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Part 4: The Great Commission

In the previous installments of this series endeavor has been made to show that the Great Commission, so-called, does not stand unabridged as the marching orders for the Body of Christ in this present dispensation, although that commission may have some things in common with instructions for today. It may be asked then: Just what is the commission proper for the Body of Christ? and it is the purpose in this concluding paper to answer this question.

It will first of all be helpful to see the difference between God’s dealings today with members of the Body of Christ and with the nation Israel in the past, as well as in the future. The former is individual; the latter is national. This is not to say that God did not and will not yet deal with individual Israelites, but that primarily His promises and purposes concerned the whole nation. This fact may be seen by comparing the doctrine of salvation in the Old Testament with that of today. Very little is said about personal salvation in the Old Testament, so that we are quite in the dark about the eternal well-being of many of those characters, unless light is thrown upon them from the New Testament page, as it is in Chapter eleven of Hebrews. Instead, the salvation of the nation Israel, and through Israel, of all nations is uppermost in the Old Testament foreview; whereas just the opposite is true in this present dispensation when all national distinctions are broken down. Compare Genesis 12:2; II Samuel 7:23; Psalm 147:20; Isaiah 51:4; Ezekiel 37:22; Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:1, 12, 13; Micah 4:2; Haggai 2:7; Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 8:22, 23; Zechariah 14:16, 19; Matthew 21:43; Matthew 25:32; Matthew 28:19; Luke 7:5; John 11:48, 50, 51, 52; Acts 10:28; Acts 15:17; I Peter 2:9 with Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14 to 18; Colossians 3:11. It is an interesting fact that the words “nation” and “nations” occur 469 times in the Bible, and only eight of these occurrences are to be found in Paul’s epistles. Paul never speaks of the Church as a nation, and the great majority of his references to the Gentiles is not to whole nations as such, but to individuals among all nations. In such passages as Romans chapters 9 through 11 where Paul digresses to discuss Israel nationally, he also refers to the Gentiles nationally. Failure to see that Paul is dealing with nations and not individuals primarily in Romans 11 has led many to believe that Paul was there contradicting his teaching of the security of the believer set forth elsewhere. Concerning eternal security, as well as many other doctrines, it may be said the believer today stands where the nation Israel used to stand. By virtue of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants Israel as a nation was guaranteed eternal security, although no individual Israelite had that promise (compare Genesis 13:15; II Samuel 7; Jeremiah 31 with Ezekiel 33:13). Although individual Israelites had been rebelling and sinning against the Lord and many had been punished by death; God said that “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). This illustrates the standing of the individual believer today, made the righteousness of God in Christ (II Corinthians 5:21); accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6), and complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). Failure to make this distinction between national and individual relationships is bound to cause confusion in almost every field of Bible doctrine.

In approaching the subject of the Church Commission, this same distinction must be kept in mind. The Matthew Commission, which is yet to be fulfilled, is a national commission to make disciples of the nations. The Mark Commission, under which the Twelve worked during Acts, manifests its national character in Peter’s appeal to the nation and not merely to individuals. (Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12 to 26; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:31, etc.). Thus the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is seen to be a national sin committed by Israel in rejecting the witness of the Holy Ghost during the Acts ministry; and the judgments of Matthew 21:43; Matthew 22:7; Matthew 25:32 are seen to be national and not merely individual judgments.

An understanding of the distinctions thus far set down will help to explain why we have to search in vain in Paul’s epistles for any commission to the church as a whole or as an organization. To be sure, the believers are not considered to be isolated individuals having no relationship with one another, but quite the opposite. They are inseparably and vitally connected, as all being members one of another in the Body of Christ; but as; Salvation in the Body of Christ is individual, so also is the commission for service an individual commission to each member of the Body. Dr. Lewis Sperry Shafer says in his book, Major Bible Themes, page 212:

“Strictly speaking, the Church has no mission; for God has never commissioned her as a corporate body to undertake any task whatsoever. It is true that by means of the Church, God is now making known His wisdom, and will yet make known His grace to the angelic hosts (Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 2:7), but this calls for no effort or sacrifice on her part. All divine commissions are to the individual believer; and this is reasonable, since Christian service is the exercise of a personal gift in the power of the indwelling Spirit. It is noticeable that no service program for the church succeeds until it becomes a service program for the individual.”

If this be true, as your present writer wholeheartedly believes, then no commission in the Bible, be it Great or otherwise, can rightly be called the Church Commission. As individual members of the Body of Christ we must search the Bible for our instructions for service. But where in the Bible shall we search? Since Paul is the only Bible writer who mentions the Church which is His Body, and since Paul is the only one who claims to have received the revelation of the truth for the Body in this present dispensation of the Mystery, it is only logical to conclude that his writings must be searched for this instruction. And even further distinctions must be observed; for in some of Paul’s earlier epistles he makes it plain that certain changes in dispensation are to take place, as in I Corinthians 13:8 to 13, and these changes are seen to have taken place by the time the Ephesian letter was written, by comparing the list of gifts in I Corinthians 12:8 to 10 with the list in Ephesians 4:7 to 11. If one is a man (mature or perfected) in understanding (I Corinthians 14:20), he will know that the gift of tongues, although mentioned in Paul’s epistle, has no place or purpose today; for God is not now speaking to the nation Israel in tongues for a sign (I Corinthians 14:21 and 22), and neither do any of the other Pentecostal sign gifts have any place in the program of the Church today.

It would seem to be the wisest and simplest solution to the problem: What is my commission? to observe I Corinthians 11:1: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”; and Philippians 3:17: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Paul is set forth as the sample or model Christian. We cannot, of course, duplicate his experiences, but we can follow his example and instructions. And if we give ourselves over wholly to follow our God given pattern, who would dare to say that we would fall short of God’s expectations, or that we would have need to go back under the kingdom instructions in Matthew for the perfection of our lives or service? Who has ever read Paul’s last letter, II Timothy, and closed the book with the feeling that he found there no incentive for preaching the Word? We need to bury ourselves in Paul’s epistles, understanding that the instructions therein contained are not for an organization or for the clergy, but for every sinner saved by God’s grace in this present dispensation. And then we need to emerge with the Holy Spirit boldness, conviction, and determination which so characterized Paul, “to preach the Word; to be instant in season and out of season,” or more literally to be on hand for service when it’s convenient and when it’s not convenient. Let us not be as Israel, zealous but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2), but let us be understanding what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:17) and then do the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:6).