Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5
If independent Baptist churches were more independent, I believe they would be better off. I'm an independent Baptist by conviction and the independence allows for purity. As a true independent, you can fellowship or even associate with churches only of like faith and practice. Because independent Baptists are independent, whatever might be wrong with a majority of independent Baptist churches doesn't mean that it must be wrong too with your church.
When I started this series, giving an honest basic assessment of independent Baptists, I did it out of love. I would want to be of help, if possible. In my assessement, as a way to help, I have said I think a perverted gospel is the biggest problem. I'm confident that is number one. For that reason, I spun off into a corollary series on the gospel, and I'm not done with it.
From the problem of a perverted gospel, I could say, not necessarily in order, another problem is susceptibility toward a success syndrome. I don't know that this is number two, but I see it as major. If those first two problems were corrected, maybe that would solve every other problem too. However, a third problem, as I see it is....
A MISUNDERSTANDING OR MISINTERPRETATION OF THE GREAT COMMISSION
Because of either a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, I don't believe it is either being obeyed or fulfilled by independent Baptist churches. I see this as a root problem among independent Baptists. Churches have also become complicated with human methods that don't result in obedience to the Great Commission. Some relates to the perversions of the church growth movement. Let me explain.
We are almost two thousand years since Jesus gave the Great Commission. The first century Christians made excellent headway in fulfilling it. They didn't get it done, but they were ahead of the curve, knowing now how much time would elapse since them. For the few that they had, they went a long ways toward getting that command accomplished. I've not heard from anybody that thinks we have finished that task that Jesus gave. Have we not had enough time to get it done?
If the world is 6,000 years old, we've had a third of world history to finish what Jesus told us to do. Why isn't the Great Commission done? I don't think that it is difficult to understand the Great Commission. We are given some version of it in every gospel account. We have some kind of elaboration on it in Acts and in the Epistles. And then we are given examples to follow in Jesus, the disciples, and the Apostle Paul. At the same time, I didn't understand the Great Commission as an independent Baptist until I became a pastor, and that is after six years of Christian school, four years of Christian college, and three years of seminary.
What am I talking about?
The Great Commission of Jesus is one command, and that is to make disciples. The word "teach" is the only command in Matthew 28:19-20 (KJV, Go ye therefore, and "teach"), matheteusate (aorist imperative 2nd person plural). To start, we have to understand that the Great Commission is to make disciples. If you don't get a disciple or disciples, you don't fulfill the Great Commission. The goal then is not to get professions of faith. You want followers of Jesus Christ.
The Great Commission is for every person in an entire church, not just for the special forces in the church. "Teach" is second person plural, so it is to the group, not just one person. It isn't for the pastor alone. Every Christian is to be making disciples. You don't fulfill the Great Commission just by attending one or two services a week. Churches have tolerated professing Christians who don't fulfill this command. If you are perpetually disobedient to what God commanded, you couldn't be a Christian. I wonder if most independent Baptists believe that. What the churches tolerate is most often something short of obedience to this command.
Making a disciple is more than just preaching the gospel. However, to go back to the first problem in this series, if churches are not preaching a true gospel, they won't be fulfilling the Great Commission. You won't get a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ without conversion.
From looking at the parallel passages to Matthew 28:19-20, we can see that making disciples requires preaching the gospel. Churches have confused fulfilling the Great Commission with a church getting bigger. They try to make their churches bigger instead of fulfilling the Great Commission. The example we get in the New Testament from Christ and the Apostles is preaching the gospel everywhere and to everyone.
I've noticed that churches are not taking on the task of getting the gospel to everyone. They are more interested in getting bigger and there isn't anything in scripture that tells us that is the goal. In a desire to reach what isn't the goal, churches don't fulfill the goal God has set, so God's goal isn't being reached, still hasn't been after 2,000 years. I would say that most people don't even know that is the first goal of the Great Commission.
Look at Jesus in His only three years of work. He preached the gospel to everyone in Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Perea, and Caesaria-Philippi. He did that in three years. At that rate, shouldn't we have been able to finish what He started in the next 1,997 years? There was nothing in there about having a big group. It started with preaching the gospel to everyone.
I understand that not everyone wants to hear the gospel or will even allow it. The same occurred with Jesus, but He also taught about that. You don't have to preach to those who don't want to hear. You've fulfilled the Commission with them when you offer the gospel. When I go out to preach, I recognize it is a free offer of the gospel, which is equal to preaching it, as long as I do preach it when they want to hear it. Where I'm at, a low percentage even want to hear me preach it. This is where we're at right now.
For the size of our church, I think we have done a good job at fulfilling our responsibility. Even I alone have visited every house in Rodeo, Hercules, San Pablo, Pinole, and El Sobrante, and tell you that only to express what can be done. Our church as a whole has also visited every house in Richmond, and Point Richmond, and Crockett. We've preached it in addition in El Cerrito and all the way to Berkeley. When I say that we've done a good job, that doesn't mean that we've really done a good job. We've just done what, if every church did the same, would result in the job getting done. We should be doing far more, so in that sense, we're doing a bad job and I'm doing a horrible job.
When we went up to Sacramento a few years ago, we visited most houses in Citrus Heights and many in Elk Grove. Our church has revisited the towns closest to our church again and again. While we are doing that, our circle of "going" has enlarged. We get further out as we continue preaching where we are. My next personal goal is to visit every house in Lamorinda, which is a valley where highway 24 travels through the towns of Orinda, Moraga, and Lafayette. I would add to that Piedmont and Canyon. I know that the gospel has not been preached to those people.
I've written a lot about this, but people have made their commission, "invite," instead of "go." They think that the commission is inviting unsaved people to church. It isn't. It is going and preaching. If you make the commission, "invite," you change the nature of the commission, and your church will change in nature too.
A part of the problem in fulfilling the Great Commission also relates to "church planting." The Bible teaches evangelizing. When you have a gathering of disciples, you get a church. So-called mission has gotten this out of order. They start with church planting. Their goal is to launch a church. You don't know if a church is there. You evangelize and if a church starts, it starts. Sometimes churches are started and the area still never is evangelized. Never. The church launchers reached their goal, which was to get a church. What I'm saying is that they never reach the goal, fulfilling the command, in order to fulfill their goal, which sounds like a good goal, starting a church. I would doubt in many cases if it is even New Testament church-like, because of this change in the nature of the goal.
A follower of Jesus Christ will produce a follower of Jesus Christ, so if you are not getting followers, you are not getting multiplication. Exponential growth is faster than addition, so whenever someone believes in Jesus Christ, the commission isn't yet completed. You must bring that person to a point where he can also make a disciple. If someone reproduces himself every year and then those two disciples reproduce themselves the next year, that's how exponential growth occurs. The plan of God is not addition but multiplication.
God is glorified through His methods. They don't make sense to men. They weren't supposed to. When they "work," God gets all the credit. Men take the credit by tweaking the method God has given. They've thought of something "better," and, meanwhile, what God actually said to do, it doesn't get done. And some of you readers are a part of it.
I do think it is pathetic, disturbing, and maybe nauseating what superficial stuff passes as important to independent Baptist churches, while they are basically disobedient in getting done what they are supposed to do. Their beloved programs are more important. Getting the right name, ya know, Mercy Church, and the platform set-up and the band and the team and all of that. Meanwhile people go their sweet way without getting preached to. That is a point A to point B problem. They are busy sitting at home all day reading theology and then not obeying it. Come on!
If people who called themselves Christians were fulfilling the Great Commission, the gospel would have already been preached everywhere. It hasn't, and things are getting worse. In most cases, I believe it is because of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the Great Commission. Not only is the gospel being perverted by independent Baptists, but so is the Great Commission.