Monday, May 31, 2010

The Great Commission: All or Nothing

The syntax of the Great Commission transforms four verbs into a single all-or-nothing command.

44 comments:

Dave Miller said...
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Dave Miller said...

My Greek is rustier than an old Ford. But as I recall, wasn't the primary use of the participle to serve in an adverbial role - defining the action to be taken.

So, making disciples is the command and going/baptizing/teaching describe how that action is to take place.

I don't think I'm disagreeing with you but I'm trying to maintain the distinction of the primary command to make disciples.

We must go. We must baptize. We must teach. They are imperative in force and not optional. But they describe the action of the main command - to make disciples.

I think maybe I am saying essentially the same thing as you, perhaps putting more emphasis on the primary command

Bart Barber said...

Dave,

What you are saying is indeed compatible with what I am saying. The emphasis I am trying to make is (a) none of the verbs are optional, and (b) all of the verbs belong to a single verbal phrase in which a main imperative verb is augmented by auxiliary participles, each with an imperatival force because of the main verb. The effect its that of four inseparable imperatives.

The additional, also valid, point that you've highlighted (and that I will be highlighting as the series unwinds and as I reach the appropriate place), is that one of these verbs (the main verb) describes an effect caused to some degree by the completion of the other three verbs (the auxiliary participles).

Matt Svoboda said...

Bart,

You look even better with a jacket and tie on...

More great thoughts on the Great Commission as well!

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I am admittedly somewhat second-guessing where you are going with this. And, I have followed and agreed with your argument thus far all the way up to something you say only at the end of your presentation today.

And even then, I do agree that the Bible teaches that, if we offend in even one point of the law, we are guilty of all.

However, I think if you carry to its logical consequences the idea that if we "disobey" any of the sub-points of how to go about accomplishing the main point of the GC, we are de facto disobeying the GC in its entirety, you will eventually run into some problems that are difficult to reconcile.

One of the auxiliary participles is to teach the disciples we are to make to obey ALL things that Jesus commanded us. I don't think anyone would argue that that should not be our intention. But, when we begin to get specific on how to define this, we have many differences of opinion on exactly how many different things Jesus commanded us, and exactly what they all are.

For example, someone may hypothetically come up with a list of 137 different things Jesus commanded us. Someone else may come up with a list of 138 things.

If I am understanding your line of reasoning here, the one with the list of 138 things would have valid cause to point the finger at the one with the list of 137 things, and say he is not obeying the Great Commission at all, because his list only has 137 commands. And then, someone else with a list of 139 commands could turn around and do the same thing with the one with the list of 138.

My point? None of us is perfect. And none of us teaches the disciples we are to be making perfectly to obey ALL of Jesus commands. That ought to be the goal of all. And, whenever there is a specific command that is being neglected, we ought to bring it to light, and ought to admonish others to stop neglecting it.

But, to say only those who teach the same number of commands as we do, in the same way as we do, are obeying the GC, and all the rest are "disobeying" it, in its entirety, is a stretch for me.

I think the admonition to judge not, lest we also be judged, is apropos here. If I am the one with the 138 commands in my list, how do I know the guy with 139 is not just around the corner, waiting to point out to me how I have been just as completely disobedient to the GC as I just got through telling the guy with 137 commands that he was?

Maybe we should each "tend to our own shop" and do our best to understand and put into practice what we understand of our Lord's commands to us; and, also, recognize that that same Lord taught us that he who is not against us is for us (Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50).

Bart Barber said...

David,

The one who is not against us but is for us need not necessarily also be someone who is obeying the Great Commission. For example, shifting from the fourth verb to the third, there are entire denominations of believers who do not ever fulfill the βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς portion of the Great Commission, but (IMHO) qualify under the "not against us"/"for us" category described by Jesus. They are, of lexical and logical necessity, denominations that are not fulfilling the Great Commission at all.

Where they are calling sinners to repentance and conversion, I certainly would not command them to stop, nor would I suggest that, where they do so, they do so by the power of any other than the Lord. That seems to be the contextual force of Mark 9:38-40 and related passages. It does not seem to me exegetically sound to make Mark 9/Luke 9 a commentary upon who is or who is not being obedient to the Great Commission.

Looking at the phrase διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν, I think that we cannot help but conclude that, if there is anything that Jesus has commanded that we are not teaching disciples to obey, then we are ipso facto not obeying the Great Commission in that regard. We may not like that conclusion, David. It may indict the both of us. But our task is not to construe the text in the manner that makes our lives the most comfortable; our manner is to construe the text in a manner faithful to what Jesus said.

I believe that I stand here on good, solid linguistic ground. It is the effect of participles to modify a main verb. The meaning of the main verb is modified at least somewhat by each and every participle it owns, or else someone has poorly authored a sentence. Thus, the main verb is not "to make disciples". The main verb is "to make disciples by going, immersing, and teaching to observe everything that Jesus has commanded." What the main verb means cannot be separated from what the participles mean, for syntax is ultimately just as much a part of communication as is morphology.

It seems to me that perhaps you have leaped ahead to a consideration of one set of implications of this thought. Perhaps I might assuage your fears by asserting this: I promise in this series not to treat disobedience of the fourth verb any more harshly than I treat disobedience of the first one. Fair enough?

Dave Miller said...

Bart, David, I'm expecting the discussion to get lively when we get to the third participle!

Honestly, Bart, I wish more blogging were like this. Exposit a scripture then talk about it.

Bart Barber said...

I agree, Dave Miller. That's why, having several options about how to blog in the days leading up to the Southern Baptist Convention, I have chosen to blog in this manner.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks also, Dave Miller, in your initial comment, for making old Fords, not old Chevys, the epitome of rustiness.

Bart Barber said...

David Rogers,

I think I might also make this point: It is possible at the very same time to acknowledge both disobedience and progress.

To use the imperative-with-participles sentence that I employed as an English illustration in the video, further imagine that the recipient of my command was the operator of a taxicab that I had contracted to take me to Dallas Love Field. Suppose that I had commanded the particular route that I specified because I knew that it was the quickest route.

Suppose further that he disregarded my specifications that took me to Dallas Love Field by a longer route. I had planned my departure from Farmersville in plenty of time to make it to the airport, clear security, pick up some (so-called) food at McDonalds to take onto the airplane with me, and make my flight. Now, because we went the wrong way, we have arrived a mere 35 minutes before the scheduled departure time of my flight. I can still make my flight, just barely, if everything goes just right.

Will I conclude that he has disobeyed my command? Yes.

Does that necessarily mean that I do not appreciate at all that he did, in fact, get me to Dallas Love Field? No.

I can rightfully conclude that he was disobedient to my command while simultaneously being glad, as far as it goes, that he did at least deliver me to the correct destination, thereby fulfilling at least a portion of what I specified.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my comment. I am tempted to leave any further comment for your next video-posts. But, I can't help but think that the "all or nothing" plank you set up in your argument here on this post will end up being determinative for the ultimate conclusions to which you arrive on later posts, and, that by conceding that point here will leave my vulnerable to conceding other points later on. Thus...

I think that if one tracks with everything you are saying, it leaves us with the unhappy conclusion that neither of us is being obedient to the Great Commission. But, I am not sure the Lord intended for us to quite so self-incriminating.

Let me regress. Let's tease out your illustration of going from Farmersville to Dallas, and add in a few more details to the scenario. Let's suppose that, in addition to the specific directions you give on the appropriate route to get to Dallas, you are speaking not to an individual, but to a group, and that, another specific instruction you give is the following: "Listen up, guys. I want this to be a group activity. I want you all to work together and relate to each other in a friendly way along the way, and I want you all to arrive in Dallas together."

Let's say there are 20 cars altogether in the motorcade. Then, along the way, some of the folks in one of the cars get to talking with each other, and one of them says, "It seems to me that Bart told us to go such-and-such a route." Someone else says, "No, I clearly understood him to say this route." And, still a third person says, "Both of you are wrong. Surely what Bart meant to say was this..." In the end, one of the advocates of one of the alternative routes prevails, and the others in the car are "along for the ride," as it were.

Later on down the road, the deviant car meets up again with the original route, and with the other cars who have stuck to the correct route.

Those in the cars who didn't deviate are left with a dilemma. They know the errant car did not go by the correct route. But they also know that Bart told them this was a group activity. They are left on their own understanding of the situation to figure out if Bart would be more pleased if they excluded the deviant car, and the people in it, from the motorcade from that point on, or if he would be more pleased if they included them in the remainder of the voyage as part of the motorcade.

To complicate matters further, what if along the way, practically every other car varied in one way or another, say, getting off the road at a rest stop, stopping at a gas station for a coke, etc. Some people in some cars say, "Yeah, but those people still stayed on the path in a general way. There deviation was not near as important as the deviation of the car that took the alternative route." Others, however, say, "It's all the same. We have all gotten off the path, be it a little or a lot, in one way or another. Why don't we do our best to forgive each other, and accept each other, and get back to the task at hand: travelling together as a group to our ultimate destination."

David Rogers said...

To clarify, I wrote my last comment before I had seen your taxi cab illustration, so I was not taking it into account

Bart Barber said...

David Rogers,

I believe that your illustration needs to be expanded somewhat if it will correspond to our situation:

1. It isn't a one-time journey, but is instead a daily commute.

2. My instructions are written, not oral.

3. Each car has a cell phone along with my phone number.

Under those circumstances, I think we have a suitably analogous illustration. Do you concur?

Bart Barber said...

Perhaps it would seem less like I am baiting a trap if I were to indicate what I mean by each of those:

1. It is a daily commute because our fulfilling of the Great Commission is a repetitive exercise that can be modified along the way as we learn more. If I made mistakes yesterday, I have the ability to correct them today.

2. The instructions are written rather than oral, because it seems to me that the level of certainty indicated by a set of textual instructions ought to be indicated here. This still leaves room for the possibility that someone might struggle somehow to understand what was written.

3. The cell phone thing helps us to remember that we do, after all, have prayer and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We do not pursue the Great Commission alone, as we will see at the end of this text. Clarification is available to all who sincerely and earnestly seek it. None is disobedient because Jesus refused to help him obey and kept his willing heart in the dark.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I suppose I concur with your added circumstances. But, when all is said and done, I imagine we are eventually going to have to add even more circumstances to arrive at an illustration that corresponds adequately to the reality at hand. :-)

David Rogers said...

Thinking about it, to make my illustration correspond more closely with the reality of church history, we would probably need to say 19 or the 20 cars took widely divergent routes. Or, even 20 of 20, depending on whether you accept some sort of a version of the "trail of blood" or not. Then, along the way, one of the cars figured out that everyone else had been taking a wrong route, and retraced their steps to the place they had gotten off-track, and, all on their own, began to follow the correct course again.

Bart Barber said...

David,

Granted—life is more complex than our illustrations of it.

Now, in reply to your counter-illustration, I opine thusly:

1. You have made me think about this. I'm calling shotgun in the chartreuse microbus. ;-)

2. I think we certainly ought to forgive each other, accept each other, and get to the task at hand with everyone who has made inadvertent mistakes along the way and has now joined us on the path.

3. If someone points out to me where I have failed to follow the instructions, then I ought meekly to concede my folly (or intransigence, as the case may be) and do better tomorrow.

4. In the case of someone who insists upon following an alternate route every day and who will not listen to the written instructions, then I suppose that we ought to be happy that they are going to Dallas, do our best to follow the correct path for ourselves, be honest about the fact that they are disobeying the instructions, and allow Bart to take care of them without allowing them to dissuade us from following the right path.

Bart Barber said...

With regard to your church history/trail of blood statement, allow me to note that I was not attempting to address denominations in this series.

Indeed, it seems to me that our discussion runs the risk of being precisely what I called for us to avoid in the first installment: A debate over what we did right and what we did wrong in the past.

I grant that it is difficult to speak of the task before us today in a manner completely separate from what has happened in times past, but I think that a resurgence in obedience to the Great Commission will be found more in looking to the scriptures afresh than in defending or indicting key figures in church history.

David Rogers said...

I have no real disagreement with your last two comments.

What about this scenario though: We have determined we are following the instructions correctly, and continue on the path as we understand it. We are even willing to forgive, and include others, provided they listen to our understanding of the instructions, and amend their future travelling modus operandi accordingly.

However, there is one car that insists they have understood the instructions better than we have, and, as a result, insists on taking an alternate route everyday on one of the legs of the journey. But, they also continually end up meeting up with us again on another leg of the journey, and desire to do this leg of the journey together as part of the same motorcade (or convoy). :-)

10-4, good buddy?

Dave Miller said...

I have a good friend who is a pentecostal Arminian. We had some pretty interesting debates (he was always wrong, of course).

He said something one time that stuck with me.

He said we each need to have a passionate desire to seek truth but we also need to maintain a humility which accepts that others in that same pursuit of truth may take slightly different courses to get there.

I am convictionally Baptist but I understand that my Missouri Synod Lutheran friend down the road is not operating out of a disobedient spirit when he baptizes infants. I disagree with him, but I must accept him as brother with a heart to obey God.

David articulates things pretty well, but I will jump in with my view here. It seems as if the crux of this debate is how we are going to treat those who handle the baptism issue differently than we do.

Are we going to treat paedobaptists as disobedient or as disagreeing? Balancing doctrinal disagreement is always difficult.

I wish someone would devise some sort of rubric for theological triage...

Sorry.

Dave Miller said...
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Dave Miller said...

Life would be better if everyone would just agree with me.

By the way, Bart, I drive a Dodge. I've also driven Fords, Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Chryslers, Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans, and any other car that I could get at a bargain price.

Bart Barber said...

David and Dave,

1. Let's do all that we can do with any others that does not involve our own having to depart from the instructions.

2. Let's nonetheless acknowledge that deviation from the instructions is disobedience toward the Great Commission. It may not be that the implication of such disobedience is necessarily that we must anathematize one another. Indeed, I do not believe that it is. But it is disobedience nonetheless.

To call it something other than disobedience is to place the comfort of an errant brother ahead of both the spiritual wellbeing of that errant brother and the authority of Christ's commands.

Bart Barber said...

Of course, if someone other than an apostle were to devise a rubric for theological triage, then helpful as it might be, we would be sinning to subordinate the commands of Christ to it.

Dave Miller said...

Isn't Al Mohler an apostle?

Bart Barber said...

:-)

David Rogers said...

Bart,

I am in enthusiastic agreement with your last #1. If we can agree on that point, there is much light at the end of the tunnel for us, as far as I am able to ascertain.

However, I struggle with the whole definition of disobedience thing. Is it possible to make a distinction between willful disobedience and unintentional disobedience? If so, then maybe I can agree with you here. But, it seems to me disobedience is normally linked to a defiant act of the will.

Also, if continued "unrepentant" disobedience must be dealt with through biblical church discipline, then it seems to me that bona fide disobedience does eventually imply "anathematizing" (if you will) the guilty, unrepentant party.

In the American justice system, ignorance of the law is no excuse. And, in God's system of justice, none of is without excuse, because we all have the evidence of creation, revelation, conviction of the Holy Spirit, etc. And, we are all born with a sin nature that must be atoned for and regenerated (pardon me, if this is not stated in a theologically precise way).

However, Paul also indicates that knowledge of the law makes us specifically accountable to the law in a way that those without the same knowledge are not accountable.

Now, can a mistaken or misguided interpretation of one of Jesus' commands be equated or compared to a lack of knowledge of the law? I am not sure. But I do think God looks on the heart. And, also, that, as NT believers, He judges us according to the merits of Christ. Our obedience now is not directly linked to keeping a list of commands, but rather to our love of Christ, of our neighbor, and to one another. On this hinges all the law.

It is for all of the above that I am hesitant to call mistaken or misguided interpretation of Christ's commands "disobedience."

This, by no means, means that it is not a serious matter, not that we should not do our very best to, not only rebuke our brother for his sins, but also correct him for his errors.

Bart Barber said...

I would add only one thing to our whole discussion so far, and I believe that it reveals the limitations of the Farmersville-to-Dallas-journey that I chose to use as an illustration in the video...

Our entire discussion presupposes that the Dallas can possibly be reached by any route other than the one that I have specified in the instructions. Moving from the illustration to the actual matter at hand, we'd need to be able to defend that rather cheeky presupposition in order to go down the path that we've gone.

Bart Barber said...

David,

It seems to you that disobedience is linked to a defiant act of the will, and that there is some something in between disobedience and obedience—some tertium quid.

It does not seem that way at all to me.

And it is for this very reason that I am so overjoyed that God "judges [believers] according to the merits of Christ." This does not change the fact of our disobedience; it provides atonement and justification in the face of our disobedience.

And yet, we are left with the situation that it seems one way to you and another way to me. Show me from the scriptures this not-obedient-yet-not-disobedient thing, and I will gladly concede. OK, maybe not gladly, but I'll concede nonetheless.

To help you along your way, I'll gladly grant you that Paul has indicated to us that a Gentile who has never seen an Old Testament stands in a different condemnation than the condemnation of the Jew who has seen an Old Testament (in the form that the Old Testament existed at that time). Certainly this would apply in some fashion to any Christian believer who has never had in his possession some command or another of Christ's. And there are indeed such believers in closed countries and perhaps some other situations.

But that's probably not what we're talking about, now is it?

David Rogers said...

If Dallas can't be reached by any other route, then we are saying that a practicing paedobaptist disciple of Jesus is an oxymoron. Are we prepared to go there?

Is not, rather, all discipleship a matter of degrees, and not so much black and white? A disciple is, after all, a learner, right?

I know that Jesus' radical statements on discipleship would disqualify each and every one of us, at least, from time to time, along the way, in our pilgrimmage.

Bart Barber said...

But maybe we ought to disregard my further challenge in my last comment and move forward in this way, perhaps avoiding an entire day spent in this discussion yet again:

Why isn't it enough simply to acknowledge that Christ's commands regarding Christian unity belong within the scope of the fourth verb?

Bart Barber said...

David,

Perhaps being a disciple necessarily means going where we are not prepared to go?

Bart Barber said...

Let me also say that what I have yet to hear is the flaw in my exegesis.

Bart Barber said...

Dave Miller,

With regard to humility, the humble thing is to admit that I am often the one who is disobedient. In some cases, it might even be the humble thing to admit that I might be the one who is disobedient in this particular case.

It does not strike me as particularly humble to arrive at the conclusion that neither I nor the one who differs with me is disobedient. If I am making no concession about myself (i.e., that I am or am possibly the one who is disobedient) then how is the statement a mark of humility?

To say, "We are both doing different things, claiming that each of us is doing what Christ has commanded us to do, but neither of us is disobedient" strikes me as more postfoundational than humble.

David Rogers said...

Bart,

You said: "Why isn't it enough simply to acknowledge that Christ's commands regarding Christian unity belong within the scope of the fourth verb?"

Precisely. That is actually an argument I was holding up my sleeve for bringing out as this discussion developed.

I suppose that will bring us back to the proper interpretation and application of Christ's commands concerning unity, though. So, it still leaves us with at least some of our dilemma. But, I definitely agree that a big chunk of the outcome of our discussion hinges on this point.

Also, as I said (or, at least, implied) in my first comment here, I am in agreement with your exegesis of the text at hand, up to the point of stating that obedience is "all or nothing," that is, if I understand it correctly, there is no such thing as partial or qualified obedience. I don't see where you have demonstrated that point from Scripture.

Personally, I would argue that we are all, throughout our pilgrimmage of Christian discipleship, at least partically disobedient (if we insist on using that term). And, it is only the grace of God, by means of the blood of Jesus, that covers for any of us.

David Rogers said...

That should read "partially disobedient" in the last paragraph of my last comment.

David Rogers said...

As I see it, if we are all, at least, partially disobedient, the question remains: Is there biblical warrant for disciples who are partially disobedient in one aspect of the Great Commission to join together in the task with other disciples who are partially disobedient in another aspect of the task?

I suppose the answer to this is: It depends on the degree of seriouness or centrality of the particular aspect of the task in which one is partially disobedient. But, that leaves us back again at theological triage, doesn't it?

Bart Barber said...

David,

Partial obedience is disobedience. If you do not assert that partial obedience is not disobedience, then we really are not disagreeing, are we.

The "all or nothing" point is no more than this. It is the simple syntactical observation that these four verbs are all welded together in the syntax. The Great Commission consists, syntactically, of all four of these verbs. One who is disobedient with regard to any of these four verbs is disobedient with regard to this sentence.

This reality proceeds simply from the syntax of the text. QED

Now, regarding "theological triage," it seems to me that we are back to my statement above...

===================

1. Let's do all that we can do with any others that does not involve our own having to depart from the instructions.

2. Let's nonetheless acknowledge that deviation from the instructions is disobedience toward the Great Commission. It may not be that the implication of such disobedience is necessarily that we must anathematize one another. Indeed, I do not believe that it is. But it is disobedience nonetheless.

=================

I should not disobey Christ on my own part in order to join with another who is disobeying Christ. Unity in disobedience is not a biblical doctrine. To the degree that I can obey Christ myself and remain in unity with another person, in order to remain obedient to Christ I must pursue unity with that person.

Are we not in agreement here?

David Rogers said...

Yes, indeed, we are in agreement on your last paragraph of your last comment, just like I had already stated earlier.

Maybe this is a good point for me to wait on your next video-post before commenting further.

I just wanted to point out that I do not necessarily concede the "all of nothing" plank in your argument, before letting it proceed further on assumed agreement.

Bart Barber said...

Perhaps it would reassure you for me to mention that my intentions are a simple ongoing exegesis of this text through the end of the chapter. I'm not trying to use this series as any sort of a back door to get into any of our earlier disagreements.

Perhaps, just because I believe what I believe and because you believe what you believe, it will inevitably wind up there. But that is not my destination by design.

David Rogers said...

Great! I look forward to following the rest of your exposition.

Dave Miller said...

I guess, Bart, I just swallow a little hard at your description of doctrinal differences as "disobedience." Wouldn't the essence of disobedience be rebellion against a moral standard or truth?

In that sense, since we are all incomplete in our understanding and obedience, we are all disobedient.

But my Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor friend is convinced from scripture that he is right about baptism.

If he disobedient because he is following a conviction that I believe is wrong?

I'm still working through this, Bart. I see your point - the all or nothing thing. But I also see the reality of Christians with deep convictions and a desire to serve God who disagree on things we consider important.

Still working through this one. (

Dave Miller said...

And I, like David, look forward to the whole series.

Matt Svoboda said...

Dave, David, and Bart,

While I havent chimed in, partly because you men are much more insightful than I am, I just wanted to say that this has been a great discussion.

Humility and grace are words that could be used to describe this discussion... The Baptist blogosphere needs more of this!

Thanks for the godly discussion and example. Us, young guys, appreciate men like you... Even if we don't always choose to show it! :)