Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 16, 1964

What About The Great Commission?

Harold Fite

Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15) Matthew's account is, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)

The perversion of this commission has been the basis for many unscriptural practices of God's people. The supporters of the Missionary Society tried to justify the inception and perpetuity of their institution by appealing to what we call "The Great Commission." This "commission" is referred to by the Highland elders in Abilene as justification for the super-organized cooperative work of the Herald of Truth Radio and T.V. Programs. Both are built on fallacy and misconception of the words of Jesus.

This fallacy was made clear by Guy Woods in his debate with Roy Cogdill in Birmingham, Ala. In his first affirmative speech in justification of the Herald of Truth arrangement whereby over a thousand churches send funds to the Highland elders to be used by them in preaching the gospel, brother Woods said, "If there were nothing else in the Bible on this subject save the Great Commission, I would insist that it alone justifies that program and similar co-operative efforts....In the first place, that (meaning the Great Commission, H.F.) necessitates our going to every nation in the world, it becomes necessary to go to every community in ever nation in the world; and then, secondly, to every city in that nation, and then to contact every person in every city in every nation in all the world." "I want you to see how our obligation is magnified in that command. In the first place if I came to Birmingham, I would have to discharge my obligation to come to the city here. But observe step number three, I then must contact every person in Birmingham which magnifies my obligation 600 fold. So it goes throughout the earth. It follows then without some sort of co-operative effort, it is impossible for this commission to be carried out. In fact, friends, it would take more than the resources of the Federal Government of the United States to carry out the obligation that is characteristic of this commission." (Pages 195, 196, Cogdill-Woods Debate)

The "Great Commission," while it is used to justify (?) various unscriptural projects, has also posed problems for those who believe it was given to the church. It presents a problem to brother Woods, who believes he has the individual responsibility to "contact every person in Birmingham," and "so goes it throughout the world," yet he recognizes such is a physical impossibility, and if done at all must be done by proxy. It creates another problem when applied to local congregations (as is usual); for all recognize that a local church lacks the ability to perform such a task. The idea that the local churches are under the "Great Commission" is the fallacy upon which the Herald of Truth is based. Without this erroneous idea the Herald of Truth would have never been born. The argument runs like this: "We must go into all the world. A single church cannot do it; hence, churches must join hands." Thus we have among us an organization of over a thousand churches contributing into a common treasury in order to fulfill the Great Commission of preaching the gospel to the world.

If the arguments were true, then a single church could not meet the requirements of the "Great Commission." This also places the Lord in the position of putting local churches under a commission knowing all the time that the local church, independently could not accomplish it! It makes the local church insufficient to do what God requires. Such thinking leads to the conclusion that the only way churches can fulfill the "Great Commission" is through such co-operative efforts as the Herald of Truth. If this be true, such arrangements are not optional, or matters of opinion, but necessary to carrying out of God's will.

Yet, when one begins to search for the organization through which his work is done, one finds there is nothing smaller or larger than the local church. Thus brethren find themselves in a dilemma: They feel God has demanded the church to go into all the world; yet the only organization he has given is the local church, and it is not sufficient to do the job. So brethren have perverted and prostituted the organization of the church to fulfill a commission God never placed upon the churches. God never expected an individual or a local church to go to every nation, every city of every nation, and to every person in every city in every nation.

The "Great Commission" was given to the apostles and to them alone, and was fulfilled by them. Paul could say to the Colossians, "That the gospel has been preached in all creation under heaven." (Col. 1:23) It was never given to a local church or churches. Our authority for preaching the gospel and spreading the borders of God's kingdom, is found in such passages as 2 Timothy 2:2, not in the "Great Commission." The individual and the local church are limited by ability. God does not expect the individual nor a local church to do more than they are able to do, nor that for which he has not equipped them. The gospel is spread today when we tell others about Christ and his gospel, the one taught in turn tells others, etc. And as Christians move from city to city, nation to nation, then the gospel is spread. The churches in New Testament times supported the preaching of the gospel, yet there was no super-organization of churches, a church of churches, as is found in the Herald of Truth Organization.

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