Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Joseph Spurgeon
Book: The Greatness of the Great Commission
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text

“Hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven…. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power; and the glory, forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-10, 13b).

I now have completed a fairly thorough analysis of the Great Commission. Hopefully I have provided solid, Bible-based answers to our three opening questions:

What is the Great Commission?

What is the goal of the Great Commission?

What is the nature of the Great Commission?

I trust that the answers provided will be hope inducing, vision expanding, and labor encouraging.

It seems to me that the change that is most needful today in Christian circles in order to recover the greatness of the Great Commission is a major shift in practical, applied Christianity. The contemporary Church is afflicted by three corrosive agents:

(1) Rampant smiley-faced superficiality, so characteristic of mega-ministries and much of Christian publishing and broadcasting, which largely is resultant from inattention to the Great Commission.

(2) Decades old cultural retreatism, which largely has been engendered by a misconception of the Great Commission.

(3) The time perspective problem, which largely involves a denial of the Great Commission time perspective.

The Church and Superficiality

Regarding the matter of superficiality, John A. Sproule laments: “The tragedy today…  is the apparent disinterest in the preaching of doctrine in the church…. Caught up in the craze for ‘Christian’ entertainment and psychology, the church is worse off for it.”[1] Regarding the accelerating changes in this direction inside American evangelical churches, David Wells warns that “the impetus to change is coming from without rather than from within, and this impetus is primarily sociological, not theological.”[2]

Too much in the popular church growth mentality reduces the role of sound biblical preaching and teaching in deference to crowd-pleasing antics to draw the play-oriented masses into churches.[3] These masses must then continually be entertained by throwing Christian theology to the lions. Of last century’s influential evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, Weisberger writes: he “completed the reduction of evangelism to a matter of technique and personality.[4]· North’s comments are apropos:

Is it any wonder that the doctrine of eternal damnation is de-emphasized in preaching today? Is it any wonder that God is spoken of mostly as a God of love, and seldom as the God of indescribable eternal wrath? D. L. Moody, the turn-of-the-century American evangelist, set the pattern by refusing to preach about hell. He made the preposterous statement that “Terror never brought a man in yet.” That a major evangelist could make such a theologically unsupported statement and expect anyone to take him seriously testifies to the theologically debased state of modern evangelicalism. It has gotten no better since he said it.[5]

If there is no sound doctrinal base to the Christian life, there can be no proper starting point for a holistic Christian faith.

The Church and Retreatism

Regarding the matter of retreatism, Francis A. Schaeffer has written:

The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals….

Why have the Christians been so slow to understand…? [It is traceable to] a deficient, “platonic” spirituality. It [is] platonic in the sense that Pietism made a sharp division between the “spiritual” and the “material” world – giving little, or no, importance to the “material” world….

Christianity and spirituality were shut up to a small, isolated part of life[6]

Having isolated life into neat compartments and having exalted the “spiritual” over the “material,” the Church has given up on the world and retreated into its own four walls. The very fact that churches often sponsor “retreats” inadvertently demonstrates the acceptability of this mentality. When there is a tendency to retreatism, there is no proper practice of a holistic Christian faith.

There is dangerous atrophy in the Body of Christ (the Church) due to chronic retreatism and the more recent onset of acute superficiality. And the recovery of the true strength of the family, the Church, and the State will take both effort and time. Fortunately, the Great Commission, when properly understood, provides us with the strength needed for the effort (“I am with you,” promises the One with “all authority”) and the time necessary to the task (“even to the end of the age”).

The Church and Time

Few things have been more destructive to the implementation of a well-rounded, biblically-grounded Christian worldview than one’s time perspective. A classic, though inadvertent illustration of this, is available in an interview with evangelist Billy Graham a few years back:

  1. If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?
  1. One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less…. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it Up.[7]

A similar problem is admitted by Tim LaHaye. Many Christians are committed to the approaching end of the age, with all of its horror (according to their dispensational view):

Most knowledgeable Christians are looking for the Second Coming of Christ and the tribulation period that He predicted would come before the end of the age. Because present world conditions are so similar to those the Bible prophesies for the last days…, they conclude that a takeover of our culture by the forces of evil is inevitable; so they do nothing to resist it.[8]

Much of the modern spread of this foreshortened time perspective is traceable to the Brethren movement in the 1830s. W. Blair Neatby gives an interesting analysis of the Brethren devotion to such:

Brethrenism is the child of the study of unfulfilled prophecy and of the expectation of the immediate return of the Saviour. If anyone had told the first Brethren that three quarters of a century might elapse and the Church still be on earth, the answer would probably have been a smile, partly of pity, partly of disapproval, wholly of incredulity. Yet so it has proved. It is impossible not to respect hopes so congenial to ardent devotion; yet it is clear now that Brethrenism took shape under the influence of a delusion, and that delusion left its traces, more or less deeply, on the most distinctive features of the system![9]

Billy Graham, Tim LaHaye, and millions of other Christians hold to the “any-moment” view of the Coming of Christ, which shortens their historical perspective. Some have carried this view to logical, but embarrassing, extremes. We see the clearest examples in Edgar C. Whisenant’s 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988[10] and Hal Lindsey’s The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon.[11] Soon to join them is Richard Rhuling, M.D., with his new book Sword Over America, that is said to point to the early 1990s as the time for the Battle of Armageddon.[12]

It is sad to say, but these men are following in a long train failed prophets.[13] This “any moment” viewpoint kept Graham diligently working, even if not carefully preparing for the long haul. This has kept too many other Christians sitting back, away from the fray (except for a few notable areas of exception, such as anti-pornography and pro-life advocacy), while expecting the end. But a long, developmental, hope-filled view of history is fundamental to any serious Bible-based approach to the whole of life.[14] If there is a tendency to promote a “blocked future,” there will be no promotion of a holistic Christian faith.


A proper understanding of the Great Commission will be essential for the Church to collect itself in preparation for the 1990s and the challenges of the looming new century. Even though we are hearing many reports of “the staggering growth of the church in previously non-Christian parts of the world” and that “in all of Asia and most of Africa, unprecedented numbers are coming to Christ,”[15] for which we are thankful, we must not become lax in our promotion of sound doctrine and practice. A recent report showed that such popular evangelical theologians as J. N. D. Anderson, Clark Pinnock, and Charles Kraft, allow that “if any unevangelized person repents and desires God’s mercy, he will be saved by the work of Christ even though ignorant of that work.”[16] It noted further that such noteworthy evangelicals as J. I. Packer and Roger Nicole “allow some possibility for the salvation of the unevangelized,” while Donald Bloesch “affirms the possibility of conversion after death.”[17]

Christians must begin applying the Great Commission, indeed, all of Scripture, to the fundamental institutions of social order: the family, the Church, and the State. This will be especially incumbent upon American Christians, who are now not only facing a secular humanistic government on one hand, but also an increasingly non-Christian society on the other. “There are now more Muslims than Methodists in the U. S.”[18] In fact, there has been a 300% increase in the Muslim population in just ten years.[19]

Regarding the family, we must remember that if we “train up a child in the way he should go” then “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

Regarding the Church, we must recall that “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1 Pet.4:17a).

Regarding the State we must recognize that “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron.7:14).

In all of this we must bow before Him Who has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” We do so by obeying His commands to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” In so doing we may always rejoice in the confident hope “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And as we engage the task we may confidently declare “Amen” (Heb. “so be it”). For this is the greatness of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.

[1] John A Sproule in John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testament (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), p. 318. James Davison Hunter has written a powerful critique of the theological drift in evangelicalism entitled: Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (University of Chicago Press, 1987). In an article on Hunter’s book, entitled “Theological Drift: Christian Higher Ed the Culprit?,” Randy Frame notes: “Hunter argued in the book that contemporary evangelicalism is moving away from tenets of belief and practice long considered orthodox. There are some who say that the current conflict at Grace Theological Seminary exemplifies Hunter’s observations…” (Christianity Today, April, 9, 1990, p. 43). See article in the same issue: “Trouble at Grace: Making Waves or Guarding the Truth?,” p. 46.

[2] David Wells, “Assaulted by Modernity,” Christianity Today 34:3 (February 19, 1990) 16. A remarkable illustration of this may be found in the conservative Presbyterian Church in America’s The PCA Messenger. A reader, Carl Gauger, complained in a letter to the editor: “I find in the article… further confirmation of a disturbing trend in evangelicalism. Although we continue to voice confidence in the inerrancy of the Bible, we are tending to use it less and less…. In this article… we are given no pretense to believe [the writer’s assumptions] because of any biblical authority. It is disappointing enough to see psychology parading in a cloak of misquoted biblical references, but when even the pretense of Biblical authority is removed, I think God’s people should rise up and cry foul.” Editor Bob Sweet responded (in part): “But do you examine everything you read so critically? Do you require ‘biblical authority’ for everything?” (pp. 3, 4). Wells’ “impetus to change” is often from secular psychological theories.

[3] See Richard Quebadeaux, By What Authority: The Rise of Personality Cults in American Christianity (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982). For important correctives to this work, see: Michael R. Gilstrap’s review, “Media Theo-Pop” in James B. Jordan, ed., The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, vol. 1 of Christianity and Civilization (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1982), pp. 99-110.

[4] Bernard Wisberger, They Gathered at the River (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958), p. 177. For the problems created by Moody’s revivalism, see: George Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University, 1973), ch. 5, “New Winds Blowing.”

[5] Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), p. 167. North got this quote from Stanley N. Gundry, who was cited by George M. Manden. He then comments: “Perhaps someone will cite me, making it three-stage faith in footnotes” (p. 167, n. 126). Consider it done!

[6] Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981), pp. 17, 18, 19. See also: Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981); Gary North, ed., Biblical Blueprint Series (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1986-1987), ten volumes.

[7] Taking the World’s Temperature” (no author) in Christianity Today, (Sept. 2S. 1977), p. 19.

[8] Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind (Old Tappen, NJ: Revell, 1980), p. 217.

[9] W. Blair Neatby, A History of the Plymouth Brethren, p. 339. Cited from Joseph M. Canfield, “Discussion Paper No. 3: The Delusion of Imminence!” (unpublished manuscript, June 30, 1988), p. 1.

[10] Edgar C. Whisenant, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988 (Nashville, TN: World Bible Society, 1988). Whisenant claims to have published several million copies of this work. After his initial failure (the Rapture did not occur in September, 1988, as he predicted), he even tried to update it to January, 1989, then September, 1989. He soon lost his following.

[11] Hal Lindsey, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (New York: Bantam, 1980). Though Lindsey is not as bold, his sensational books lead in the same direction, with such statements as: “The decade of the 1980’s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it” (p. 8, emphasis his).

[12] See: Jim Ashley, “Ruhling Believes ‘Crisis’ Events Near,” Chattanooga News-Free,

Press, October 7, 1989, Church News Section.

[13]  See: Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response, to Russia and

Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977).

[14] “Christianity is a force for total transformation, even of the cosmos (Rom. 8:18-22). Nevertheless, it is not self-consciously revolutionary. It does not seek to overthrow civil governments by elitist-imposed force. Instead, it steadily overthrows all governments – personal, familistic, church, and civil – by the cumulative spread of the gospel and the process of institutional replacement. This is the New Testament kingdom principle of leaven (Matt. 13:33).” North, Tools of Dominion, p. 189. This, obviously, is a program that requires much time.

[15] Terry C. Muck, “Many Mansions?” in Christianity Today, 34:8 (May 14, 1990) 14.

[16] John Sanders, “The Perennial Debate” in Christianity Today, 34:8 (May 14, 1990) 21. This article deals with “the question of salvation for those who have never heard of Christ” (p. 21).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Colin Chapman, “The Riddle of Religions,” in Christianity Today” 34:8 (May 14, 1990) 16.

[19] Ibid., p. 19.