By Mark Horne
One of the ways that Dispensationalists pretend their position is not only right, but the standard for orthodoxy, is to give a novel name to traditional Christian theology. Rather than admit that the Church throughout the ages, outside of their own recent sect, has understood the Church as the new Israel, the label such a view “Replacement Theology.”
Within the Reformed Tradition, the attempt to import Dispensational ideas about the difference between law and gospel is using a similar tactic. People who believe, as Christians have always believed until recently, that Jesus is Lord of all of life, are being called “Transformationalists.”
The term isn’t as inherently misleading as “Replacement Theology,” but the content of the term is not the issue. The point is that novel innovators press their case by labeling the traditional view by a novel name. This implies the falsehood that those defending and transmitting the traditional view are some kind of new school of thought.
When Abraham Kuyper wrote that Jesus claims the entire cosmos, he wasn’t developing a new position against other Christian theologies. He was staking the traditional Christian position against the modern world. To the extent that Christians have consciously collaborated with modernity, or been duped into it, his words do challenge other Christians. But from the standpoint of historic Reformed theology–or historic Christianity of any kind, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox–Kuyper was simply appropriating the Christian heritage.
There is a lot of other confusion evident in the “anti-transformationalist” movement. But I want to leave that alone and move on to a more important point.
The reason why all Christians until the post-enlightenment secular experiment have been “transformationalists” is because Jesus was “patient 0” of the spreading plague. Anyone who believes the Bible is accurate cannot escape this. Here is the only proof needed:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
I change the ESB slightly to match the koine. “Go, therefore, and make disciples from all the nations,” has a couple of problems. One minor problem is that, having declared himself the new king of the universe, Jesus didn’t need to issue a command to his disciples to go anywhere. By declaring himself the new lord and master of the cosmos he had already commanded his hearer to acknowledge his rule and authority everywhere. So I prefer to keep the participle form, “going.” As I understand it, the implication is, “Since you will be going…”
A more important and definite problem, in my opinion, is that the typical English translation settles for the reader that Jesus intends for us to pick out converts from all the nations. [Note: a reader pointed out to me that “of all the nations” does not have to mean “from out of” and could easily be interpreted better. He’s right. It just usually isn’t interpreted better these days]
Obviously, winning over individuals is the process we must take. The fact that Jesus refers to baptism proves that must be the foundational method for carrying out the Great Commission. You baptize people, not abstractions or collectives. However, in the Greek, “disciple” is a verb. There is no “make” in Jesus’ words. And while “disciple” is the verb, “nations” is the object of action–“all nations.” The English translation completely re-orients the Great Commission in a modern direction. While this hasn’t hurt earlier readers who were willing to take seriously the rest of Scripture in context and learn from it, I think in our own day it is important to let readers know what Jesus really said.
So we are told to “disciple all the nations.” And how? By baptizing and teaching. Teaching what? “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Everything means our whole Bibles. Jesus said that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He condemned Pharisees for not keeping God’s law. Of course, I’m not saying that Jesus expected the Law to be kept in its Mosaic aspect. Noahic dietary freedoms are fine and blood rituals like circumcision and animal sacrifice are no longer to be practiced as they once were. But the whole Bible, properly interpreted, is our governing document. And by “our” I mean, all humans.
Every moment Iran or India or the United States spends disregarding the Bible as the king’s word to them, at any institutional or personal level, is a moment of treason. All peoples, tribes, nations are called to entrust themselves to the new king and be his subjects (not to mention that he actually wishes to make them his co-rulers).
This means, by the way, that if we preach a gospel that doesn’t communicate to the hearers that the universe now has, by virtue of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, a new public king–that we aren’t preaching the real gospel. We see this is the explicit content of the post-resurrection sermon ever preached:
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.“
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:29-36, ESV)
The Great Commission, on its face, outlaws secularism and cultures based on any other god or lord than our Lord Jesus Christ. And it tells all Christians to say so.