I have a friend who has been a disciple for many years, and who has several Christian relatives as well. He has always considered himself to be on the philosophical and intellectual side. These days he is finding himself at great odds with what is taught at church, and in the spirit of not causing factions or dissention, he is retreating more and more because his beliefs are so different from what is being taught. I respect his personal convictions, but am concerned that he is becoming over-intellectual and conceited in his thinking, and thus closed to any contradiction to his opinions. He believes that the church predominantly teaches just "first principles," and so people are not maturing spiritually. I have encouraged him to speak to the more mature Christians, and he counters that he does not want to cause someone else to "struggle." He does respect you and your teaching ministry, by the way. When I asked him about his response to Matthew 28:19, as to what is his responsibility to go and make disciples, share his faith and serve by bringing the lost to Christ, his interpretation is that Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostles and not to everyday Christians in generations to come. He insists that this scripture is not taught accurately and that many of the scriptures are used to teach an agenda, their contexts being disregarded. Therefore, according to him, "People walk around trying to earn their salvation by making disciples, and are not going deep into the scriptures." This has shaken me because, despite my attempts to study the issue, I just cannot see his position as true. I see a young man who is interpreting the Bible to suit himself, isolating himself from his spiritual family, just staying on the outskirts of the fellowship. He has been dating a non-Christian girl for a year. She's actually wonderful, and I hope will be a great disciple one day. But because he has so many disagreements with what is taught, he is not encouraging her to come to church with him. I am seriously concerned about my brother and friend. How can I respond when this brother is obviously more educated and intellectual than I am in the Bible? You must come across this often yourself. -- A sister

From everything you have written, it does not sound like you are the one to help this brother. He is dating outside the faith. That in itself requires a huge level of compromise. I personally suspect all the other issues are just a smokescreen.

Whether or not some preachers take passages out of context, there is no excuse for blowing off our personal Christian responsibilities. When he visits my website, he will see how strongly opposed I am to dating outside the faith, as well as the strong stand I take against intellectual arrogance. If he is so hot--so sophisticated--he should use this to teach the lost, to make a real difference in this world. Instead it sounds like he is using it as a defensive weapon to protect his moral choices. Of course Proverbs 18:17 applies--I realize that I am hearing only one side of the story--so I hope my response is not too strong.

Again, he does need help, but I think you will be of greatest service by praying for him. (And her, too.) In the meantime, realize that all of us sin and struggle, and major compromise can affect even someone who has been in the faith for many years. There is no "safe" length of time to be a Christian after which you cannot fall. Many, many of the "older" brothers in the faith I have known since the 1970s have compromised and eventually left. So, although it's hard not to be sentimental about those we love, this should be avoided. Thank you for writing to me, and I pray something in my response gives you perspective and spiritual strength.

She responds:

I am so deeply touched at your timely response. I know you are a busy person and yet you took the time to read through and advise me specifically. Thank you. I don't think your email is too strong. I think it confirms what I have been sensing in the back of my mind about the smokescreen. I will continue to pray for them both and allow God and the men in his life to help him. Just to clarify, can Matthew 28 be interpreted as a commission given to the apostles only, or is the Great Commission applicable to the generations of disciples to follow?

I am happy that my response was helpful. As for Matthew 28, this can be understood in two ways: (1) It is the mission given to the church as a whole--this has been the traditional interpretation throughout Christian history. (2) It was for the apostles, but they in turn would pass the torch on after their death, so it still remains the church's charter.

Interestingly, although the apostles were evangelistic from the outset (Acts), they did not intentionally begin to go "to all nations" until the 1st Missionary Journey (Acts 13), some 18 years after the Great Commission was given. Everything was leading up to that point, but the Lord was quite patient in allowing people to be moved by the Spirit and share their faith naturally.

At the end of the day, even if Matthew 28 were removed from our Bibles, there would still be plenty of other passages directing us to share our faith. If you want to go much deeper into Matthew's gospel, see The Gospel of Matthew: The Crowning of the King, by Steve Kinnard. You can find it at www.IPIBooks.com.  

This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2005. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.