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Go … Make Disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28.16-20.

It is lovely when (as this morning) the random scripture thrown up by my E-Sword program, focuses on something about which I have been thinking and wanting to write anyway.

Last Wednesday, Paul Eddy, a lay member of the General Synod (that is, the National Assembly) of the Church of England, tabled the following motion: “That this Synod request the House of Bishops to report to the Synod on their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none.” Astonishingly (to me, at any rate), many bishops were strongly opposed to that motion ever being put forward even for debate and apparently urged Mr Eddy to withdraw it; but he went ahead anyway and, in the event, Synod overwhelmingly backed the motion.

Well, I should think it did! How could it do otherwise if it gives but the slightest credence to the words of the Risen Christ recorded in this morning’s reading?

Well clearly there are those both outside and within the Church of England who do in fact think that Synod could and should have rejected the motion. As The Times put it last Thursday: “Anglicans were commanded to ‘go forth and evangelise’ yesterday in a dramatic assertion of missionary fervour that could jeopardise carefully built-up relations with Muslims, Jews and other faiths. The established Church of England put decades of liberal-inspired political correctness behind it in a move that led one bishop to condemn in anger the ‘evangelistic rants’.”

Whether they put it in these terms or not, those who feel that the proselytizing of Muslims, Jews and members of other faiths is either inappropriate or downright wrong are subscribing to a form of pluralism that they espouse either out of conviction or out of a desire to foster harmonious relationships in Britain’s strongly multi-cultural society. My view is that, whatever the motivation, pluralism (in the sense of the acceptance of the validity of other faiths as alternatives to the Christian faith) is completely at odds with the Christian Gospel, and that those espousing it have no place in the Church of England or any other church.

I take that stand on the basis of the words of the Risen Christ in this morning’s reading and on the way in which the early church understood those words and acted upon them. And that is what I want to explore this morning and over the next day or two.

First, I note that the basis of the command to go and make disciples of all nations was the fact that “all authority on heaven and earth” had been given to Jesus at his resurrection. But what does that mean? That Jesus had less authority before he was crucified than he had after he had been raised from the dead? No; his authority had always been absolute in whatever way he had exercised it — whether in teaching, healing, delivering from evil, or forgiving sins. What was changed by the resurrection was surely the scope of that authority. It was then enlarged in ways that go beyond our understanding. Whereas its sphere of exercise had been various localities in Galilee and Judea or just beyond, now it was widened so as to encompass the whole of heaven and earth … and everything and everyone within heaven and earth. Not the Father, of course — he was and is and always will be exempt from the Son’s authority because it is the Father’s authority … all of it … that, following the resurrection, is being mediated through the Son everywhere in the cosmos. That precise truth, which I hope to explore a little further tomorrow, is, I believe, central to the width of the evangelising imperative contained in Jesus’ words in today’s reading and a truth which, properly understood, completely rules out pluralism as something that a follower of Jesus can legitimately embrace.

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