Evangelical Christians have a bit of a love affair with the Great Commission. When asked, most of them can spout off the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples before he apparated into heaven: "Go ye into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
It's very interesting to me that the rest of the verse is left off in almost every phrasing of the Great Commission that I've heard. "Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you."1 The Voice Translation puts it in very clear terms. "Form them in the practices and postures that I have taught you, and show them how to follow the commands I have laid down for you. " Perhaps leaving this bit off the end, is connected with the tendency of Evangelicals to mentally change the wording of "make disciples" into "make converts.". The result is that discipleship, as called for in the Great Commission, becomes an afterthought in the Evangelical version of the Gospel. I mean, hey, you're already in, why do anything else?
To clarify a little bit, a disciple is simply a student. A student learns from a teacher. An algebra student, becomes more and more like the algebra teacher in their ability to solve algebra equations as they spend more time learning from the teacher. A student (disciple) of Jesus is taking a Master Class on how to live from the Great Teacher. It is the greatest opportunity a person will have, not for when they are dead, but for their life now. An Evangelical convert is one who has affirmed some basic creed regarding the death of Jesus and then been ritually dunked. The difference between a disciple and a convert is vast; and Evangelical churches in America are focused almost exclusively on making converts, not disciples. (In fairness, this phenomenon is spread wider than Evangelicalism but I'm speaking to where I belong)
It is my sincere hope that you say, "What that guy just wrote is silly and not true!" I truly do hope that the churches you are familiar with are focused on making disciples and teaching them how to actually do all the things that Jesus commanded. I hope you have been able to attend classes on how to love your enemy and bless those who curse you. I really wish that! However, I have yet to see anything like that. Also, ask yourself this question as well, have you been to a church where the teaching is that you cannot be a Christian unless you are a disciple? Is discipleship offered as a separate option? A more advanced sort of training? Perhaps discipleship classes are offered, separate from normal church attendance,something to attend if you want to be a "good Christian" as opposed to a "nominal Christian"?
While we are in question mode, here is another:
Can a homosexual be a Christian?
What's your first gut reaction before you start thinking to long about it?
Standard evangelical response is "No." Others, when they are on guard and have time to think about it,will admit that a homosexual can be a Christian but they have to stop acting on their homosexual tendencies.
But the same logic doesn't apply with other sins. You can be a worrier, greedy and covetous, a gossiper, self-absorbed, ungenerous, angry, prideful, or all of these at once, and no one will question your status as a Christian. Not even if you never stop or even admit that you are sinning in your covetousness and pride and gossip.
This is a strong indication that Evangelicalism has made assent to a given creed more important to the status of being a "Christian" than actual discipleship. You see, a student can be very green and still be a student. Algebra is a tough subject to learn and takes years to get to from where you begin at 1+1. Life can be an even more challenging subject to learn well.
This view of discipleship allows us to be inclusive of all who are disciples, regardless of how advanced or green they may be. Regardless also of their creed or denomination.This is the only path to unity in the body of Christ, as we will never reach creedal unity, but love and understanding between students is achievable, even between Protestants and Catholics.
It is far more important to be a disciple than to be a Christian.
Dallas Willard has called this the "Great Omission from the Great Commission." ↩