“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” Matthew 28:19
Trinity Sunday, that day in the year when we reflect upon the doctrine of God being three persons and one God, that Sunday when we might become lost in the history of the early church and its wranglings over how God should be defined in words; Trinity Sunday, and we have a Gospel reading that cuts through all the debates, all the arguments, all the schisms that were so much part of Christian history.
Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”, it tells us much about God; it tells us much about the Church; and it tells us much about ourselves.
“All nations”, you, me, the man in the street, the lady on the bus, the most unlikely, the most ungodly, God will relate to any of us directly. When we think about God it maybe as a powerful, terrifying figure, the God of whom we sing in the Trinity Sunday hymns, but he is also a God who is immanent, a God present, a God there, at all times in all places. “All nations” is a statement that this is an accessible God, that this is an approachable God. “All nations” is a statement that God does not discriminate: whoever responds to God, God will respond to them. The story of Jesus is the story of God being present to anyone who chose to listen to him, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”, says Jesus in Verse 20
If “all nations” tells us about a God who is near and who is prepared to be a close friend, it tells us about what the church should be like and what it shouldn’t be like. The first Christians had trouble with this idea of “all nations”, they were Jews and they expected anyone who wished to join them to become Jews, to become part of their nation. “All nations” was not an idea that fitted in with their Law, they were the chosen people and as far as they were concerned membership of God’s people was not open to “all nations”. Paul has to write to the early churches a number of times to make the point that they couldn’t carry on with their old attitudes.
What we see as the centuries passed is that the church became about doctrine rather than being about Jesus. To have a hope of a place in heaven you had to be subject to the rule of the church, you had to receive the sacraments, you had to accept everything the hierarchy said. If you refused, it wasn’t just a religious matter, it was against the law of the land and you could end up being burned at the stake for heresy. The church’s official teaching was that outside of the church there was no salvation. In times when people lived in daily fear of death, the idea that you would face eternal damnation if you were not on good terms with the church was a very powerful threat. It made the Church very influential and very, very rich. Jesus did not say that the way of salvation was controlled by the church. Jesus said, “all nations”, whatever their culture or tradition. Jesus didn’t expect everyone to believe obscure philosophical doctrines
Is being a Christian open to all nations? Is it open to people in every culture? Or is being a Christian a matter of accepting all the rules and regulations of the church and accepting the authority of church teaching in every part of your life, it it about giving up one’s own culture to become as the church expects? Is it about personal faith or written doctrines? Jesus says being a Christian is open to all.
“All nations” tells us about God. “All nations” tells us about the church. “All nations” tells us about ourselves. Being a Christian is not about belonging to the church; it is about our own personal faith in this God who takes on our flesh and walks among us and dies and rises again. It is about faith among people of every culture and nation.
When we talk about faith, let’s talk about what we believe, not what the church says, let’s recover Jesus’ words to his disciples. “All nations” are challenging words to us.
“All nations” is a statement that God recognises the dignity of every culture. “All nations” is a sign that God. respects the right of each culture to respond to him in their own way.
When we talk about faith, “all nations” is a word to remember; it means we can talk about faith, and not about the church or our traditions, or our culture, and not about obscure doctrines that are still being debated
“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”