What Does It Mean to Make Disciples of All Nations?

Matthew 28:19a, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…”

That Matthew 28:18-20 is correctly referenced as “The Great Commission” is seldom if ever questioned by evangelical believers, but what that means is a different story.

So, what is the Great Commission? Who is to be the object of the mission that we’re to co-partner with Jesus in accomplishing? Are we to concentrate on saving individual souls for heaven, or does it include seeing souls saved so that the kingdom of God is continuously coming more fully, and Father’s will is being done more and more freely “on earth as it is in heaven”?

Personally, I have become recently convinced that what I have been teaching about every available believer’s assignment to make disciples of all nations is deficient and diminishes the full extent what Jesus intended to convey. Because I accepted the etymology of the “of all nations” (“panta ta ethne” in the original language) to mean “all ethnicities” or “people groups”instead of nations, the cultural impact of the gospel is restricted to primarily rescuing as many souls for heaven as possible because the world is a “sinking Titanic” headed for destruction and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The Indian philosopher and theologian, Vishal Mangalwadi, has some strong words concerning this, as he remarks: “Thisfoolishness (of substituting “people groups” for “nations”) was developed by American missiology at Fuller Seminary. This error is one of the top ten reasons why Christianity has lost the USA. According to this foolishness, the USA is not a nation that the Church ought to be discipling. Etymology is only one ingredient in developing a "theology" of a complex concept such as "nation." However, etymology is not theology. Since Lausanne '74, American seminaries and missions have corrupted global Christianity by spreading the mistaken idea of discipling some individuals out of all people groups or ethnicities.”

One missions textbook written during this period of redefining what it means to “make disciples of all nations” gives a clear picture of why we are in the mess we are in as a nation:

“Christ is the wisest of all philosophers. He is the wisdom of God yet founded no philosophical school. Christ is the greatest of all scholars and educators, yet He instituted no educational system. Christ is the greatest benefactor and philanthropist, yet He founded no social welfare societies, institutions of philanthropic foundations. Christ was 'Christian presence" with deepest concerns for freedom, social uplift, equality, moral reformation and economic justice. Yet Christ founded no organization or institutions to initiate, propagate or implement the ideals which He incarnated … Christ did not become involved in processions against Roman overlords, slavery, social and economic injustices, or marches for civil rights, higher wages, or better education. That book continues elsewhere:

“We are sent not to preach sociology but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not reform but redemption; not culture but conversion; not a new social order but a new birth; not revolution but regeneration; not renovation but revival; not resuscitation but resurrection; not a new organization but a new creation; not democracy but the gospel; not civilization but Christ; we are ambassadors not diplomats” (George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 211.).

In contrast to our “get-off-the-earth-as-quickly-as-possible mentality, what happens when the great commission is taken to mean disciple the nations and embraces whole nations rather than indicating individuals from among them?

One amazing example comes from the nation of Norway. Hans Nielsen Hauge (last name sounds like toga – Ho-ga) (1771-1824), is one of Norway’s heroes who created Kingdom culture when it was the poorest country in Europe such that people would eat tree bark to survive! While many were just surviving under the gospel of salvation, one man had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that changed both he and is nation. In 1796, Hauge experienced a spiritual awakening which he termed “spirit baptism.) While the 25-year-old, peasant farmer’s son was ploughing a field, he suddenly felt an overwhelming experience of the presence of God. He burned with love for Jesus and for mankind.

According to Hauge, church membership alone did not make a person a Christian. At the time, exceedingly few people attended State churches. In the capital city of Christiania, which had a population of about 10,000, evidence shows that only about 20 people attended regular services in the State church.

Compelled by the Spirit of God, he first shared the good news at home, then set off as an itinerant evangelist. He developed a pattern of walking great distances every day, holding three or four meetings in villages and reaching large numbers of ordinary people. In the 8 years he was free to do this, it is estimated he covered 15,000 km (9,320 miles). He often knitted as he walked; the gloves and socks were then given away to the poor who needed them. Many people came to saving faith in Jesus as a result and then they themselves went out to preach the gospel. A grass-roots evangelical revival began to spread among the rural communities.

Hauge was a humble and practical man, full of initiative. He saw the need to educate and equip the common people as well as save their souls. He had an amazing capacity for work, which, combined with his pioneering spirit, made him an entrepreneur to rank with the best.

For Hauge, running a business and preaching went hand in hand. He started a company in Bergen in 1801 to secure a sound economic base for his gospel activities. Thereafter, there was no stopping him! Over the next eight years, he founded fishing industries, brickyards, spinning mills, shipping yards, salt and mineral mines, paper mills and printing works. These created jobs for people who needed work and taught them how to make a living for themselves. He delegated the daily management to those he thought were the most capable, but he was the strategist who planned and motivated the whole enterprise. The profits were always used to invest in new activities.

Hauge became an inspiration to all who wanted to take Norway out of the ‘middle ages’ and into a new day. New agricultural and industrial methods were developed, and literacy rates rose. A new confidence led to greater economic freedom as Christians were challenged to rebuild society. Norway began to change.

Now that his worldview changed, Father God opened his eyes to see solutions in every sphere of society where he only saw problems before. Hans Nielsen Hauge believed that every Norwegian is valuable, which means you treat them with high value, and it changes them. He even wrote books that influenced the way people were thinking; books about morals, the judicial system, and responding in love. The country was influenced by his actions after he died. A constitution was written, a business school was constructed, and people lived with a new worldview that assured them that they mattered and could live in abundance.

Alongside this, Hauge encouraged representatives of the rural population into politics, launching what has been described as the first Norwegian democratic movement. This was enough to gain him enemies. Norway had strict laws regarding sectarian preaching and ‘vagrancy’; both of these were now used against him.

In 1799, notices were read in churches warning against unauthorized preachers. Some of his disciples were chased out of churches, beaten and imprisoned. Altogether, Hauge himself was arrested ten times. He once spent nine years in prison before his case was even heard! The sheriff of Hallingdal thought it would be fun to send a prostitute to Hauge’s cell; he looked her in the eyes with compassion and she began to sob and confess her sins!

His final imprisonment lasted 10 years, 3 of them in total isolation, first in an underground cell reserved for drunks, and finally in a small cell that has now been reconstructed at Norway’s Open Air Museum outside Oslo. He wrote to his friends: If I had 100 lives, they would all be willing for chains. Prison does not last for ever. I wish you well on the road of salvation. It is my prayer, my longing, my burden of care and my joy to find you in life eternal.

However, he was by now a national figure on account of his entrepreneurial business enterprises on behalf of the poor. His long imprisonment was becoming a scandal. What’s more, the authorities still needed his business and industrial expertise. On one occasion, they released him from prison for a time because they needed his advice on a marine desalination project! Finally, his sentence was commuted to a fine, which his friends paid. Hauge was free, broken in health but filled with God’s vision. He was ready for the final stage of the adventure.

Hauge spent his last years on a farm near Christiania (modern Oslo), bought for him by his friends. Years of imprisonment had weakened his body but not his spirit. His home became a center for Christian life, visited by many. Spiritual and secular leaders alike came to him for advice.

At the end, Hauge was bedridden – but still preached. His last exhortation was: “Follow Jesus!” He died, his face radiant with joy, exclaiming, “Oh, You eternal, loving God!”

That was by no means the end of the story! Some of his followers held important positions. Three of them took part in the first Norwegian Parliament in 1814, when Norway became independent from Denmark after 400 years. The whole country felt the effects of Hauge’s influence – spiritually, politically, and financially. It can truly be said that he fathered the new nation.

Hauge’s pioneering work in economic justice and ethical business continues to inspire today.

We must begin to see Jesus’ Great Commission as more than just saving individual souls for heaven. Certainly, we must desire that souls be saved for heaven when they die. But souls are in bodies and while in our bodies we must disciple nations so that the kingdom of God is continuously coming more fully, and Father’s will is being done more and more freely “on earth as it is in heaven”!

This is not “social gospel” or the “simple gospel”, but the “WHOLE GOSPEL”! Lord, help us to recover it!