumption. The former assumes a literal interpretation of Genesis while the latter assumes philosophical naturalism. Neither assertion can be confirmed by science and so both subvert the open-ended inductive reasoning that is at the heart of real science. More than one neo-Darwinist has claimed that his/her explanation must be correct because "evolution is true". That is pure religious dogma, not science. It is the logical equivalent to Ken Ham saying his explanation must be correct because "the Bible, literally interpreted, is true".

On a final note, I just retired from teaching in the Purdue University School of Technology. I am indeed an educated evangelical who is not fooled by the propaganda flowing from the multi-billion-dollar evolution industry.

PQ: Surprised that you take such an either/or, binary view of the Genesis story. You well know life doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to.

G: Life/death; sheep/goats; good/evil; obedience/sin; banquet/darkness; wheat/tares; wide way/narrow way; these seem pretty binary to me. No, I don’t expect God to work like his creation does. If you take "created" to mean "engaged in the process" in Genesis, you might as well take Jesus "died" to mean Jesus "fainted". Acceptance of random mutation/natural selection (which is what evolutionists mean by "evolution") is a way point on that slippery slope.

Concluding thoughts

My problem with Pastor Queen’s enthusiastic support of evolution (as explained today – the explanation shifts to accommodate observed reality; see e.g.horizontal gene transfer”) is the words “random” and “natural”. “Random mutation” is mutation that is accidental and undirected – meaning it could not possibly have been directed by God. “Natural selection” is selection that occurs through a purely naturalistic process (e.g. “survival of the fittest”) – meaning God could not possibly have supernaturally intervened to produce a species he desired. The “theistic evolution” Pastor Queen espouses is logical nonsense, an oxymoron.

Ultimately, Pastor Queen is advocating a worldview that is commonly known, not as Christianity (theism), but as atheism. This seems a strange enterprise for a Christian pastor. Perhaps, as he composed the perfect title for his piece, he carefully considered the meaning of the phrase “to come out”. But to come out of the closet of philosophical naturalism – as Pastor Queen seems to have done – one must be in the closet to begin with. I doubt that most “educated evangelicals” are in that particular closet. Progressive “Christians”, yes, but not evangelicals, educated or otherwise.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal, science | No Comments »

Worship interrupted

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

At some point during my last term on our church’s Session (Presbyterian board of elders), I got a little testy about the title Worship Leader. I said we should quit using the term because it is a cancer on the Church. I don’t think many in the room understood what I was so worked up about. That was more than a year ago; nothing has happened to change my mind about the misleading, anti-Biblical message contained in that title.

A Facebook friend recently posted information about a conference named LIFT: A Worship Leader Collective. Naturally, the title caught my attention, so I had a look.

The intended audience is “worship leaders, songwriters and musicians”. There was an impressive list of names associated with the event – Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, and others, worthy evangelical superstars all. The site didn’t really define Worship Leader, so I poked around to make sure I understood what the event organizers (Passion City Church) meant.

Other than Pastor Giglio, all the presenters are musicians, so that’s a clue. A FAQ confirmed my initial impression:

Do I have to be a worship leader to attend? Songwriters, band members and musicians may attend but the main focus and programming for LIFT is created for worship leaders.

That’s pretty clear. No teachers (except maybe some lyricists), preachers, liturgists, readers, or anyone else not involved in music need apply. So it seems that the conference organizers agree with the common use of the term – a Worship Leader is the person who leads the music in a worship service.

When the music stops …

But if the Worship Leader is indeed leading worship, what happens when the music stops? Is worship finished? Does someone who is not the Worship Leader lead the worship, thus becoming a new de facto Worship Leader? If so, why doesn’t this person who is now leading worship have the title? Or does worship proceed without anyone leading it?

Or is what follows the music something other than worship? Are the sermons, prayers, creeds, Scripture readings, and celebrations of the Lord’s Supper not worship? Are they just activities that fill in the space between “worship experiences” (i.e. songs)? Do these things interrupt worship? Do they even belong in a worship service?

But if these non-musical activities are part of worship, what is the Worship Leader’s role in them? Does the Worship Leader “lead” the sermon? Does the pastor submit the message to the Worship Leader for approval? What about the Scripture readings or prayers? If such things are part of worship but not subject to the Worship Leader’s approval, what exactly does it mean to be the Worship Leader?

Clearly, the title Worship Leader is confusing at best . But far worse, bestowing the title on someone who leads only the musical part of a worship service conveys a message that is as clear as it is false: Worship is music; music is worship; we worship God by singing. Everything else is, well, something else, not worship.

What I find puzzling is that this myth is propagated by people who should – and almost certainly do – know better. It is hard to believe that Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin don’t understand that true worship is much more robust and varied than the title Worship Leader connotes.

For example, in his book, Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground, Warren Wiersbe observes that

worship involves both attitudes (awe, reverence, respect) and actions (bowing, praising, serving). It is both a subjective experience and an objective activity. Worship is not an unexpressed feeling nor is it an empty formality. True worship is balanced and involves the mind, the emotions, and the will. It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God.

It seems to me that prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper meet this description and qualify as worship. Do these things fall under the direction of the Worship Leader?


Vaughn Roberts, in his book True Worship, expresses a popular theme in the contemporary church:

Worship cannot be limited to what we do in church on Sunday. Worship means submitting to Jesus Christ in every area of my life.

Where is the Worship Leader the other 167 hours of the week?

Passion City Church declares on its web site that

More than outward forms, theologically informed worship must encompass our entire existence whereby in all circumstances our words and actions bring glory to God.

How does the Worship Leader lead us through “our entire existence”?

Christians need to understand what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth; loving God with our minds (Mark 12:30) demands it. We need to know when we are worshipping and what we are doing when we do it.

Whether we consider worship in the context of a Sunday service dedicated to the purpose or in the sense of an all-encompassing individual commitment, the title Worship Leader detracts from that understanding. It would be a service to the Church to abandon it immediately and use the occasion to clarify the meaning of Christian worship.

Note about the book links: Both books are available from both CBD and Amazon. Amazon also offers Kindle editions of both books.

Posted in Christianity | 4 Comments »

PCUSA in full panic mode

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I have written quite a bit about the Presbyterian Church (USA), its abandonment of orthodox Christianity, its greed and delusions of power, and our church’s eventual escape from it (see here, starting with "The 556-member church …") Since that glorious day in November, 2008, when we left the PCUSA (without their permission), I have had little reason to write about this hollow shell of a Christian denomination.

But now, in their boundless greed and lust for power, the PCUSA asserts veto power over decisions of the faithful, vibrant Christian denomination to which we now belong, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  In a letter to the highest elected officer of the EPC, the Stated Clerk, the PCUSA boss man (same title – Stated Clerk) complains about the very process that brought us out of the PCUSA and into the EPC fold.

First, a little political history.  The national government created by the U.S. Constitution was loosely modeled on the Presbyterian form of government.  The EPC and PCUSA each have a document (Book of Order) that describes its system of government.  Members of each local church elect Elders to represent and govern them.  These Elders in turn select representatives (Commissioners) to govern the presbytery to which the church belongs.  Presbyteries select representatives to the General Assembly (GA Commissioners) to govern the national denomination.  The GA elects the Stated Clerk.

The PCUSA and the national government of the United States also have this in common – both have lost sight of their founding documents and both have forgotten that the source of their ruling power is invested in the members/voters and not in themselves.

One of the PCUSA’s spurious claims is that a local church cannot leave without permission from its presbytery, and the presbytery’s discretion in such matters is nearly absolute.  We tried for two years to get the Presbytery of Wabash Valley to let us leave, but our good-faith efforts were met with deceit, political maneuvering, and stalling.  Even after our church voted by a large margin to leave the PCUSA and join the EPC, the presbytery maintained the fiction that our church was still part of their organization and our members were too.  They huffed and puffed about dismissing us but there was nothing they could do.

Since we left, the PCUSA has been losing members and whole congregations at an unprecedented rate.  Since both individual members and congregations are regarded by the PCUSA as assets to be used for its benefit, it doesn’t like to see them leave – especially congregations, which take with them two classes of assets, members (cash) and buildings (real property).

So the PCUSA is huffing and puffing again, demanding that the EPC not accept churches like ours that unilaterally choose to disaffiliate.  The EPC’s position is that such churches are independent – we certainly were – and can freely choose a denomination to affiliate with.  But no, an increasingly desperate  PCUSA demands that the EPC leave disaffiliated churches in their chains, pretending that the PCUSA still has jurisdiction.  And it accompanies its demands with veiled threats of ecclesiastical and civil court action.

Churches are leaving and courts are finding that the PCUSA can’t just steal a church’s property by claiming to have a trust the owners never granted.  The PCUSA’s Berlin Wall (built to keep its people in, not to keep others out) is coming down and they don’t like it.

Thanks to the Layman Online for the story.

Posted in Christianity, EPC, PCUSA | No Comments »

Church and civil marriage no longer mix

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The Supreme Court, in Justice Kennedy’s muddle-headed way, has negated democratic means of defining “marriage”.  One (presumably unintended) consequence of his tortured reasoning is that churches professing orthodox Christianity will have to end their entanglement with secular government and get out of the civil "marriage" business altogether.  Getting “married” will become a little more complicated.

If you want a Christian marriage free of civil baggage, you will go to a church.  If you want a non-binding civil contract (also called a “marriage”) with some financial and legal advantages, you will go to the courthouse.  If you want both, you will have to go to both.

Make no mistake – churches will be sued if they decline to provide non-binding civil contracts for some couples and not for others.  A federal judiciary increasingly hostile to religious expression under the First Amendment will find for the complainants.  The answer for churches that hold to an orthodox Christian view of marriage is to simply not provide civil contracts for anyone.

This result may be ultimately benefit the Church in two ways.  First, it will get civil government out of the celebration of a Biblical covenant.  Second, it may compel some local churches to give serious consideration to their denominational affiliation.

Liberal denominations are likely to require that local churches continue to provide civil contracts.  A church that cannot in good conscience conform to that requirement may have no option but to leave the denomination.  And, in rare instances, a conservative denomination may insist that local churches refrain from the issuance of civil contracts, with a more liberal local church being similarly conflicted.

I suspect that liberal denominations will experience more shrinkage than conservative ones.

Posted in Christianity, Culture | 5 Comments »

Sunday Dinner: A Parable of the Modern Church

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I knew a family once who always had busy, crowded Sunday dinners together. They lived in a big, old house that had a huge living room and an old-fashioned formal dining room. As the family dinners grew with grandchildren, cousins, and friends, Grandpa turned the dining room into a parlor and the living room into a veritable dining hall. He built a long table that could seat 20, 25 in a pinch. With additional chairs and folding tables, they could accommodate 35 at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Grandma usually fixed roast beef, ham, or fried chicken, potatoes, a vegetable, and homemade rolls or bread. As people became more health-conscious, they asked Grandma to add a second vegetable. After that, she often served a fruit platter or a light soup, sometimes skipping the potatoes. It was a bit more work, but some of the kids pitched in and sometimes even Grandpa helped out. Sunday dinners remained a beloved tradition.

One day, some family members announced that they had started eating vegetarian (strictly speaking, they were “lacto-vegetarian” because they didn’t object to dairy products). They asked Grandma if she could add a vegetarian alternative to the meat dish. So Grandma found tasty meat substitutes and learned to cook tofu.

Family and friends continued to enjoy their time together around the long table, sharing not just dinner, but their lives as well. It was there that Grandpa told everyone he had decided to retire; baby announcements, job changes, engagements, reports of illnesses, and prayer concerns were all heard first at Sunday dinner.

Then a few of the vegetarians told the rest of the family that they just couldn’t bear to look at “those poor, dead cows, pigs, and chickens”. They still wanted to come to Sunday dinners and visit, so they said they would eat their strictly lacto-vegetarian dinner at the kitchen table.  They were joined by a few others who had decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. Having people eating in the kitchen was inconvenient, especially with all the extra dishes she was preparing, but Grandma soldiered on.

As people settled into their Sunday dinner routine, news and concerns from one table didn’t always get carried over to the other. A vegetarian friend who particularly enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s company found it hard to choose between tables and simply quit coming to dinner. A couple of roast beef fans who were especially fond of some of the vegetarians also found choosing too difficult and started making other plans. A few die-hard meat-and-potatoes types even thought about establishing a vegetable-free zone in the parlor.

One or two people got mad at the vegetarians for separating themselves and they too quit coming. And one by one, as a favorite friend or relative drifted away, more people stopped coming. Finally, Sunday dinners came down to Grandma and Grandpa and an occasional child or grandchild sharing a simple meal at one end of the large and mostly empty table.

One Sunday, as she looked at all the empty space, Grandma was suddenly very sad. She had tried to give everyone what they wanted, but she couldn’t give them the one thing they needed – a desire to share food and fellowship together despite their differences.

Posted in Christianity, Personal | 4 Comments »

Who Does the Great Commission?

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

The Great Commission includes three specific tasks: “… [1] make disciples of all nations, [2] baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [3] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

But is each follower meant to perform each task? It depends on who Jesus’ intended audience was. If his words were meant only for the eleven apostles who met him on the mountain, we can be confident that Jesus meant for each one of them to carry out his Commission in full. The Bible gives examples of individual apostles performing all three tasks. If this is the case, then the commission was fulfilled, the men who were bound by it are long gone, and the Commission no longer places any demands on today’s believers.

That interpretation, however, is belied by the words “all nations”. Jesus could not have meant for those eleven men to reach every nation that existed at the time. So rather than orders for a small group of apostles, the Great Commission was clearly intended to be a commandment the church throughout the ages. In that case, we need to look at how Jesus organized his followers to do his work.

Division of Labor

One of the consistent themes in Paul’s epistles is that the work gets divided up. To be sure, all believers have universal responsibilities (i.e. obedience to God, prayer, repentance, confession, worship, and so on) and to each other. But Paul’s metaphor for doing work is the body of Christ – many parts, each doing what it is meant to do, all under the headship of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

In Ephesians 4:11-15, Paul wrote that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

Without getting too bound up in the specific duties of each role Paul named, it seems that the three tasks of the Great Commission are closely tied to three of these roles: (1) “make disciples” is generally the work of the evangelist, (2) “baptizing them” is generally the work of the pastor, and (3) “teaching them” is generally the work of the teacher. Of course, these lines are not sharply drawn and roles overlap.

In Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Paul related the roles enumerated in Ephesians 4:11-15 to spiritual gifts. He also wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 that manifestations of the Spirit are “given for the common good” but, like roles and gifts, are not distributed evenly or universally. Surely everything that Paul wrote about the body, roles in the body, and the equipping of members to perform in those roles applies to the most fundamental work of the church, the Great Commission. In that case, the answer to the original question – “Who does the Great Commission?” – is “It depends.”

Just as the Spirit equips believers differently, so believers’ parts in the Great Commission will differ. Not every believer is equipped to be an evangelist, pastor, or teacher, much less all three. But at one time or another, every believer is placed in a position to help accomplish the Great Commission. So what is the responsibility of the believer who is not specifically equipped for one of the three tasks?

It may be Peter who provides the answer: “… In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

There are no qualifiers; there is no antecedent text that limits the application of Peter’s words. All believers are always to be prepared. No particular roles, gifts, or manifestations of the Spirit are required, merely a grateful heart and knowledge of what one has received and how. In this way, a believer without the gift of evangelism may have the opportunity to serve temporarily as an evangelist when asked for the reason for his or her hope. Similarly, a believer without the gift of teaching may yet teach. “Baptizing them” still seems a little specialized for the average believer (see below).

When they are ready to give an answer, believers are prepared to fulfill Jesus’ admonition to his followers that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) There is, of course, a name given to the discipline of preparing to give a ready answer – apologetics.


Every church should be attentive to its members’ spiritual growth. But does that mean training them for the Great Commission? A church can’t graciously expect its members to be effective at tasks for which they are not spiritually equipped. Furthermore, a church that sets out to equip its members to fulfill the Great Commission must prepare them for the second task, baptizing new believers. This can be a problem for a church or denomination that allows only ordained pastors or elders to perform baptisms.

Members may feel guilt or a sense of failure if they are pressured to perform tasks for which they have not been equipped by the Holy Spirit. They may be reluctant to participate in spiritual growth programs if the objective is to go out and do the Great Commission. Evangelists and apostles may approach their calling proactively, even aggressively. The beauty (and utility) of Peter’s admonition is that it allows other believers to be reactive and respond to the situation they are in, rather than to go out and create a situation on their own. We should expect that members will be both more motivated and more enthusiastic when given the opportunity to do what they have been equipped and called to do.

This suggests that churches might well follow a dual path to members’ spiritual growth. All members should be given the opportunity to learn basic apologetics and discover how their own experiences present evidence of the truth of the Gospel. All members should also be given the opportunity to discover their own spiritual gifts, together with training and opportunities to use those gifts whether in direct performance of the Great Commission’s tasks or not.

When every member of the body knows his or her function and is equipped to carry out that function, the body will be healthy and vital and the Great Commission will be fulfilled.

Note: The Curmudgeon notes with gratitude the blog entry that planted the seed of this post:

Posted in Christianity | 5 Comments »