Over the past year, I have spent much of my time studying Christian education, educational theory, and the challenges facing Christian education in the 21st century. This study started when I was preparing to preach a sermon last year. I had been asked by the pastor in a church where I was serving to add a connection to the great commission in a sermon I was about to preach. As I studied the passage in Matthew 28, I noticed something very interesting as I compared modern translations and the King James Version of verses 19-20.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (King James Version)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (New Revised Standard Version)Notice the difference in the translations? The NRSV translates the first part of Jesus' commandment as "make disciples" and the KJV translates it as "teaching." So, I got online and investigated other translations, and found that all modern translations, including the NKJV, use the disciples translation. So, I went and checked the Greek for myself. The verb "to teach" was one of the first I learned, so I knew what that was. Sure enough, the verb "to teach" (didasko) appeared in verse 20, but the verb that was translated as "make disciples" (matheteuo) was one I was not familiar with, at least not as a verb. The root of the verb is the noun for disciple and I recognized that. I began to ask myself why the author of Matthew used two different words; there had to be a reason. What is the difference between "teaching" and making disciples? The result of my study has become the foundation for the first stage of my ministry.
What is the difference? I think the difference is twofold. The first difference is Relationships! It is entirely possible to teach someone something in a one hour training class. Making disciples, however, requires much more time and commitment. Jesus is telling the disciples to be “to all nations” exactly what he has been with them. Jesus was a teacher, but he was also a friend and a mentor. He didn’t quit when they “got it wrong”, which they did alot. Instead he was patient and loved them through the learning process.
The second difference is depth of teaching. Most churches do a fairly good job of teaching the foundation of the faith. But, what is a foundation for? It is for holding up the rest of the structure, it is not the entire structure. Churches who never get beyond the foundation are missing one of the major points of the great commission.
Let me try to give you a couple of examples. Foundational teaching: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Discipleship teaching: Genesis also tells us that man was put in the garden to care for it. As Christians, therefore, we should be caring for the earth and doing everything we can to slow down or stop damage to the environment.
Foundational teaching: Luke 6.27: ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Discipleship teaching: As Christians we MUST NOT remain silent when our government says there are times when torture is acceptable. For Christians, torture is NEVER acceptable.
But, for the most part, Sunday school teachers don't teach these kinds of lessons, and we rarely hear this kind of message from the pulpit. I will go into the reasons for that in my next post.