All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations
The modern Evangelical church tends to celebrate the “Great Commission” of making disciples of individuals while ignoring the “Cultural Mandate” to disciple nations. One reason for the neglect is our gross ignorance of history. We know about preachers and missionaries who evangelized pagan souls, but we know little about reformers and educators who helped transform pagan nations. We celebrate and honor soul-winning preachers like Wesley and Whitefield. But we forget about nation-changing statesmen like Wilberforce and Witherspoon.
Because of our rapture-any-moment mentality, the separation of church and state doctrine and our evangelical obsession with the individual, we have missed half of the point of the Matthew 28 commission. We make disciples, but we do not disciple nations. We reach out to people groups, but ignore political groups. We expect moral change, but not social change.
Is it actually possible to disciple a nation? Can the gospel really change society? Or, should we expect everything to get worse and worse as the End draws near? Is our ultimate goal simply to not be “left behind”? Is there a valid hope to influence nations for the glory of God? A quick look at history tells us that, yes, the gospel really can and should change nations.
· Fifteen hundred years ago Ireland was an idol-worshipping, slave-trading nation of savage pagans. In just one generation Ireland was transformed into a godly nation known for its scholars and missionaries. The best-selling (secular) book “How the Irish Saved Civilization” tells how this national transformation was primarily the work of one man, Patrick. During his thirty years of missionary work in Ireland, Patrick helped establish over 700 churches and schools and trained over 3000 ministers. But his ministry went beyond just church work. He also helped transform government reform laws that brought the end of slavery in Ireland.
· William Wilberforce was elected to Parliament at the age of twenty-one. He had a two-fold life mission as indicated in his diary entry on October 28, 1787: “God Almighty has set before me two great objectives, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of morals.” For the next forty-six years Wilberforce worked tirelessly to change English law, to change English culture and to change the English economy in order to end the English slave trade. Three days before his death on July 26, 1833, the House of Commons passed the bill that abolished slavery in the entire British Empire. This was not done by a preacher, but by a Christian serving God in civil government.
· In 1768 John Witherspoon resigned his pastorate in Scotland and moved to the New World to pursue a career in education. He did not abandon his faith or calling. He served God as an educator the same way he had served God as a pastor. He became the president of a school that trained ministers, the College of New Jersey (now the apostate Princeton University). Many of Witherspoon’s graduates became pastors and ministers. Those who did not end up in ministry included: a US president, a US vice-president, ten cabinet officials, twenty-one senators, thirty-nine congressmen, one supreme court justice, one-fifth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and one-sixth of the delegates to the US Constitution Convention. Witherspoon is called “the man who shaped the men who shaped America.” In other words, Witherspoon discipled a nation.
Where are the modern versions of Patrick, Wilberforce and Witherspoon who will right social wrongs and change unjust laws, who will run for political office and serve in government? Unfortunately most Christians are too busy with prayer meetings and Bible studies to effectively engage the culture and disciple the nation. Real Christianity is not measured by how much time we spend in church, but by how we apply God’s word in all of life. We should applaud and support every godly citizen who is willing to obey the Great Commission by not just discipling individuals, but by discipling the nation.