Great Commission Resurgence

Some folks over at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are challenging their fellow Southern Baptists to embrace a “great commission resurgence.” You can read their challenge letter here.

As usual, I have some rather critical comments to make.

But before I do, let me just say there’s nothing personal about this. I have many friends and relatives who are in SBC churches and I know they are doing their best to respond to the awesome grace of the Father, in Christ, as the Spirit leads them – just as we all are. I also don’t know anything about the people who created this document, but I’m sure they love Jesus and their families – as we all do since we are all sharing in the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

All I am critiquing here is the actual language of the letter itself.

For those of us who believe that the Spirit is calling the North American Church back to a fully Christ-centered, fully Trinitarian understanding of God, there are a couple of interesting aspects of this document:

1. The only place the document invokes the Trinity is when it quotes the Bible (Matthew 28:18-20) at the very start. The rest of the document is decidedly Unitarian in its language. I’m sure the people who wrote the letter believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, but their vision of human existence and the Church is not a Trinitarian vision.

Consider these stats: The word “God” is used 32 times, far more than any other word for the Divine Being. If, when you say “God” you immediately think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the word “God” is probably okay. But the fact that the document no where mentions the Father – not even once – and only mentions the Holy Spirit in passing references in 2 places, tells me that in this document “God” does not mean Trinity it means “Omnipotent Being.”

The name of Jesus (or the combo “Jesus Christ”) is used 10 times and the title “Christ” is used 9 times by itself. Again, I’m not trying to judge what’s in the hearts and minds of the authors of the letter, I’m simply evaluating the language of the document itself. Based on the language alone we have to conclude that this document is about “God,” and to a lesser extent about Jesus Christ. Nothing in the language of the letter makes it very clear what the relationship is between God and the person Jesus or what the relationship between the two of them has to do with the Great Commission, the Church, or humanity. This letter is not about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who are described in Matthew 28.

2. Since the letter is not Trinitarian it bubbles over with langauge about what people need to do to please this distant, Unitarian God in the sky and do his work. I won’t cite a bunch of stats on this point, I’ll just let you read it (if you want to take the time) and decide for yourself.

I can tell you this, though: if my pastor read this letter to me I would feel like I was being sent on a guilt trip to please the omnipotent deity. I would not feel that I was being baptized in the assurance of the Father who loves me in Jesus and had poured his Holy Spirit into my life. (By the way, that sentence I just wrote is an example of what I mean when I talk about writing in a Trinitarian way instead of just writing about “God.”)

So, what’s my point in all this? Nothing too serious – after all, the guys who wrote this document are just sincerely trying to help themselves and others live out a Christian life. I’m not down on that.

I just want to make the point that when the Bible talks about the Great Commission it talks about baptizing people into the name “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I think that if we in the Church want to talk about the Great Commission we ought to use the same Trinitarian language. There is no other gospel than humanity’s adoption into the life of the Father, through the incarnation of the Son, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and that’s the good news we’re commissioned to preach.

~ Jonathan Stepp

2 comments so far

  1. John Geerlings on

    Hi Jonathan
    Thanks for your heart!
    I read the document before I read you comments and a great sadness came over me. I agree in what you have written yet also remember when I was there, so I understand for they know not what they do, like I did in the past and am sure still do not know today in so many ways. Like you said how many things am I still stumbling with? There is one common truth however, you cannot look ahead for other people or bring them there, for it is the Holy Spirit who renovates thinking so we may come to press on in what already is.
    I am personally aware of a local group (once participated with them) who again are sincere who are trying to be more devoted like the early church, so they speak of some of the things that they have done this week so they may feel happier. In all this the Trinity is not considered as the lens through which all life is seen.
    When you live on the wrong branch, you cannot jump to the one that gives life; you have to change your mind by means of the Holy Sprit, a painful retrenchment, come to the juncture in the limb and built on the true branch of the foundation of Father, Son and Holy Sprit. jg

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, John, for your helpful comments! It is hard for us to retrench and begin to think in a fully Trinitarian, but it is worth it!

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