One or Another? Reflections on the Great Commission
In the summer of 1989, the American magazine National Interest published an essay with the provocative title "The End of History?". Its author, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, announced that the great ideological struggles were over, particularly the battles between east and west, democracy and totalitarianism. Liberal democracy had triumphed. All the nations of the world would bend toward democratic ideals. Politics aside, Fukuyama’s broader point was wrong for another reason. Ideological struggles are hardly over. He wrote as if the clash between competing worldviews would be treated like the contents hidden in the back of the junk drawer, happily forgotten and tossed when no one is looking.
Ideologies and worldviews will never be left behind. Jesus said we could not serve more than one master (Mt. 6:24), meaning people will always serve at least one master. Everybody grows up to love something, to serve something, to profess something. It combines to form a worldview.
One of the enduring facts of church history is that the overwhelming majority of people baptized into the church are children coming out of Christian families. Even as the amount of money and missionaries sent out to preach the Gospel around the world is at an all-time high, Jesus’ Great Commission is being lost today. The young and the restless of the church wish to be radical, live in a foreign country, and leave their legacy for Christ. And while foreign missions are good and right, Christians must realize that the way the church nurtures the souls of the children in the covenant community curves the future.
The starting point for how the church hands down “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is generational. The church’s primary means in fulfilling The Great Commission is to have successive generations of Christians become the parents to successive generations of Christians. Without this, there will never be a base from which to launch radical missionaries to the unreached people groups. If we radically go to the nations but neglect the children of the covenant community, The Great Commission has no future. It isn’t a choice between maintenance and mission. But without maintenance there is no mission. Peter made it clear in his sermon at Pentecost, “For the promise is for you, and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls” (Acts 2:39).
This is why the church must understand the vital work of nurturing the soul of children. Moving forward, how is the church going to treat a child’s conversion? Perhaps the best starting point is to look to the mistakes that have been made in the past. The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call provides a concise yet thorough study of the history of the doctrine conversion in the American church. The biblical mandate is clear. The church must preach the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all who are far off. The power of God for salvation can overcome the most hardened sinner living in the most unlikely of places. And yet this constant remains: The overwhelming majority of professing Christians make such a profession at a young age, coming out of a Christian home. If those children don’t embrace the Christian worldview, they will embrace another. Seeing that the faith is handed down to the next generation is necessary for the Great Commission to continue.
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