The term “Great Commission” is only 200 years old. Here’s why that matters.

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 28:19–20) 

One of the deepest and most dangerous lies in the Church today is that this passage—often labeled the “Great Commission”—is the singular mission of the Christian life.

This, of course, has tremendous implications for our work. Because if the Great Commission to “save souls” and “make disciples” is the only thing that matters for eternity, then most of us are wasting most of our time.

This is what many of us are being told explicitly by church leaders! In the words of one influential pastor, “The consequences of your mission [and here he’s talking exclusively about the Great Commission] will last forever; the consequences of your job will not.”

But here’s what’s fascinating: Treating the Great Commission as the only commission Jesus left us is brand spanking new in church history. According to three faculty members at the conservative Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Before at least the seventeenth century, the [Great Commission] was largely ignored when discussing the church’s missional assignment.” 

So how on earth did the Great Commission functionally become the only commission modern Christians feel called to? Perhaps part of the reason is the label we’ve attached to Jesus’s words in Matthew 28, turning it from a commission to the singular “great” one. 

But here’s what’s mind-boggling: The term “Great Commission” isn’t even part of the original biblical manuscripts. It’s a man-made heading that, as the preface to the NIV Bible warns, is “not to be regarded as part of the biblical text.” 

And get this: The label “Great Commission” didn’t even show up in popular print until the late 1800s when Hudson Taylor coined the term to recruit people to serve as missionaries in China. The term “Great Commission” is not a part of the inerrant Word of God. It’s simply the catchiest marketing slogan of the modern missions movement.

Now the command itself? That’s a different story! Hudson Taylor was right when he said, “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.” 

Lest I be misinterpreted, let me say this as clearly as I can: The Great Commission is indeed great! It’s just not only. Why is it so problematic to treat the Great Commission as the only commission Jesus gave us? Here are just four reasons: 

  1. Jesus never did
  2. It neglects the other aspects of God’s kingdom
  3. Ironically, it makes us less effective at the Great Commission
  4. It blocks us from seeing the full extent of how our work matters for eternity

Join me over the next four weeks as we unpack each of these four dangers in detail together!


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