When strategizing for the achievement of Great Commission objectives in our world today we must have a firm grasp of the place and function of the local church. Great Commission objectives, if they are to be achieved, must be achieved by The Church as it is manifested in local churches around the world. In order to work effectively together in Great Commission endeavors, those local churches must be united in a common understanding of what God intends as it relates their role in contributing to the strength and effectiveness of The Church in its Great Commission pursuits.
I would suggest the starting point must be God’s intent for the Church. God’s intent for The Church is that it be a reliable channel of truth through the fearless and faithful proclamation of the Word of God, and through the pointed, practical application of that Word to the issues of our world and the lives of the world’s people. There is a serious problem, however, in the 21st Century Church. A great number of Christians affirm the Bible as God’s written Word but then they reveal that they know and do little about it.
Some years ago, I read a report by the late George Cornell, religion writer for the Associated Press for over 40 years, on the appalling condition of those who profess to be Christians in America.
- Most who claim familiarity with the Bible and who say they read it regularly could not answer the question, “Who preached the Sermon on the Mount?” (It was Jesus)
- 60% of Americans claimed to have attended an Easter Service in the previous year but only 25% of those were able to explain what was being celebrated at Easter. (Christ’s resurrection from the dead)
- 82% of the American people professed that they believed the Bible was the Word of God but only half of them could name one of the four Gospels. (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)
- 62% of those asked, “Is the saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ in the Bible?” were certain that it was. (It’s not).
While these statistics are admittedly dated, my suspicion is that they are not much more flattering today than they were then. In fact, I believe that they would be even less so.
What’s the problem? Certainly the thought here is not that if we affirm the Bible as God’s Word, we must all become Bible trivia experts. Quite the contrary … there are those who know the Bible far better than most of us and yet they have no clue as to what it is about. They are like the man I once knew who could tell you anything you wanted to know about baseball statistics. He’d been collecting baseball cards and living and breathing baseball from a very young age. He had an amazing ability to keep all those stats “on tap” and was like an instant replay machine of significant baseball games that happened years and years ago. The man had never played the game, however, nor had he ever even been to a game!
I enjoy studying the Bible for its information and salient points of doctrine. But isn’t it true that what really counts is knowing, serving and loving God? It is the living of it that makes the difference. I like what James says (1.22) when he exhorts us to not merely listen to the Word … but to DO what it says. Therein is the problem today. In a Great Commission church, the Bible must be the foundation to our thinking … and doing! In many churches today, that is NOT the case. This basic premise is one upon which the entire superstructure of the local church’s ministry must be built. In far too many churches today, it is NOT. It is the first building block in shaping the vision and ministry of any group of people who come together as the local Body of Christ. It is essential to becoming a Great Commission church.
America desperately needs the information that the Bible provides concerning God. There is a certain amount of information about God that anyone can derive from nature. Paul says it this way: “ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1.20) That explains, in part at least, why the overwhelming majority of people living on this planet at any time, including the present secular age, believe in a god. Important as that is, the true information about God’s mercy and grace, God’s offer of forgiveness, God’s becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood–those truths are only spelled out for us in the Scriptures.
Any local church interested in accomplishing Great Commission objectives must faithfully proclaim the God who is revealed in the Scriptures. It must not only proclaim His Word, bringing people into a relationships with Him through faith in Christ, but it must faithfully teach those same people to apply His Word in their lives, living it out in real life and demonstrating its power to a watching world. Anything less is an exercise in futility. The degree to which a local church backs away from such proclamation and application is the degree to which it will become a weak and insipid relic of irrelevance when it comes to making a difference in our world. Such a relic cannot be seriously considered to be a Great Commission church.