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Part 1: The Great Commission

It should be the fervent desire of every child of God to be obedient to every one of God’s commands. Wherever and whenever there is a shunning or refusal to be obedient, it is a sure sign of unspirituality. It will be our purpose in studying the Great Commission not to ask whether we should obey God’s commands, but to find out whether or not God is asking members of the Body of Christ today to carry out this commission. This question is not raised in order that we might find excuse to shirk our God-given duty, but is asked in order that we might be in a position to be obedient.

It is not only hopeless to try to obey all of the commands of the Bible, but it is outright disobedience for Christians today to obey some of God’s commands given in the Bible. He commanded His children to stone to death the Sabbath-breaker, but such action would be murder today. Whereas He commanded many things to be done by Abraham and Moses and the children of Israel during the Old Testament and even down to the close of the Book of Acts, He likewise commanded that “the Gentiles observe no such thing.” (Acts 21:25). He commanded man, before the Flood, to eat only herbs; then He gave to Noah to eat of every living thing that moveth for his meat; later on He limited the meats of the children of Israel and strictly forbade some animals of which Noah had freely eaten; and finally, through the Apostle Paul, He classifies any such command to abstain from eating any meat along with the doctrine of demons.

When a sinner’s heart is convicted of sin and of everlasting judgment and there comes the desire to be saved, it is surely necessary to know which command of the Bible to follow. Should he strive to enter in at the strait gate (Luke 13:24)? Or should he be given the rich young ruler’s, answer in Matthew 19:17 “But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the (ten) commandments?” Or should he obey Paul’s command to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved?” And if he did, would his whole house be saved? Should he be circumcised according to the command in Genesis 17:10 to 14, or should he be baptized for the remission of sins according to Luke 3:3; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38? Then should he be obedient to Christ’s command in Matthew 10:5: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”? Should he “provide neither gold nor silver, nor brass in his purse, nor script for his journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves,” in obedience to Matthew 10:9 and 10; or obey the command of the same Jesus in Luke 22:36: “He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his script: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”? Should he go forth and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and raise the dead according to Matthew 10:7 and 8, or should he preach the Gospel of the Grace of God? If he baptizes others, should he do it in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as commanded in Matthew 28:19, or follow the example of the Apostles and do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, Acts 10:48; Acts 8:16; Acts 19:5? Then should he lay hands on those baptized in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:38; Acts 8:14 to 17; Acts 19:6, or should he be sure they have the Holy Spirit before he baptizes them according to good Baptist doctrine?

It should be evident that one is either speaking ignorantly or foolishly who professes to be obeying every command of the Bible and this much has been said in introduction in order that the need might be seen for a clear understanding as to whether or not the so-called “Great Commission” stands today, unabridged, unaltered, as the supreme and final command to the Church which is His Body, or whether the Scripture reveals that another commission has been given to supersede this one. Volumes might be written to show the confusion which exists amongst Bible expositors, especially amongst pre-millenarians, on this subject, but such would tend only to bring confusion and prejudice, and would in no way help to give the Scriptural answer.

In asking the question: Is the Great Commission the supreme and final instruction for the Body of Christ today? much simplification of the problem will result from taking into consideration the following facts:

First: It is important to see that there was not ONE commission, but several, given by the resurrected Christ to His Apostles. The first was given to the Ten on the evening of the resurrection day in Jerusalem, and is recorded in John 20:19 to 23. The Apostles were given the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and to retain sins. The second commission was given to the Eleven as they sat at meat (Mark 16:14 to 18): “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe”. The third was given on a mountain in Galilee where Jesus had appointed them (Matthew 28:16 to 20): “Go ye therefore, and disciple 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 which I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.” The fourth was given immediately preceding the Ascension and is recorded in Luke 24:46 to 48 and Acts 1:8 and 9. The Apostles were to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father: power from on high, or baptism with the Holy Spirit; and then were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. It must now be decided just what is the “Great Commission”. Is it one of these separate commissions, and if so, which one? Or should all be fitted together to make one Great Commission? This latter would surely be contrary to intelligent exegesis, and to make one commission greater than another is to make a discrimination which God has not made. The Apostles no doubt were made to understand the place and purpose of each of these commissions, and it is our purpose to do likewise by God’s help.

Second: It is important to recognize that the Gospel commissions authorize the preaching of the Kingdom Gospel, and not the Gospel of the Grace of God which was committed to Paul for the Gentiles. This fact alone is one of the most conclusive and convincing evidences that these commissions do not stand unaltered today as the orders for the Body of Christ. A careful study of the Scripture will show that the only Gospel preached from John the Baptist to the call of Paul in Acts 13 was the Kingdom Gospel. It was several years after the Gospel commissions were given that Paul was saved and that there was given to him by revelation from the ascended Christ the message of the Grace of Christ (Galatians 1:6, 11, 12) which Paul called “my Gospel” (Romans 16:25), or the Gospel of the uncircumcision in contrast with the Gospel of the circumcision which the Twelve Apostles were authorized to preach by the Gospel Commissions. If Christ gave another Gospel to be preached after He gave the so-called Great Commission, does it not appear rather peculiar to insist upon ministering the new gospel under the old commission? Since Paul’s Gospel was for the Gentiles and the Twelve’s for the Jews (true it was given to Cornelius but Peter says it was the same message which God sent to the children of Israel: Acts 10:36), and since to Paul was committed the revelation of the Body of Christ and the Dispensation of the Mystery, it is only common sense that as members of the Body of Christ we should preach Paul’s Gospel under the distinctive orders of that message. A great deal of confusion exists today, even in the ranks of Fundamentalism, because of the mixing of these two Gospels in ministering to Gentile sinners and saints. When we mix that which God has kept apart, confusion is bound to result. It is as much error to read into Mark 16:15: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel of the Grace of God; as to read into Exodus 24:12: Come up to me in the mount, and be there and I will give thee the Gospel of the Grace of God. Peter five or ten years before Paul’s revelation, didn’t know any more about the Body of Christ or the Gospel of Grace, than Moses did fifteen hundred years before that.

Third: The Gospel Commissions do not represent the last commands of Christ. Some, in defending these commissions as our orders for today, state that they are being obedient to the last commands which Jesus Christ left, and that all who do not follow these orders are denying His last requests. This argument is designed to appeal to the emotions, and sounds convincing on the surface, but upon examination it is discovered to rest upon the same premise as does destructive criticism. With the premise that these commissions are the last commands of Christ, is it not but simple logic to prove that Paul was an impostor and a false prophet? Paul came after these commissions, and if they represent Christ’s last words, where is any room left for Paul’s epistles to contain the words of Christ? But Paul boldly claims that years after the commissions were given, Christ appeared and spoke words to him. “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11 and 12). “And I said, who art thou Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But arise and stand on thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:15 and 16). These verses not only prove that all which Paul wrote was spoken by Christ after the Gospel commissions were given, but that Paul received more than one revelation of truth. If God gave to, Moses commands which were superseded by the teachings of Christ and finally abolished by His death; if Jesus commissioned His Apostles to go only to the lost sheep of Israel and then superseded that by another command to go into all the world; could He not even after that supersede the Kingdom Commission with another to the Apostle Paul for the Body of Christ?