What is the relationship between Christian higher education and the Great Commission? The answer to that question turns out to be astoundingly clear: when Christian education is faithful, faithfulness in evangelism and missions will follow. Similarly, where gospel missions penetrate, gospel schools follow.
The logic of this relationship is actually easy to understand. Gospel evangelism and Christian education are as organically related as our bodily systems of respiration and circulation. We cannot live without breathing and a beating heart, and the church cannot be faithful without making disciples of all the nations—and making disciples requires both taking the gospel and teaching the gospel.
A Closer Look at the Great Commission
Many Christians think they know what Christ commanded the church in the Great Commission, but in truth, they minimize the command. They get the going part right but miss the central command to make disciples.
In Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus issues his command to the disciples, and thus to the entire church: “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 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” (ESV).
With plenary authority, in both heaven and earth, Jesus commands his disciples—all of us—to go and make disciples of all nations. A disciple is defined as one who follows the teaching of the master, both in understanding and in obedience. We tell people the good news and call them to believe in Jesus and to repent of their sins. Christianity is conversionist without apology. We preach the gospel, share the good news, and call sinners to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved—to be converted.
But new converts become faithful disciples only by being taught. Jesus made this clear when he expanded upon what it means to make a disciple—“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching and learning are at the heart of the Great Commission, as much as going.
The Christian College as the Incubator of Missionaries
The faithful Christian college does not merely teach evangelism and missions—it is driven by them. A passion for the gospel infuses every class, every course, every major, every classroom and dormitory. And passion for the Great Commission is infectious. It spreads fast.
Just consider how many missionary movements have been driven by passion among college students and have even originated within colleges. The Haystack Prayer Meeting, led by students at Williams College in 1806, gave birth to one of the greatest missionary movements in the history of the church. That history is filled with accounts of students who went to college in order to prepare for a profession only to find themselves taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
“The faithful Christian college does not merely teach evangelism and missions—it is driven by them. A passion for the gospel infuses every class, every course, every major, every classroom and dormitory. And passion for the Great Commission is infectious. It spreads fast.”
There is something powerful about the college years in the life of a young Christian. Just think of William Whiting Borden, scion of a Colorado mining fortune, who went to Yale in order to be educated for a life of business but was called to missions. Confounding wisdom of the wise, Borden graduated from Yale, then graduated from seminary, and then left to go to China as a missionary to the Uyghur Muslims in China’s Gansu Province.
Tragically, to our eyes, Borden contracted cerebral meningitis and died in Egypt in 1913, never reaching China. But Borden’s example was the catalyst for countless other young men and women who answered the call of missions. After his death, he became famous for the motto: “No Reserve, No Retreat, No Regret.”
Why are so many mission conferences, like Urbana in years past and CROSS now, targeted at Christians in the college years? It is because in these crucial years young Christians are discerning God’s call upon their lives. They want to make a maximum impact for Christ. They have eager hearts and hungry minds. They are filled with promise and they are poised for action. That the Christian college campus is ground zero for missions is no accident.
Christian Education and Preparation for the Great Commission
The faithful Christian college also offers the highest quality programs of training and education for missions, evangelism, and Great Commission leadership. This means first-rate academic programs in missions and evangelism and front-line faculty. It also demands that every program and major be accountable to the Great Commission. Those who are not called to go are called to send.
“That the Christian college campus is ground zero for missions is no accident.”
The Christian worldview must be the curriculum of the college, and the Great Commission must be its energy. In truth, it is impossible to have one without the other. Faithfulness to the command of Christ will require the most vigorous knowledge of the Bible, of Christian truth, apologetics and the skills of communication and leadership. Every discipline must be calibrated to Great Commission faithfulness.
The Great Commission and the Christian College
There is yet another dimension of the relationship between the Great Commission and Christian education. Where the Great Commission goes, schools follow. Look right behind the boundary of missionary expansion and you will see a desperate call for teaching. Christian schools emerge where the gospel of Christ has reached and the strength of the church requires educated Christians.
“The Christian worldview must be the curriculum of the college and the Great Commission must be its energy.”
The earliest schools of the Christian church were the catechetical schools of early Christianity—founded for the education of new converts in the faith. Where Christianity is strong and faithful, strong and faithful schools are required. Christianity is a faith that must be taught, and Jesus made that clear even in the Great Commission itself.
The secular world prizes higher education, but Christians must value true education even more than our secular neighbors. The world sees professions, success, and cultural impact, but we have to see the nations awaiting the good news of the gospel. That transforms everything. The world sees the future hanging in the balance. Christians must see eternity at stake.
That defines the real distinction between a college and a Christian college. And that makes all the difference in the world.