If you are familiar with the science fiction series Star Trek, you probably recall that one of the main subjects of the various TV series’ and movies was the prohibition against interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. This was always referred to as “the prime directive”, a principle handed down by the fictional “United Federation of Planets”. As you may know or can imagine, this prohibition created various moral dilemmas (and interesting entertainment), as the various star ship crews traveled the universe “exploring strange new worlds” and “going where no man has gone before”.
In thinking about the Church, made up of all those who believe in Jesus Christ, follow Him, and obey His teachings, I am reminded that we too have been given a prime directive by the Lord, the One True and Living God, handed down to us from those who were with Him from the beginning of His earthly ministry. A directive that is intended to continue, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us until Jesus returns at the very end of the age:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” — Mark 16:15-18 (NIV)
Not just any kind of disciple.
Simply put, a disciple can be thought of as a person who is wholly committed to being trained through repetition, to adhere to some standard of thought which guides and impacts how they live every day of their lives. For example, a soldier in any branch of armed forces can be thought of as type of disciple. Another example would be a professional or Olympic athlete. In each case these are people who are committed to both the mental and physical training that impacts how they think, what they eat and drink, and where and when they travel.
Whether it’s successfully defending the nation on the field of battle, winning a gold medal, or winning the super bowl, each discipline is designed to accomplish a specific goal. It requires each person to be committed to the appropriate process and very often to be committed to working together with the other “disciples” on the team. It is no different with the disciples of Jesus Christ, and based on the above biblical passages, it can be summarized as follows:
- Go everywhere and preach the Gospel (The Gospel message of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom).
- Baptize those who believe in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
- Teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded His first disciples which includes:
- Reminding them that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth (not just in heaven).
- Encouraging them that signs will accompany those Gospel proclaiming believers in accordance with what Jesus said as recorded Mark 16:15-18 and demonstrated and in the book of Acts and the Gospels.
- Encouraging them not to be fearful by reminding them that Jesus is with them until the end of the very end of the age.
- Commissioning them as Jesus did to repeat steps 1 to 3.
This is a biblical summary of Jesus’ authorized process of what it means to both become and remain one of His disciples. It is often referred to as ‘The Great Commission’. Missing the mark on any one of these points means that we are becoming or making some other kind of disciple, but not one of His.
The Great Commission isn’t just for leaders in the Church.
In many Church circles and traditions, especially in the United States, preaching the Gospel, becoming a disciple, and making disciples has become something that is reserved for leaders in the Church. Many of our traditions have unwittingly or not, taught and demonstrated the false notion that the Great Commission, if taught at all, is only something that pastors and other ordained ministers are to be concerned with. But when we read Jesus’ words, they were directed to His eleven disciples who were “sent” out make disciples (of whole nations). Though these eleven were called Jesus’ apostles, which means “sent ones”, the clear implication is that all of Jesus’ disciples are apostolic (sent), but not all will hold the office of apostle. This is also affirmed by the letter Paul, the Apostle, wrote to the Church at Ephesus:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13
From this passage we can see that the fulfilling of the Great Commission is not just reserved for believing disciples who are ordained as leaders in the Church.
The Church’s “prime directive” is Jesus’ Great Commission to disciple nations, not Star Trek’s principle of non-interference at all costs.
The Church’s “prime directive” is the very antithesis of the hands off, non-interference principle of the Star Trek science fiction series. Unfortunately there are many professing Christians and ministries who follow the Star Trek principle.
This idea might challenge us to our core, especially if we are only content with seeking out and attending good Church gatherings with good music, good sermons, and a good children’s ministry that don’t take us out of our comfort zones, equipping and encouraging us to actually “go”.
If our ministries aren’t making disciples of Jesus and equipping them to “go”, then what kind of disciples are we making if we are making any at all? Do we think that Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) doesn’t have application today? Can we truly call Jesus, “Lord” and not do what He says? (Luke 6:46-49)
Church gatherings with loving people and families who gather in Jesus’ name to hear good sermons and have good children’s ministry are not bad things to seek out. But all these things, when built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone, are intended to equip each of us in the Church to become spiritually mature believers (followers of Jesus who are being conformed to His image), that do the work of Jesus’ ministry (according to our gifting and calling), to fulfill the Great Commission wherever we may be right now or where God may have us in the future.