Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grammar Matters

The Domestication of the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20

David Mays

When I was studying at Wheaton Graduate School in the eighties, it was said of the distinguished Dr. Merrill C. Tenney that every time he taught the book of Romans, he grammatically diagramed every sentence as he prepared each lesson. I was particularly impressed with that dedication because at the time I was trying to relearn English grammar so I could study New Testament Greek. It wasn’t easy. Dr. Tenney was dedicated to understanding the meaning of the text.

By contrast there is a phenomenon mentioned in the textbook industry where errors in popular textbooks are repeated through several editions and even in other textbooks because no one does the hard work of thinking through afresh what everybody knows.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in the church growth/mega church movement. Many people are writing books on how to “do church” and they often begin with the same mistake. The author looks to the Great Commission as the mission of the church, does a brief exegesis of Matthew 28:19-20, concludes that “make disciples” is the heart of it, and proceeds to write a book about how to get many people like you to come to your church.

Is the Great Commission serving as a true platform of conviction or is it simply an accepted platform of convenience? Are we guilty of the thoughtless “textbook error” or are we using the Scripture like the proverbial drunk uses a lamp post – more for support than illumination? Because we are basing the mission of the local church on this Scripture (the other Great Commission texts are rarely cited although The Great Commandment often is), it is crucial to correctly understand the text.

Let’s look at the text again.

‘And Jesus came and spake unto them saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth.”’

Most versions say, “Therefore go and make disciples.” Many authors exegete this as follows:

  1. “Go” is a participle, meaning “as you go,” or “when you go” (or perhaps “if you go” but no one has said, “by means of going”[instrumental participle]).
  2. The heart of the command is the imperative, “make disciples.” The core of the Great Commission is to make disciples.

There is a minor grammatical glitch here that has had large unintended consequences. The word “teach” comes from the noun, μάθητης, meaning learner, pupil, disciple. The verb form, μάθητεύώ, can be an intransitive verb, meaning to become a learner, pupil, or disciple, or a transitive verb meaning to produce a learner, pupil, or disciple.

In this text, the verb is a transitive verb. A transitive verb requires an object to complete the thought. You can’t say to someone, “Go call ….” It doesn’t make a complete thought until you say, “Go call your father,” or “Go call the dog,” etc. Call is a transitive verb.

Similarly, you can’t say “go teach,” or “go therefore and teach…,” without an object. The thought is incomplete.

In this case the object of the verb is “all the nations,” παντα τά εθνη. It goes together. It cannot be separated. You cannot say, Go ye therefore and teach… without …all nations.

However, when it came to modern versions of Scripture, the verb teach seemed too weak for the passage. It is more than teaching; it is helping others become transformed, to develop a whole new life, to become disciples of the Savior. The meaning would best be conveyed by “therefore go and disciple all nations.” But disciple is not a proper English verb. So to maintain proper English, it is translated “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Note that there is no word equivalent to “make” in the Greek text.

Now here is the unintended consequence. In this sentence, make becomes the main verb. It is a transitive verb that requires an object. The object supplied is disciples. “Make disciples,” is a complete thought in itself and “of all nations” is downgraded to a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase is a qualifier or modifier. It is subordinate to the main thought and is easily overlooked.

In a recent class of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, the facilitator was reviewing material by asking the class some questions. One question was, “In the Great Commission, what is the main verb?” Because, “go(ing),” “baptizing,” and “teaching” in the Greek are participles, the “correct” answer (from the King James Version) is “teach.” However, one student, familiar with modern versions, said “make.”

There are three things indicated by the text that are often missed. First, the objective of discipling, the “nations,” is a plural noun. It is, if you will, a plural of a plural. The singular, έθνος, means “people” or “people group,” or “ethnic group” or perhaps “tribe.” The plural thus indicates multiple groups, “peoples,” “people groups,” “ethnic groups.” Thus the Great Commission is more about discipling groups than individuals.

Second, the object of discipling is παντα τά εθνη, all the nations, all the tribes, all the people groups, not just our people group, our culture, our neighborhood, or even our country. It is comprehensive.

Thirdly, the word “nations” (εθνη), often translated gentiles, means non-Jews (literally ethnic groups). It was the Jews’ word for foreigners. This is what made it so radical and difficult for the early disciples. They were responsible to take the gospel to all the peoples unlike them, the ones they didn’t like.

Now we might say that we are the gentiles, the non-Jews. But the point is that the Great Commission tells the people who have the gospel to disciple those that don’t, those who are foreigners to them. The Great Commission does not command us to make disciples of people in our own culture. It’s primary thrust is to go and disciple all the other peoples, the other ethnic groups.

But in many of our churches today, and especially in the books on how to “do church,” all the other nations are given a low priority status. In truth, the Great Commission, which we proudly cite for our mission, is neglected, often relegated to a budget item, an annual emphasis, a committee, and/or the denomination mission board. As the twelve disciples must have said, “After all, there is plenty of need right around here.”

Thus the Great Commission has been domesticated. It has become the basis for reaching people like us in our own community. And the clear responsibility to go across language and cultural boundaries to disciple the nations has been neglected. As someone has said, “We have taken the basics for granted for so long that we don’t remember the basics any more.”

To demonstrate the point, let me report an incident that happened as I was preparing for a presentation to which I had given the title, “The Great Commission-Driven Church.” A pastor called me and said, “I have taken training and been doing some teaching on “The Great Commission Church” and I would like to ask you to expand this subject and spend some time talking about global missions.”

When a pastor looks at a workshop on the Great Commission and assumes it’s going to be locally focused, then it seems that modern writers and church experts have domesticated the Great Commission!

A Story

Let’s try to illustrate what this means by means of a story. Let’s suppose that my wife is going away for a week to care for her dad. Before she goes, she asks me in a very kind tone, “Honey, you know your folks are coming soon after I get back and since I’m leaving in a hurry, I haven’t had time to clean up the house. There is one thing I would like you to go while I’m gone. I’d like you to clean the house.” And knowing I’m often not listening, she continues, “I’d like you to go through the whole house and clean all the rooms.” Again, just before she leaves, she sticks her head in my office, gives me a kiss, and says, “Good-by honey. Remember, please go into all the rooms and clean them.” “OK,” I say as she gets in the car, and I continue working.

As the week goes on, I’m busy. I’m working in my office and occasionally I remember my wife’s words, “Go into all the house and clean every room.” And I think to myself, “She really wants me to clean up around here.” I look around at my messy office and think, “I’d better get busy cleaning.” And I start shuffling some papers around and throwing out some accumulated piles of stuff.

In my more introspective moments I think to myself, “the heart of what she’s saying is that she wants me to clean up.” “I’ve got to clean up.” And I throw a little more effort into organizing my office.

I only go in the kitchen to get a bite to eat. I throw the dishes in the sink for later. I don’t even go in the living room or the guest bedroom. While she’s gone I’m terribly busy in the office.

I spend a fair amount of effort cleaning up the office and things look a bit better when one day my wife breezes in the door with a cheery, “Hi, honey, I’m home!” But the smile quickly fades as she looks around the living room with a half-inch of dust and walks into the kitchen where the wastebasket is overflowing and the sink is full of dirty dishes. “What happened?” she moans. “What happened to cleaning the whole house?”

You see, there is a big difference between “cleaning up” and “cleaning the whole house.”

And there is a big difference between “making disciples” and “discipling the nations.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On Christian Swagger...

by Wye Huxford

The Outsider Interviews is an interesting commentary of sorts on David Kinnaman's UnChristian. Written by Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks, The Outsider Interviews is a collection of interviews that basically tests some of the conclusions in Kinnaman's book. At its heart, the goal seems to be to help readers better understand what Kinnaman describes as "real people [who] embraced such hostile - yet often very nuanced - views about the Christian faith."

Here is a sample of the kind of thing Kinnaman would argue is a serious barrier to young adults in our culture when it comes to taking seriously the message of the gospel: "The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our 'swagger,' how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project." In putting that idea to the test, Henderson and his crew heard words like rude, judgmental, anti, and smug when outsiders were describing insiders.

What in the world does that have to do with Christmas? Actually a whole lot!

Isn't it a bit strange that as a follower of what was no doubt perceived to be an illegitimate child who was born in a barn of sorts and laid in a feed trough - all the while being proclaimed King of the Jews - I would ever have much "swagger" about my status as one of His followers?

He was born to a peasant girl who would certainly have not met our standards of appropriate parent material and was to be cared for by an otherwise non-descript carpenter who drug his very pregnant wife all the way to Bethlehem just to sign up for some government program. He apparently didn't get the AAA Trip-tix necessary to good travel planning and had to beg for a place to spend the night the very night the baby was born.

When that baby grew up, He would find Himself turning the economic assumptions of Israel (and the rest of the world including our own) upside down and, more often than not, He enjoyed the company of sinners over self-declared saints. He never made it out of the poverty class, declaring "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20, NRSV) He would declare weird things like "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20) and "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)

If any of the billions who have walked the paths of this planet have had a right to a little "swagger," it would seem that Jesus would be first on the list. Yet, in reading the gospel stories of His life and ministry, I cannot discover a single incident of "swagger." No doubt the most powerful person ever to set foot on planet Earth, He seems utterly disinterested in power as we know it.

So, at Christmas time this year, I've been thinking a lot about Kinnaman's research and Henderson's research. It is dumbfounding to me to think that as a follower of "the Son of Man [who} came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) I could ever think "swagger" is ever an appropriate way of bearing witness to my faith in Jesus.

As we head to church on Friday evening and celebrate His birth with our families and loved ones on Christmas Day, may we do so "swaggerlessly." There's nothing about His birth that would suggest room for "swagger."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sunken Church

From our final newsletter:

Many of you have heard me tell the story of the sunken church in Ancona, the old church bythe port that fell into the sea and of how I feel God wanting to use that story to challenge the people of that city and of Italy to see His Body differently. That starts with me. We didn’t bring a whole lot back with us from Italy, but one of the things we did bring back were questions; questions about our faith, about the mission of the church and yes, the church itself. As we adjust to our lives in this new place, those questions continue to get formulated, answers are proposed and we move forward. We’re not foolish enough to think that we have to have everything figured out before diving in…but we continue asking.

After all these years spent in Italy, I am convinced of this, though: The Italian people do not need the form of church that we so often see in the U.S. They are looking for real, spiritual answers and will try anything so long as it does not smack of Christianity. THAT they already have. They want something real, something life-changing, something seen and true, something lacking power, politics and prestige, something they can sink their teeth into and something that allows them to experience the freedom that Jesus’ message was intended to give but which has gotten lost in the shuffle of centuries of traditions.

My hope and dream is to see that happen in the Italian churches and that the U.S. church will learn from the Italian example as well. To that end we will continue praying, promoting, encouraging, supporting and sending. You can follow along in the months to come at sunkenchurch.com. For everything you have done over these past years, thank you!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thank You!

Thanks to all who contributed for our "Join in for Joplin" efforts. We filled, sealed, packed and sent 624 boxes full of clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies, toys, books, food and household goods as well as dozens of shovels and tools, 11 wheelbarrows, a wheelchair and lots of other things. There were so many of you who gave of your homes, your time and your strength to see it happen - thank you! We also sent over $6000 to be distributed to the families that were displaced or affected by the tornado. Thank you for being willing to be used as a conduit of God's blessings in your life.

The truck was delivered a few days ago and my father-in-law went up with Al Houk and my oldest, Jacob, with a pick-up load of baby items that came in after the truck left. They volunteered Saturday and our now on their way back home. Keep praying for those in Joplin as they continue the long road of rebuilding...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Thanks for your interest in joining us to help the relief efforts in Joplin, Missouri. Several chuches in the San Antonio, New Braunfels and Austin, Texas area are pooling resources and efforts together to see non-perishable and household items put together and shipped to Joplin. Con-Way Truckload, based out of Joplin, has dropped off a 55' trailer at Community Christian Church's parking lot and we are now filling it up!






But we still need lots more

Here is the updated list:

Hamburger Helper
Ramen Noodles
Snack Cakes
Canned foods (Chef Boyardee type)
Instant Potatoes
Canned Potatoes
Instant Rice
Pudding cups
Canned meat
Canned chili
Canned vegetables
Canned fruit
Baby food
Breakfast cereals
Pop tarts
Breakfast bars
Laundry Detergent
Trash bags
Dog & cat food
Diapers (esp. size newborn and 5-6)
Soy based baby formula
Baby shampoo, wash, lotion, diaper rash creme
Baby bottles
Nursing pads, breast pumps, nursing items
Band aids
Antibiotic ointment
Pain reliever
Cotton balls
Hair brushes
Kids' toothbrushes
Kids' toothpastes
Pillows - all sizes
Children DVDs
All sizes NEW underwear and socks
Shovels, rakes and tools - new or in good shape.

For an updated list from my home church in Joplin, go here: chcchurch.org

We have several drop-off points:

1. Community Christian Church
1750 McQueeney Road
New Braunfels, TX 78130
Drop-off hours: Monday - Thursday, 9-4 (not on Memorial Day)

2. Hodell Window Covering's warehouse:
1140 Lone Star Drive
New Braunfels, TX 78130
Drop-off hours: Monday - Friday, 8-5 (not on Memorial Day)

3. Castle Hills Christian Church
6209 West Avenue
San Antonio, TX 78213
(210) 344-7188
Drop-off hours: Monday - Friday, 8-4 (not on Memorial Day)

4. Southwest Christian Church, Austin
2116 Lynnbrook Drive
Austin, TX 78748
(512) 280-7922
Drop-off hours: Monday - Thursday, 9-5 (not on Memorial Day)

In New Braunfels, you can also place your donation in a box located at any of the three Dollar General stores, the two First Commercial Bank branches, Tractor Supply, New Braunfels Feed & Supply, Hoffman Floors, Brake Solution, Supplize and Dr. E M Perkins' office.

If you have any questions, please email me at jason.casey@hodellwc.com.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weed Eating on the Bridge

During our week in Colorado Springs at MTI’s Debriefing & Renewal program, we were encouraged to use the metaphor of a bridge as we faced reentry into our home culture. On one end of this theoretical and yet all-too-real bridge is Ancona, our life in Italy, which we’ll label as ‘settled’. On the other end, off in a nebulous haze is a life in New Braunfels, Texas which we will one day also label ‘settled.’ In between is the actual bridge which has signs along the way marking the phases called ‘unsettled’, ‘chaos’, and ‘resettling’.

So I’m out today in our back yard holding something I’ve never used before or maybe once in Junior High: a weed eater. Just three weeks ago I was hanging with our small group as they talked about the intricacies of lawn care and I was too embarrassed or prideful to say anything, I just soaked it in, hoping their experience would rub off on me somehow by means of some miraculous form of osmosis. So back to today, fumbling with a 50’ extension cord, breaking the trigger guard (sorry Tom), damaging trees, cutting off one of Heather’s flowers and pausing to watch a Youtube video on how to restring the thing because I kept making mistakes. I feel like a fool, a prideful fool who should be able to do this simple task which every red-blooded suburbanite does a couple of times a month.

When you’re learning the cultural ins and outs of a foreign place I think you give yourself more grace because it is, well, foreign. But when you’re ‘home’ or what you keep telling yourself should be ‘home’ or at least looks like ‘home’, it’s all too easy to be short with yourself because you should already know how to do this.

In many ways, I feel like I’m learning a new language, new words, new expressions, new ways of doing things. I’m learning new rhythms, new meal times, new traditions, new holiday schedules, new songs. I still need to learn to let go of my pride and call up my neighbor, my family, my small group and ask for help, even if the question may surprise them in its simplicity.

Some still look at us a bit quizzically when they ask what we’ve been doing this month of April and I answer, “Settling in.” I try to make excuses and come up with things to make it sound like I’ve been doing something productive when in the end, what I’m doing with most of my time, is simply that, settling in. I can’t tell you how blessed we feel that nearly all of our supporting churches and individuals have continued supporting us through June to help us ease back in and set up a home.

In an hour we’re having a party for Jacob who became a teenager today. His big present was a Dad-made soccer goal which he found in the backyard this morning with a big red bow on it, sitting on a freshly mown lawn. The yard looks pretty good. All along the edges rests the cut, green evidence that I’m learning how to handle a weed eater; evidence that I’m taking another step across the bridge.