The Great Commission and Christian Education

Pastor’s Post #27: “THE GREAT COMMISSION AND CHRISTIAN EDUCATION(09/09/’17)

We can never remind ourselves too much of the Great Commission given to the Christian Church.

It is in the forty- day period after Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first so-called “Easter Sunday.”

He calls his disciples to meet him in Galilee – the northern area of the first century land of Israel; a place in which people of many nations dwell together.   The place in which Jesus is raised as a boy becomes the place in which He will give his parting commission to his disciples – the nucleus of what would soon become the Christian Church of the New Testament era.

Jesus is worshipped by the eleven disciples. And Jesus doesn’t reject that worship because He is God – the second person of the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, Jesus declares. By the cross and his resurrection from the dead he has conquered fallen humanity’s greatest enemies: Sin, Satan, and Death.   He is now the Lord of Lords and King of Kings of the universe. And He will soon ascend to the throne of heaven, from which He will rule until His glorious return to judge the world at the last day of human history. Never forget that Jesus Christ truly rules this world that appears so chaotic and is so filled with trouble. Jesus reigns!

Therefore (because Jesus is King), go and make disciples of all nations. “As you see representatives of so many nations living and working in Galilee, let that impress upon you that you are to work so that people of all nations will become followers of me”, Jesus is saying.

How do we do that?” the disciples – staggered by the mandate – must have been thinking.

Begin by baptizing them into the Name of (the Triune God) – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus ordains the New Covenant sign and seal of initiation into His Kingdom– a washing with water that marks a person’s separation unto the true and living God.

And teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you. Not just “teaching” those marked out by baptism to be disciples – followers of the Lord; but teaching them to keep – to believe and to obey – the things Jesus Himself taught.

“And, as you face this massive mandate – this truly ‘Great Commission’, never forget that I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus, though reigning from Heaven, fulfills this promise by sending the Holy Spirit – His Secretary of State, as it were – to raise up laborers, to prepare them for their work, to attend their work by the life-giving power that brings New Creation, and to encourage them in every age (no matter how bleak that age may seem) that their labors are not in vain in the Lord.   Jesus is King; and His promises to the nations will be fulfilled – beginning with the eleven disciples before Him.

Our topic today on A Visit to the Pastor’s Study is “The Great Commission and Christian Education” – especially the Christian education that goes on in Sunday Schools, Bible Studies, Vacation Bible Schools, catechism classes, and other means by which Christian churches do their part in carrying out the Great Commission.

Now we need to be aware that there are many, many challenges to Christian education as the second prong of the Great Commission:

  • There’s the anti-intellectual challenge that looks down on education as something that either makes people proud “(“Knowledge puffs up…” said the Apostle Paul) or gets in the way of the pure work of the Holy Spirit (Although never forget that the whole Word of God is given to us by the Holy Spirit. We are to be sanctified – made holy – by the truth, taught Jesus. To which He added [God’s] Word is truth. And, with that truth, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, wrote the apostle Paul.)
  • There are the cultic varieties of education – which add to or take away from the teachings of Jesus – not least His own declarations about Himself as being – not a creature something less than God, but God Himself. He who has seen Me, has seen the Father, Jesus boldly – and rightly – stated.
  • And there are the very common moralistic ways of doing Christian education in the Church. Utterly missing the fact that Jesus opened up in the entire Old Testament – in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms – the things concerning Himself – His person, His offices, and His work – moralistic brands of Christian education all too often teach Bible stories disconnected from Jesus: Adam disobeyed. See the effects if you disobey.   Noah built an ark. God will give you work to do, too. David was brave in slaying Goliath. You should be brave in serving God, too. (Forgetting, of course, that King David also committed adultery and was responsible for the murder of the woman’s husband.!). Moralism gives cut flowers: Bible stories cut off from their roots in Jesus Christ.
  • And add to all of this, there is the challenge (and it’s a huge one) of doing effective Christian education (which emphasizes the Word of God) in a technological culture that has shortened attention spans and – by the common substitution of images for words (the “icons” of our day, if you will) – dulled people’s abilities to think logically, deeply, and meaningfully. (And for this critical topic, I want to refer you to our Visit to the Pastor’s Study archives and my two programs with Dr. Gregory Reynolds on the topics of Understanding Media and Living Wisely in our Mediated 21st Century World. )

Getting materials for good, truly Christian Education in the Church is simply a HUGE challenge. Where do you get Christian education materials that are faithful to the Scriptures, Christ-centered (which is really “Gospel centered”), and up-to-date in their ways of communicating in our age of bits, bytes, computer games, social media, and a torrent of apps?   And will the place from which you get this material help your church teaching staff to use all of it effectively in your local church situation?

Great Commission Publications was formed in 1975 as a joint Christian education venture of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America. For over forty years it has been producing what – in my opinion – is the finest Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curricula, Bible study materials, and doctrinal studies for all ages that you can get anywhere. I want you to know more about Great Commission Publications.

My guest today is the Executive Director of Great Commission Publications – Rev. Marvin Padgett, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to being appointed to his current position with what is commonly simply called “GCP”, he served as Editorial Vice-President of both Good News Publishers/Crossway Books and of the P & R Publishing Company, – all fine outlets for biblically faithful books and other study aids.

Christian Education is a huge part of the Great Commission. Let’s give time to consider that today.