In studying the so-called Great Commission to determine whether or not it contains the marching orders for the Body of Christ today, several important facts were previously pointed out: first, there is no such thing as the Great Commission, Christ having given several distinct commissions after His resurrection; second, the commissions given to the Twelve Apostles and recorded in the four Gospels authorize the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom and not the Gospel of the Grace of God which was later committed to Paul; and third, the commissions given to the Twelve do not represent the last commands of Christ, since He gave all of the truth and commands for the Body of Christ Paul many years after He had commissioned the Twelve.
The fourth outstanding fact is that Paul did not work under the commission which was given to the Twelve. In Galatians 1:11, 12 he made it very clear that he received none of his information or instruction concerning the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles from the Twelve; neither was he taught it, but he received it all by revelation of Jesus Christ. “I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me”. (Galatians 1:16 and 17). This excludes the thought that Paul had the same Gospel or the same commission as had the Twelve. After fourteen years Paul went up to Jerusalem by revelation and “Communicated unto them that gospel which I among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2), concerning they had been ignorant all that time. Besides this, Paul very plainly stated: “Christ sent me not to baptize” (I Corinthians 1:17). Regardless of one’s views on water baptism or of why Paul said: “I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gauis,” it must be admitted that Paul had no command to baptize in his commission for the Gentiles; and it must be equally admitted that no one who was working under the commission of the Twelve could truthfully have said: “‘Christ sent me not to baptize.” In no place does Paul instruct Gentiles to baptize or to be baptized, as contrary to his own commission. Since Paul had to be given a separate and distinct commission under which to administer his distinctive Gospel, doesn’t it seem somewhat irrational for Christians today to try to administer that same distinctive Gospel under a different commission? The case is much akin to that of the sick man who, having been given one prescription of medicine, insisted upon following the directions on the old bottle even after the doctor had changed the prescription and had given him new medicine. Every medicine has its distinctive directions for being administered, just as each of the several gospels in the Bible has its distinctive commission.
A fifth fact of significance is that the commission in Matthew 28:19, 20 endures until the end of the age. This has been thought by some to be positive proof that this commission still stands for the Church, since the age has not yet ended, but closer examination will reveal just the opposite. The age in which we live is a secret age which was parenthetically injected into the age then existing while Christ was on earth, so that the secret Church age must end before that age spoken of in the commission can be resumed and brought to its climax. Paul claimed that the present Church Dispensation was unknown to the sons of men until Christ revealed it to him. He was not saved until several years after the Twelve were commissioned, thus making it impossible for the age in the Matthew commission to mean the present secret period. The expression, “the end of the age”, is used five times in Matthew 13:39, 40; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20; and is inferred in Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:6, 13, 14. The end of that age is called “the harvest” and it occurs at the end of the Great Tribulation. Now if Matthew gives the Church Commission, then it must be true that either the Church will go through the Great Tribulation, or that the Church Commission will continue in effect even after the Rapture When there is no church upon earth.
Some claim it to be absurdity to teach that Christ would give a commission to His apostles and then shortly afterwards interrupt it by revealing a new commission to go with a new dispensation, so that the original commission would have to wait for two thousand years before being fulfilled; but these same ones teach that Jesus truthfully offered Himself as a literal King to Israel just a few days before His death and then but a few days later set aside the Kingship, the earthly kingdom, and His literal earthly reign for two thousand years by giving the Great Commission. If it is absurd to teach that the Great Commission was interrupted in its fulfillment, then it is absurd to teach that the Church Age is a parenthesis interrupting the kingdom Age (which is taught by practically all pre-millenarians), which was proclaimed “at hand” while Jesus was on earth. It is all important to understand that Pentecost, instead of introducing the secret Church dispensation, ushered in the last days of that age which was to end with the Great Tribulation (Acts 2:17); so that it could be said of those Jews on Pentecost and thereafter who witnessed the miraculous signs and wonders that they “tasted the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). The “age to come” was the Kingdom age, but because Israel fell away and crucified afresh the Son of God, it was impossible to renew them again to repentance; so God set Israel aside, and instead of the Kingdom Age being the age immediately to come, God injected this present, secret age. The Twelve, working under their commission, were preparing the people for the age to come, or the Kingdom; Paul, working under his commission, was administering a new dispensation in which God is calling out sinners saved by grace to be members of the Body of Christ.
A sixth fact must be pointed out, namely, that the commission in Mark 16:15 to 18 teaches that baptism precedes salvation. The Old Testament clearly teaches that from the circumcision of Isaac on down to the end of the book a man had to be circumcised to enjoy covenant blessing (Genesis 17:9 to 14), and upon this same basis it is taught in the Roman, Lutheran, and other churches that water baptism, as a means of grace, must precede salvation. This doctrine is denied by all preachers of the Gospel of Grace, although the majority of such preachers, in trying to defend this commission as belonging to the Church, teach that “he that believeth and is saved shall be baptized.” in spite of the fact that God said: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” They say, “We know from Paul’s writings that water has no such power and that all God requires is faith.” Yes, this is true, and we may and should know it, but did the Apostles know it before it was revealed through Paul? What reason did they have to suppose it, when the Lord put the water before salvation? And what reason do we have to suppose it, when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and when every record of water baptism in the book of Acts, with the exception of Cornelius, puts water baptism before the reception of the Holy Spirit (The last record is Acts 19:5, 6)?
Some have recognized the difficulty here and the inconsistency of such teachings about water baptism, and they say that the Lord must have meant Holy Spirit baptism, and not water. This interpretation clears them of inconsistency on this particular text, but it does not clear them on the many texts in the record of what the Apostles actually did. There is no disputing of the fact that the Samaritans believed and were baptized, but they did not receive the Holy Spirit until several days later, where the Apostles came down and laid hands on them, Acts 8:12 to 17. It must be admitted that it is impossible to assert dogmatically whether water or the Holy Spirit is meant in Mark 16:16, but it can be said dogmatically that one is inconsistent to claim that it is water and at the same time say that water has nothing to do with salvation. It is little wonder that the Romanists, Lutherans, Campbellites, Pentecostalists, and others who believe this is water, have so much difficulty in trying to understand the fundamentalists who teach that it is water, but that the water is no factor in salvation.
Those who teach the necessity of water are consistent with the Mark commission, but they are undispensational in not seeing that this commission has been superseded by another which entirely omits water baptism. Most of the ills of legalism, ceremonialism, and ritualism are due, not to antiscriptural teachings, but to undispensational application of Scripture to this dispensation. The Bible contains legalism and ceremonialism—every one will admit that; but many fail to see that all such has been done away in the present secret dispensation, and many who do see this truth make the mistake of supposing that in actual practice all of these things ceased at the Cross. The Cross is the place where these things ceased, doctrinally; but in actual practice God allowed these things to continue all during the book of Acts while He was still dealing with the nation Israel. The many thousands of Jews which believed were all zealous of the law of Moses (Acts 21:20). They, as well as Paul, were practicing ceremonialism, and there is not one word in the Bible which condemned their actions. Whereas, the Jewish believers continued in their legalism and ceremonialism, because they had been given no revelation to the contrary, it was clearly revealed that this burden should not be imposed upon Gentile believers, Acts 15:19, 28. The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14) was broken down by the Cross of Christ, doctrinally; but the fact was not made known until after the close of the Book of Acts. During the “Acts” period the Holy Spirit set up an entirely different system of practice for Jewish and Gentile believers, and Paul and James confirm this fact in Acts 21:18 to 26. Paul took a vow to prove that he had never taught the Jews of the dispersion to forsake Moses, or circumcision, or the customs; but “as touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing.”