Article #029 THE GREAT COMMISSION: A COMPLETEABLE TASK
by Jack Dennison
Dear City Reacher Friends;
I attended a four day gathering sponsored by International Renewal Ministries of their international leadership team of pastoral prayer summit facilitators. One of the leaders made the comment several times that the Great Commission is a completeable task and that God is imparting vision for the completed task through prayer. Furthermore, it was clearly stated that the IRM leadership team believes that the ultimate movement that the prayer summit in particular and the prayer movement in general serves is the advance of the Kingdom of God as it relates to finishing the task of the Great Commission. Some of us refer to the Kingdom movement in America as city-reaching. One of my friends later asked about the "completability" of the Great Commission. Here is my reply to him. Thought some of you might be interested in this matter.
Jack Dennison, CitiReach
Good to hear from you!! Thanks so much for your affirming words ... I am grateful that the Lord has connected our hearts and will, no doubt in time, connect our efforts.
I appreciate your question about the Great Commission regarding it being completeable. Don’t be tooooooo quick to dismiss the language though I can understand why it is "like fingernails on the chalkboard" for you. There may be better language available to describe the thoughts and concepts behind this statement so fire back at me and help me out as you can.
Let me explain, and defend, the terminology and concepts;
1) Since most of us who serve as catalysts and mobilizers are in a descriptive rather than prescriptive role we find that much of our role is simply to "listen" to what the Holy Spirit seems to be saying as He speaks through others. This terminology seems to be consistent with what many leaders are hearing all around the world. The base case in point, but certainly not the only one, is Thomas Wang and the AD2000 Movement. He tells the story how during his work with LWCE he began around 1987 to hear from nation after nation a common theme. It has two parts; a) national and local leaders seemed to be moving from a growth paradigm to a closure paradigm and using the kind of terminology we are now speaking of. They were assessing what it would take to complete the task of discipling/reaching their nation, b) the initial target was the year 2000 which served to focus their efforts along a clearly established time line. By the way, the 1987 timing of Wang’s discovery is interesting in light of what was discovered through the Global Survey that was complete in preparation for the GCOWE meetings in Korea in May, 1995.
The survey was an attempt to status the progress of global evangelism to date. It was found that between the years 1960 - 1985 the Church worldwide grew at an average rate of 1%. This increased dramatically to 3% from 1985 - 1990, accelerated further to 5% between 1990 - 1995, and is projected to be 8% for the last five years of this decade. Something dramatically changed in the dynamic movement of God that was not true of the 25 years prior to the pivot year of 1985 and has remained true for the past 13 years with no signs yet of a leveling off of the rate of growth. Many, including myself, believe this "evidence" suggests at least the possibility that we may in fact be moving toward a culminating point of closure.
Be that as it may, the acceptance of this kind of closure terminology has only increased since that time. So, I do conclude the Holy Spirit is behind the emergence and fairly broad acceptance of this kind of terminology since the element that made Wang’s observation so powerful was recognizing that none of these nations were consulting with one another regarding what they were hearing from God. A common message that is being heard by various individuals in many different places without collaboration is pretty powerful, so much so, that the AD2000 Movement was birthed to serve the Church around the world toward the end of this common theme.
2) It stands the test of reason that since the Lord commanded that we disciple the biblical ethne of the nations of the world he must expect that we do it, and since he expects us to do it we must be capable of doing it (otherwise we are commanded to do something we are incapable of accomplishing), and if capable we should press on to the conclusion or accomplishment of the task. Whether or not we are able to fulfill any particular biblical command to its ultimate completion we must pursue it as if we can.
3) Once we begin to view the GC as a goal the dominos begin to tumble quit rapidly. If we are to complete something like this we must begin to deal with some of the following questions; what do we mean by the GC? What would be required to complete it? How might we measure it quantitatively and qualitatively? Where are we in relation to its completion? What must we do to move progressively toward its fulfillment? These issues come forth most powerfully when we embrace this closure paradigm and, based upon centuries of experience, the Church seems to miss these issues altogether outside of this paradigm. As a missions mobilizer this aspect of closure thinking is of particular value sand benefit to me.
4) We believe that part of the quantitative measurement for closure is to pursue the goal of seeing every living person be within geographic, linguistic and cultural access to Christ through His Church. You cannot disciple people who are beyond reach of Christ so this issue of accessibility (the Church’s outward reach to the people) is paramount. I personally am convinced that never before (including the First Century Church) did such a possibility exist. There were people on other continents to whom the Church had no accessibility at the close of the First Century. My personal belief is that we are the first generation who could actually accomplish, in a dynamic way not a static one (I will say more about this contrast in a moment), this particular goal and thereby be considered the first generation to actually possess the possibility of seeing every living person be within reach of the Church. BUT, it is not assumed that once we have reached this condition the task is over. The other dimension to this issue is the recognition that we have no biblical quantitative nor qualitative description of the task completed. So once we have met the accessibility goal God could bring in the harvest for an undetermined period of time. Jim Montgomery, for example, has referred to this accessibility matter as the penultimate goal to global evangelization. It is the last measurable goal to be reached before the ultimate goal of the GC is reachable by whatever definition and measurement God has in His own heart that determines its completion.
5) One last matter. I acknowledge that the terminology of "completion" is not fully accurate in this regard; we will never actually and fully complete the task of global evangelization due to the dynamic nature of the task. Our pursuit is not to be viewed as one where we cross a finish line at which time we can sit down and wait until He comes. Birth, death, mobility, receptivity, etc., are elements that create a dynamically changing and variable environment that precludes completion in its ultimate sense. I do not however, believe this is reason to discard the terminology since it is only as we pursue the GC as a goal that the other dominos I have mentioned begin to fall. We are forced, when challenged to dot our theological I’s and cross our T’s, to defend and explain our completion terminology in the penultimate sense that Jim Montgomery has suggested. Lastly, keep in mind that it is only when we pursue the GC as a goal that this new paradigm changes everything about how we pursue the goal collectively and collaboratively.
Let me toss in this slightly related bone related to your question. Since we must in this framework be able to offer a reasonable quantitative and qualitative measurement to guide our efforts toward completion we strongly encourage the two following criterion; 1) We can quantitatively measure the degree to which Christ through His Church is present in every group of people regardless of their class, kind or condition. Furthermore, we can measure the degree to which, once present, we have sufficiently saturated that group of people with Christ through His Church in order to be able to reach out and touch the life of every single person of that group. 2) We can qualitatively measure the pain and suffering, social systems and structures, and other societal factors that helps or hinders the work of God, into which He wants to bring the light of His justice and righteousness. Then we can determine the degree to which the Church is aware of and actively engaged in these issues bringing forth the salt and light of the Gospel.
This perspective has led us to the conclusion that everything the Church does in the city (each of its individual and corporate goals) should be relatable to one or both of these goals; immediate presence leading to increasing saturation of peoples (the biblical ethne) and immediate impact leading to increasing transformation of the issues affecting peoples. The people of God must be both proclamational and incarnational in their efforts to understand and move toward completing the Great Commission resulting ultimately in the transformation of the city in accord with Habakkuk 2:14.
Well Eric, more could be said, but this is enough. Even if your discomfort with the terminology lingers after my explanation I at least would like you to now that there is some measure of thoughtful theological and practical reflection that has gone into choosing this terminology and that it is meant to be much more than "pure hype."
Richest blessings my good friend!
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