The Great Commission, not ‘Great Committee’


By Rev. Glenn Martin
Advocate Columnist

A church school teacher prepared her lesson, gave each student a brief copy of her introduction and outline and asked them to read it in silence at the beginning of the class. She then asked what questions came to mind as they read the notes.

The text was Matthew 28:18-20. She often abbreviated the obvious words. Instead of writing it out, she referred several times to the authority and relevance of the “great comm.” When she asked the class for questions which came to mind, one rather aggressive person who had not read the text said, “What I want to know is how do you get on this great committee?”

The inquirer must have had some knowledge of the Methodist system. Committees, boards, councils, etc., often function out of a voted opinion. The UMC Board of Church and Society presented a proposed change of wording on an issue before the 2008 General Conference which would completely change the church-stated position on the matter. Their rationale was that each member of the board had been given the opportunity to speak and to vote. The vote was 21 to 17 in favor of the proposed change.

Can we ever resolve any issue by sharing opinions and declaring the will of God and the church to be the mere majority vote of a very divided “great committee?” Where does Wesley’s method of determining God’s will fit in? He became a powerful spiritual leader and founder of the Methodist church by using scripture, tradition, reason and experience, in that order, as his source of authority.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) cannot be accomplished or replaced by “great committees,” boards, councils, which have not studied the text on the subject, nor honored Scripture, tradition, reason or experience. Wisdom is woven into this quadralateral with its priority of Scripture.

When you see the images of John Wesley riding his horse with a book in his hand, it is not a novel nor the Book of Discipline. It is the Holy Bible where he found his authority for preaching, teaching and living. Wesley said, “God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came down from Heaven. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.” (Preface to 44 sermons)

Billy Graham used these words, “the Bible says,” in every sermon he preached. Is it any wonder that millions have come to Christ through his powerful preaching? The prophets of God in the Old Testament used language like “thus saith the Lord,””the Word of the Lord came to me,” ”the Lord said to me.”

Even with great variation and application there is an amazing harmony in the prophetic messages from God. They declared God’s displeasure of sin and identified the specifics of it. They proclaimed the consequences — vivid and severe. They called for a return to God in repentance and obedience, and they offered hope and restoration.

The prophets were persecuted for their negative view of the rebellious people and their declaration of God’s severe judgment.

The New Testament proclaims the master teacher, the sacrificial Savior and the resurrected Lord who is the one by whom we who are sinful can be forgiven and restored to life with God instead of life in contrast to him.

Roberts Lairdon has written a series of books titled God’s Generals (2008 Whitaker House). In his third volume he begins with John and Charles Wesley and ends with Billy Graham. He described John and Charles as the head and heart of revival. The theme of the great awakening led by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield was salvation by faith. The most asked question was “how can we be saved?” John, in his last outdoor sermon and during the last year of his life, preached on repentance.  The text of his last sermon on Feb. 23, 1791, was “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.” (Isaiah 55:6)

On one occasion John looked back into an era of his ministry (1729-1734) and wrote, “I saw little fruit...and no wonder: for I did not preach faith in the blood of the covenant.”

Methodism has its origin and future in a proclamation of the word of God that brings repentance and salvation by faith to cultures of confusion. Our debating of issues only complicates the confusion. We worship and obey a great God, a savior, not a great committee.