THE BETHLEHEM COLLEGE EDUCATION SERIES
The “Great Commission” at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is a mandate to disciple the nations, teaching each and every one of them to obey “all that Jesus commanded” (Matt 28:16-20). The Great Commission is more comprehensive than what many U.S. American evangelical Christians consider “world missions.” It’s not just about our “going.” Each of us, too, is a disciple still in ongoing need of discipleship training as we grow in obedience to Christ. The Great Commission is being undertaken and “fulfilled” in our own churches, with us as the objects, or rather “subject(ed)” glad followers of King Jesus. At the heart of all that Jesus commanded is our Spirit-wrought love of God and neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). We might say love is the sum and substance of Christ’s teaching, his law, and the essence of our consequent glad obligation to him (Jas 2:8-10; Rom 13:8-10).
Therefore, the Great Commandment is an indispensable aspect of the Great Commission. We pursue our own joyful obedience to King Jesus by way of loving others in both word and deed. We should do good to all people (Gal 6:10), making good on all kinds of opportunities posed for that by their particular life setting and situation. We’ve received amazing mercy from God, thus obliging and propelling us to show mercy –and God’s merciful character – to others (Luke 6:36). We have a special obligation to care for the poor, especially fellow believers (Acts 4:34; Deut 15:4; Matt 25:40), but every one of them since they, like us, have been made by God (Prov 14:31) and made in his image. We’ve been saved by grace alone through faith alone in order to do good works which God prepared for us beforehand so that our lives reflect him as his good work, or “poetry” (Eph 2:8-10). Our chancellor, John Piper, famously said at the historic gathering of world church leaders, CapeTown 2010, “Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.”
The ultimate good we can do anyone is a clear and compelling, accurate and comprehensive communication of the gospel of Christ’s kingdom. A Godlike compassion for the lost (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), a jealousy for Christ’s glory (Acts 4:12; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 5:9), and trust in the Spirit’s sovereign use of biblical truth (Rom 1:16; Eph 6:17) should compel us to understand others as much as possible for the sake of effective “contextualization.” Sharing Christ most strategically with another person, and helping her grow in spiritual maturity once converted, living out every implication and entailment of his loving lordship in her particular context and life situation, is the ultimate way to love them (both her and God). Therefore, the Great Commission is a subset and component of the Great Commandment. The Great Commandment and Great Commission are aspects of each other, meaning each one fills, entails, and contains the other. At Bethlehem College, we educate and form our students to really “get” this biblical understanding of what I’m referring to as Global Discipleship.
Urbanization and migration mean that cross-cultural competencies are now directly relevant to most Christians the world over now. Gone is the day when only those of us who would “go” to other countries as missionaries need concern ourselves with such learning. The proper awareness of cultural differences, as well as the accumulation of pertinent practical skills needed to navigate those differences most effectively, all go a long way in loving our neighbors well, and toward loving God in a way intelligible to them. Global discipleship includes thinking of oneself as both a goer (to some degree) and a sender at the same time, pursuing opportunities for cross-cultural ministry in one’s own context, even to those from least reached people groups, perhaps, while supporting some friends in ministry in other locales. The Twin Cities metro area of Minneapolis-Saint Paul and the adjacent suburbs, for example, is home to dozens of ethnic groups and nationalities including persons from a few least reached people groups, such as 75,000 Somali.
Bethlehem College students get to be glorious salt and light in the cultural mix who bring the aroma of Christ to multiple corners of our own local milieu. Our students live and work alongside neighbors from various countries, religious commitments, political ideologies, and “gender identities.” With practice, they thus grow as bold ambassadors and winsome witnesses of King Jesus. Many of our students and alumni either volunteer or work for ministries such as Gospel Union Mission Twin Cities, Jericho Road (a food pantry and relief ministry), Hope Academy (college prep K-12 for underserved low income families), Arrive Ministries (refugee resettlement), and conversational English language programs for international students at local universities and colleges. Our church’s “City Joy” ministry is on the look-out for more and more opportunities for doing good in our cities and others across the U.S. These are all evangelistic, gospel-driven, and gospel-shaped ministries.
Bethlehem Baptist Church is currently pursuing a decade-long goal of planting 25 new churches domestically and helping reach 25 previously unengaged ethno-linguistic groups in the world by the end of the year 2025 (we call the campaign “25 by ’25”). We enjoy historic, organic relationships with believers in Cameroon, Myanmar, Thailand, Ireland, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, and other countries. We send a few dozen small teams each year to encourage, serve, and learn from our approximately 115 global partner units (serving with three dozen agencies) and the (indigenous) local believers in their respective places. Many of our students take advantage of those opportunities to taste peculiar fruit of the gospel in other contexts and experience global needs firsthand. We’re quite able to find global partners in Europe, Central Asia, West Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia, for example, who are willing to supervise month long summer internships by our college students.
Local churches are the Lord’s intended matrix for our life together as faithful disciples, obeying all that Jesus commanded while in the watchcare of the undershepherds he’s provided (Eph 4:11-14; 1 Pet 5:1-4). All congregations, new and established, need to be continually “discipled” into biblical expressions of robust outreach (near and far), multi-faceted care for one another (or “in-reach”), and Christ-exalting worship (or “up-reach”). That kind of discipling is done through careful instruction (Col 1:27-29; 2 Tim 1:13-14) and context-appropriate modelling of faithful Christian living (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17). Our students can experience such church life in a growing number of like-minded congregations throughout the Twin Cities. Our faculty members each intentionally mentor a handful of students at a time.
With so many needs and ministry opportunities abounding in the world right now, why pursue a full-time education first? Because stories of naïve, foolish acts and counterproductive ministry methodologies employed by well-intended Christians also abound today. In addition, many folks in ministry burn out for lack of understanding and deprive themselves of the longevity in witness that the Lord has typically used in breaking through hard and rocky soil. For decades, Bethlehem Baptist Church has striven to send faithful laborers “in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6). Rather than rashly rush to “finish the mission” at “whatever the cost,” we prioritize the cultivation of faithful disciples on mission who know extraordinarily well the Word, the world (including humans), and themselves for the sake of wise and biblical sowing of good news and good works toward long term discipleship fruit that remains, both their own fruit and that of others.
The three main disciplines or “meta-frames” for doing mission studies are the biblical canon, the global church, and the globalized world. There is much wisdom to be gleaned for the Great Commission from the study of history and the social sciences, whether that be globalization studies, international affairs, anthropology, ethnography, intercultural studies, world history, colonial history, the history of global Christianity (including missions), contemporary migration, diaspora studies, or world religions. A dose of intercultural studies and a peek at today’s worldwide church are a part of the curriculum for every first-year college student going forward as well as foci for those in the new major, Theology & Global Studies. That said, sound theological convictions about God, creation and cultures, history, humankind, conversion, sanctification, and the church, among others, must not only inspire but shape our outreach endeavors (both near and far), including how to best engage the lost of various types and how to disciple the recently reached in a particular context. In the interdisciplinary field of missiology, biblical studies and theology must always remain the first and last word, or lens, by which we assess our practices and theories. We study carefully both the Book of the World and the Book of the Word, the former in (the) light of the latter.
Our Christian heritage is full of those who took great risks for the sake of faithful global discipleship after their knowledge of God’s Word came into combustible union with a cutting-edge awareness of his changing world, especially noting the particular season or propitious kairos in which they lived. Examples include the 18thcentury Germanic Moravians; William Carey and the Particular Baptists of England as well as the 19thcentury Evangelical Anglican “Clapham Sect”; the worldwide Student Volunteer Movement of the late 19thand early 20thcenturies; and Christian veterans of World War II. May there be a steady stream for generations to come of Bethlehem College & Seminary alumni walking faithfully and with great wisdom as Global Disciples, bearing fragrant fruit of the Spirit by the grace of God in their homes, churches, and communities no matter where in the world they decide to strategically place themselves for the fame of Christ (3 John 7) and God’s blessing of all nations (Gen 12:1-3; Gal 3:1-29).
Dr. Travis Myers
Assistant Professor of Church History and Mission Studies