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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Saturday Evening, March 17, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19).

“Teach all nations” literally means “disciple” all nations. The main verb in the Greek text is “matheteuo,” that is, “make disciples.”  It is an imperative verb.  The other verb, “baptizing,” is an auxiliary verb. Thus discipling comes before baptizing. Yes, we are to teach them after baptism (verse 20), but it is clear that they are to be made disciples before they are baptized (verse 19).   I am afraid that today we often put the cart before the horse!

Notice that “make disciples” is followed by “baptizing.” That shows two things. First, it shows that “discipling” is primarily getting people saved, not teaching lost people how to “live the Christian life,” otherwise “make disciples” would not come before baptizing, and “make disciples” would not be the main verb. Dr. Henry M. Morris pointed this out when he said, “‘Go ye’ should actually read ‘as ye go.’…He was saying that, as they go, they were to go making disciples, then baptizing them…” (Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995, p. 1055, note on Matthew 28:19, emphasis mine). As Dr. John Gill put it, “Such as are taught, and made disciples by teaching. Christ’s orders are to baptize: dip them” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, p. 376). Note that Dr. Morris and Dr. Gill both say that making disciples comes before baptizing.  Dr. John R. Rice brought that out when he said, "The word 'teach' in verse 19 is literally 'to make disciples,' to get people saved.  Second, new converts are to be baptized" (John R. Rice, D.D., The King of the Jews, Sword of the Lord, 1980, p. 502).  Thus, Dr. Rice believed that a person should be discipled, that is converted, before baptism.  That is exactly my point.  I am afraid that today we often put the cart before the horse!    

In Acts 5:42 we are told that the Apostles “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” The very next verse says, “the number of the disciples was multiplied” (Acts 6:1). How did they become disciples? By hearing the Apostles “teach and preach Jesus Christ.” By observing this in the Book of Acts we see that “teaching all nations” refers to teaching and preaching Jesus Christ (Acts 5:42; 6:1). True evangelism produces disciples, who are then baptized.

If people have not been converted to Christ, no amount of “teaching the Christians” will do them any good. Dr. A. W. Tozer once said,

My friends, what we need is not more instruction; we’ve been instructed to death. Where in the world is there more fundamental Bible teaching…? But, oh, what weak creatures we are! What joyless people we are! (A. W. Tozer, Man the Dwelling Place of God, Christian Publications, 1966, pages 105-106).

Dr. Tozer gave the reason for this in another of his messages,

It is possible for people to have some kind of an external religious experience that immunizes them to the new birth. Because they think they are already born again, it puts them where they will never be born again (A. W. Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason, Christian Publications, 1989, p. 106).

I tend to agree with him. So I repeat, if people have not been converted to Christ, no amount of “teaching the Christians” will do them any good.

Years ago there was a church where the pastor emphasized “training the Christians.” He constantly emphasized that in his sermons, downgrading and even belittling evangelistic preaching. One of his members, who had attended his church for more than twenty-five years, was asked by a friend, “How is a person saved?” She replied, “By confessing your sins and taking the Lord’s Supper.” Thus, it was clear that she had no better idea of how to be saved than a Roman Catholic!

We have repeatedly found strange beliefs like that among those who attend churches where the main emphasis is “training the Christians.” It seems to me that this happens because “teach all nations” in the Great Commission is misunderstood, thought of as training Christians rather than evangelizing the lost. The truth is that “discipling” is primarily getting people converted.

The second thing that we learn in Matthew 28:19 is that people are to be baptized after they are made disciples, not beforehand.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:19).

Baptism is an ordinance of the local church. This is a Baptist distinctive, and a good one. Converts are “added to the church” upon baptism (cf. Acts 2:41, 47). The point is this - that the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is given to the local church.

That was confused by ecumenical evangelism in the last hundred years or so. We have, as a result, seen a dichotomy between evangelism and church attendance. That is why we “do evangelism” and then “do follow up,” as though they were two separate things. There is a division in our thought today. We tend to think that there is a difference between “evangelism” and “follow up.” Isn’t that what we’ve been taught?

But the idea of “follow up” is not found in the New Testament to my knowledge. It seems to me that it is a modern invention, coming from the ecumenical evangelists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is not a Baptist idea. It is not local church-centered.

What do I mean by that? I am describing the idea, made popular by the ecumenical evangelists, that we are to get people to “make a decision” of some sort, and then later “follow up” on them, trying to get them to come to church and become solid members at some later time.

Most of us know by now that this method is largely fruitless. The reason for its failure is simple enough - it isn’t in the Bible! In New Testament times,

“The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

They were added to the local church as they were saved - not afterwards through “follow up.” That’s why Matthew 28:19 tells us to disciple people before they are baptized!

The fact that they were to baptize those they discipled shows that the whole process of evangelism was centered in the local church, not divided into two separate things, as the non-Baptist evangelists of modern times have taught. Their method has largely failed. It becomes extremely difficult to get people to do “follow up” work when they see so little fruit from it.

Brethren, let’s rethink Matthew 28:19. If we do, I believe we will see that the “follow up” should be done first, not as a separate and secondary effort, but as the very beginning of evangelism. Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about when He said,

“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23)?

First, we compel them to come in, and then they “taste of [His] supper” (Luke 14:24). Not the other way around! First, we disciple them, and then we baptize them (Matthew 28:19). Not the other way around!


Click here to read “Continual Evangelism.”


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