Church planting and the Great Commission

In the article “All Nations” and Church Planting, Ed Stetzer showed us that that “the Great Commission with a focus on the nations is missing its biblical context”. He is right. He also explains that when Jesus spoke these words to his Jewish disciples, “what they did reveals what they thought Jesus meant…They went to all nations – and planted churches. And so should we.” Unfortunately, I can’t say that he is right here.

The disciples did go from Jerusalem – even though it took a great persecution to force them out of Jerusalem in the first place – to Judea, to Samaria, and then to the end of the earth, according to Acts 1:8. Thanks, mostly to the ministry of Paul who was the only apostle sent to the Gentiles. His ministry reached as far as Illyricum (Rom 15:19). Thereafter, the gospel had taken a generally westerly track: Europe, America, East Asia, and Central Asia. In the days to come it will sweep over the Middle East as it makes its way back to Jerusalem. And all Israel will be saved.

Ed Stetzer also said that Jesus was speaking to “a Jewish people who knew that God created the nations at Babel (Gen 11:9), called the nations ‘up to Jerusalem’ (Isa 2), displayed the tongues of the nations at Pentecost (Acts 2), and will be worshiped by men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation forever (Rev 7). Unfortunately, he is a bit confused about the timeline of how things will happen. Isaiah 2, for example, will not happen until Christ has returned and established His kingdom on the earth in Jerusalem. This is the reason why nations will have to go up to Jerusalem – to pay homage to the King of kings. So, Jesus has not “reversed the direction of mission”. He still expects His disciples – and now the Jewish people – to go out from Jerusalem. But they are not yet ready to do so. Only when Israel is saved will she be able to fully carry out what we call the Great Commission. In other words, the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled by Gentile Christians, even with all the zeal, strategy and technology at our disposal. When Christ’s kingdom has been established in Jerusalem, “the law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3).

On the matter of church planting. I have been a missionary charged with church planting for ten years. I can say that church planting will not help to fulfill the Great Commission. Paul did not set out with the goal of planting churches. He explicitly stated that the reason he proclaimed Christ and warned and taught everyone was so that he could “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:27). It was for this sole purpose that he toiled and struggled with all his energy. Sadly, we are not doing this; not even close.

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