We must be careful, however, not to confuse these cultural concerns with the gospel. The gospel is itself not a cultural program. The gospel certainly has cultural significance and implications. But the Christian gospel can flourish in any culture, from pagan Rome to Islamic theocracy to Communist tyranny. The gospel is the good news that Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, has conquered sin and death for His people, and is building a new humanity of those who repent and believe.
We learn about that gospel and the life of that new humanity produced by that gospel in the Bible. Always reforming means always returning to the Scriptures to be changed and improved. It is a passion to know, love, and live out the Word of God.
A careful examination of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16–20 illustrates this point for us. This important passage has often been claimed by those who misuse the slogan always reforming to justify their innovative and reductionistic approaches to modern church life. But when we really look at the words of Jesus there, we see clearly that He did not say, “Do whatever will advance the cause of evangelism.” What, then, did He say?
First, we see that Jesus in the Great Commission is instructing those who were His disciples and His Apostles, those who worshiped Him even if they had some doubts. He intends to prepare them for the work to which He is calling them. He truly is giving them the program for the church that He wants them to pursue.
Second, He makes a clear statement about Himself. The disciples will serve Jesus correctly and faithfully only when they know who He is. He is not just their teacher who died and rose again from the dead. He is supremely the Lord. His resurrection does not just mean that He is alive again but that He is glorified as “ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5). All authority is given to Him so that He can indeed build His church, and no forces, temporal or spiritual, can stand against Him (Matt. 16:18). His authority guarantees the success He intends for His church.
Third, the disciples are charged to make disciples. Their commission to make disciples is for all nations. They are not limited to Israel or the Jews but are commissioned to take the good news to the nations. But what does it mean to make disciples, which is another way of asking, what does it mean to preach the gospel correctly? Jesus’ commission has two parts, namely, teaching and baptizing. The Apostles must teach the truth about Jesus to make disciples. The preaching and teaching work of the church and especially its official leaders is necessary for making disciples, according to Jesus. The commissioned disciples must also baptize. The Great Commission requires the sacramental ministry of the church as well as its teaching ministry. Baptism is the sign and seal of the disciple’s new life and new identity in Christ.