Friday, May 18, 2012

The Great Commission to Make Disciples through Baptizing and Teaching

Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations (see “The Great Commission of the King”). But how are disciples made?

The Great Commission itself teaches us how disciples are made. Jesus mentions two main stages in the process of discipleship in Matt 28:19–20. According to Jesus, disciples are made through baptism and teaching.

Baptism in the name of the Triune God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is something that many Protestant Christians do not associate with being a Christian. In some Protestant baptism ceremonies the minister often spends most of his time explaining what baptism is not and very little on explaining what baptism actually is. Statements to the effect of “baptism does not make you a Christian” are frequent. Protestants who act like this are probably in most instances reacting against a perceived deficiency in the Roman Catholic understanding of baptism; but in doing so Protestants need to consider whether or not such statements contradict Jesus’ teaching on baptism. Jesus clearly teaches in Matt 28:19 that baptism “make[s] disciples” in some sense or other. The words βαπτίζοντες baptizing and διδάσκοντες teaching are both present active participles that are subordinate to the main verb μαθητεύσατε make disciples. These participles function syntactically to explain how disciples are made. According to Matt 28:19, Jesus’ view is that making disciples formally begins with baptism. Furthermore, when it is understood that the word Christian historically is simply another term for disciple (see Acts 11:26), then it is possible to say that baptism makes a person a Christian in some sense of the word.

The key to understanding the way in which baptism makes a person a Christian lies in realizing that conversion in the early church typically went together with baptism. In the early church, a person would convert to Christianity by confessing “I believe that Jesus is the Christ” or “I believe that Jesus is Lord” in the context of a ceremony of baptism. This can be seen in the book of Acts, for example, in the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37). Indeed, there are nine instances of particular conversions in the book of Acts, and all of these conversions involve baptism (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 8:37–38; 9:18; 10:47–48; 16:14–15; 16:31–33; 18:8; 19:3–5; 22:16). Baptism makes a person a Christian, therefore, in the sense that it marks the official point of conversion to Christianity, the point at which the convert officially submits to the lordship of Christ. Baptism marks the formal beginning when a person officially becomes a disciple of Jesus. Baptism is, therefore, a sign which says that the baptized person belongs to Jesus, and that his or her responsibility is to follow Jesus by submitting to his lordship.

So baptism is important, but at the same time it needs to be remembered that baptism is only a beginning. Baptism marks the official beginning in a person’s role as a disciple of Jesus. Baptism can be thought of as being like a citizenship ceremony that proves that a person is a citizen of a particular country. But after becoming a citizen of a particular country, one is bound to live as a citizen of that particular country, which involves obeying its laws.

This is the reason that Jesus in Matt 28:20 moves from baptism to talk about the second element involved in making disciples, namely, teaching. If Christian discipleship formally begins at baptism, then it develops and matures through Christian indoctrination. Disciples in the true sense of the word are made through being taught about the gospel (about Jesus and what he has done for the world) and how we are expected to live in response to who Jesus is and to what he has done. This indoctrination occurs with a view to Christians growing in their obedient service to the King. Being disciples in name, we need to become disciples in reality. Therefore, teaching is essential. Christians need to be taught in order to learn and to grow in their devotion to the King.

If you have been baptized, this means that you have received the sign proclaiming that Jesus is the risen King. Baptism is the sign of Christ’s lordship over your life. Having been baptized, your responsibility is to persevere in your submission to the King by studying and following his teaching.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, baptism is also an act of obedience; Jesus Himself was baptised 'to fulfil all righteousness' - granted this was the Lord Himself; and yet we are His disciples following in His footsteps.