By Jerry Harris
Many years ago, I took my immediate family to visit extended family in Maryland. I’m something of a history nut, so I used the opportunity to take everyone to visit Annapolis and walk the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy; we watched the midshipmen walk in formation and toured museums. During that trip, I made an unexpected discovery. After touring the chapel, I noticed a small sign directing people to the “crypt of John Paul Jones.” My family and I proceeded down a stairway to an area directly beneath the chapel. A Marine in dress uniform was standing guard; we wondered what we might find beyond him in the rotunda.
The marble floor in the rotunda included eight massive marble pillars, and in the center rose four dolphins. On the backs of the dolphins was a large sarcophagus of Jones, the naval hero of the American Revolution. The dolphins were encircled by the carved names of all the ships he captained. Around the circumference of the crypt were the swords of vanquished captains he’d defeated, his uniforms, medals, and papers. “I have not yet begun to fight!”—his most remembered quote (from the Battle of Flamborough Head during the American Revolutionary War)—is memorialized there. It was awe inspiring!
One thing particularly caught my eye because of its resemblance to something familiar to nearly every American—a document that at first appeared to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence. At the top of the document I could see “In Congress,” and at the bottom was the familiar bold signature of John Hancock; it was dated 1776. Upon closer examination, I saw it was Jones’s commission paper by the Continental Congress to be a captain in the Continental Navy.
As I studied this commission from more than 200 years ago, my mind travelled back another 1,750 years to a commission Matthew recorded in the 28th chapter of his biography of Jesus. It’s not simply a commission, but “The Great Commission”:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (vv. 18-20).
From its earliest days, the Restoration Movement has embraced these words as our marching orders, and in doing this, has always prioritized reaching the entire world through missions.
The International Conference on Missions is a testimony to that. ICOM is by far the largest gathering of churches, missions, and individuals in the independent Christian church. I think it’s the best of us, revealing a heart that beats for the lost, the least, and the furthest.
As you read through the pages of this issue, notice our new column this month entitled “Horizons.” This column is named for the magazine about missions that served our movement for years. While this entire issue is about missions, Christian Standard will be featuring a monthly missions column because we know that our commission represents the beating heart of our Savior and our calling.
Jerry Harris is publisher of Christian Standard Media and senior pastor of The Crossing, a multisite church located in three states across the Midwest.