Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.
The impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence comes from the heart of God who gave the Great Commission. God’s people know of God’s mission for His world because God has revealed it to them through His Word. God has ultimately revealed Himself in the incarnate Word, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He also reveals Himself by His written Word, which is the Bible, the Word given by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles. A Great Commission Resurgence will not truly be a resurgence of God’s mission unless it is rooted in and governed by the Word given by the God of mission.
A GCR will never be authentically pursued or sustained without a commitment to and preservation of “the faith” or the “teachings” of Christianity. Those teachings, which are called “doctrines”, are revealed by God to us in the Bible. It is, of course, fundamental to the nature of the Great Commission that disciple-making is rooted in baptism and teaching. Baptism signals an identification with the crucified, resurrected Christ and entrance into His church, while teaching indicates the formation of a life consistent with Christian baptism through the authoritative teaching of Holy Scripture.
As it is true that a GCR cannot be pursued or sustained apart from such a commitment to “the faith”, it is equally true that “the faith” cannot be known apart from the Bible. Christian “doctrine” is not merely human musings about God, nor is it a set metaphysical abstractions. Doctrine, in its most fundamental sense, is the teaching of Scripture itself. The “doctrine of Christ,” for example, is what the Scriptures teach about Christ. While our expressions and explanations of biblical doctrine necessarily involve language and concepts that lie outside the Bible, the doctrines themselves, in the primary sense of the word, are the teachings of God’s Word.
The Bible is truly the “Word of God.” Repeatedly the prophets claim “God said,” and “thus says the Lord.” The words of Scripture are perfect, sure, and trustworthy (Psalm 19). These texts are, as the apostle Peter puts it, “a word more sure,” by which he means that the Bible supercedes any other claim to revelation, including Peter’s own experience with Christ (2 Pet 2:16-21). In these words, and through His Son, God indeed has spoken (Heb 1:1-2).
Christians have long confessed what the Scriptures claim, that the Bible is inspired and authoritative. Paul instructs us that the very text of the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and Peter informs us that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they wrote (2 Pet 1:21), explaining that “men spoke from God” as the Bible was composed. So, we believe, both the text and the authors are inspired by God. Because of this, we hold that the Bible is a divine book.
The authority of Scripture is rooted in a variety of claims. The prophets of the Old Testament claim that they were proclaiming the word of God. The apostles claim that they too were penning divine words as they composed what we call the New Testament (e.g., 2 Pet 3:16). And, of course, Jesus taught from the Scriptures as from a book with God’s authority. There was no question in his His mind – these are the very words of God. Because they are God’s words, they are by their very nature authoritative for the people God created.
A whole set of doctrines accompany the doctrines (the biblical “teachings”) of inspiration and authority. We will consider a few of these, and then trace some of the implications of the inspiration and authority of Scripture for a GCR.
Because the Scriptures are inspired by God, because they are in fact God’s words, we affirm several corollary doctrines in our doctrine of Scripture. For example, because the Bible is God’s Word, we expect the Scriptures to be consistent with the nature of God. We, therefore, affirm that the Scriptures are “perfect” (Psa 19:7), that they are given to us without any error or impurity. The term “inerrancy” has long been used to express this biblical affirmation. Jesus himself expected that the Scriptures “could not be broken” (John 10:10) and that not even the smallest part of the Word would pass away (Matt 5:17).
Likewise, because the Scriptures are inspired by God, we affirm the teaching that the Bible is sufficient for life and doctrine (2 Tim 3:16-17). The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is the affirmation that the Bible itself is sufficient revelation for God to bring sinners to salvation and for God’s people to live as God desires. Put another way, the doctrine of sufficiency affirms that no man needs any further revelation from God in order to be redeemed and sanctified. While the Bible does not teach us everything about everything, it is sufficient in such a way that we need no further divinely inspired revelation from God in order to know God and obey Him.
Finally, the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture affirms that no other source of knowledge is sovereign over divine revelation itself. The Lord is Lord of knowledge; all our thinking, and all our claims must be subjected to the Lordship that God exercises through His word. To set human wisdom above the wisdom of God, or to allow other sources of knowledge to gain supremacy over the “knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5) is demonic. While I may obtain certain useful information for life from a source other than the Bible, no other source may have a magisterial role over the Scriptures;, instead, other sources of knowledge and ways of knowing must function in a ministerial capacity. That is, Scripture rules while other sources of knowledge serve. And the Lord, by His Word, stands in judgment over knowledge itself.
Let me suggest a few areas in which the necessity of a commitment to biblical inspiration and authority matters for a GCR. First, a GCR is about making -disciples, followers or learners of Jesus. The questions arises, then, about what constitutes the “teaching” that is to be given to Christ’s followers. Paul tells us about the matters of “first importance” that are handed down to the church (1 Cor 15:3-5), and Jude urges the defense of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3). Without the Scriptures the church has no sure knowledge of what constitutes “teaching”, or matters of “first importance,” or “the faith” that is worthy of defense. Disciple-making is the goal of the Great Commission, and no real disciples are to made apart from biblical teaching. Thus a commitment to the authority of Scripture is vital to a GCR.
Another facet of a GCR is the need for the reproduction of healthy churches around the world. This blog series features a number of entries that speak about some vital components of church health. We have to consider what our source of knowledge is for prescribing what constitutes the nature of the church, church health, church polity and governance, and all manner of church practices. There is no shortage of ideas about what constitutes the nature and function of a church, but a GCR that neglects the central biblical teachings about the church will not be a Great Commission Resurgence, but a resurgence of human novelties, which will have no eternal benefit.
Also, we must consider the ways in which the authority of Scripture matters for missional strategies that are crucial to a GCR. Christians determine certain ways of fulfilling the task we call the Great Commission. We employ evangelistic methods, church planting methods, and strategic initiatives. But what is to prevent such strategies and methods from being mere human inventions, and what is to keep us from using strategies and methods that are inconsistent with or contrary to the very teachings of Scripture? Unless we submit to the reality that the Bible is God’s divine word, and that it is authoritative, sufficient, and supreme, we will always be susceptible to the whims of theories and movements that amount to little more than the strongholds of 2 Corinthians 10, which set themselves up against the knowledge of God.
We have said before that a GCR is the natural producte of the Conservative Resurgence of the past 25 years. In no way is this more true than the way that the GCR is rooted in fidelity to the inspired, authoritative Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, which tell of the love and life of God revealed and promised to the nations.