by J. Randal Matheny
Has God given to all peoples any command in the New Testament that can be disregarded because someone else has obeyed it? Can I decline obedience to a certain commandment because my brother Bob has obeyed it?
Is there such a thing as obedience by proxy?
Some people want to make “baptism for the dead” (1 Cor 15:29) into such an idea, but it won’t wash (pun intended).
The Roman Catholic Church says that the parent’s faith counts for the child in infant baptism. We know that’s not right either. “He who believes” must be the same person as “he who is baptized” (see Mark 16:16).
So why then do we leave evangelism to others? Why do we let others fulfill for us God’s mission of taking the gospel to the whole world?
Can the congregation across town be evangelistic or mission-minded in our place? Can the preacher do my evangelism for me?
Some, for whatever reason, have attempted to weaken the sending of God. They have made the “go” into an attitude of “whenever you get around to it.” As you are able. They have turned the Great Commission into the Stationary Position.
In Matthew’s gospel, the Greek participle “going” in 28:19 partakes of the imperative nature of the main verb, “make disciples.” It doesn’t mean “as you go” or “whenever you get around to going.” It means “you must go.”
No major Bible version translates Matthew 28:19 “as you go.” There’s a reason for that.
Such bad exegesis squeaks by because people pick and choose their verses, without taking into account what all of Scripture says on a subject.
If a person would only read Mark’s account, the problem would be solved: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature'” (Mark 16:15 NET).
In the same way that two main verbs are joined by a conjunction in verse 16, Jesus joins two imperatives in verse 15, “go … and preach.” The word “go” is often translated “depart, leave, journey, travel” (Mounce). It implies an intentional, purposeful leaving of one’s own location in order to reach another location. It denotes a constant effort to reach new people with the old gospel.
Pew-sitters are not gospel-travelers. The church that thinks the lost must come inside its walls has not the spirit of Christ. “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). The church that thinks it has plenty to do in its own neighborhood fails to understand the Son of God who left heaven to set up his tabernacle among man. “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14).
As long as someone has yet to hear the gospel, the order to go still stands. One two-week mission trip to another country does not fulfill the command. Yesterday’s foray does not cover tomorrow’s need.
Like the Pharisees before them, many Christians and churches have developed an intricate system of Corban to avoid fulfilling the Great Commission. “Whatever help the lost might have received is given to our own comfort or social programs.”
But man does not live by bread alone.
The lost of the world continue lost. The gospel still needs boots on the ground. The Word still needs men and women to take up residence in towns and cities, in provinces and countries, to offer salvation in terms and languages that people can understand.
We must decide to go, and we must plan to go. The going must be intentional, decisive, with massive investment of our time, energies, and funds for world mission. For this is our task and none other.
Have gospel, will travel.