[From addressing the global ecology and Islamic mindset we turn to some practical applications]
Some time or another, believers are constrained by Christ’s love to ‘step out of their comfort zones’ to follow their Master into a turbulent world: ‘If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!’ (John Ortberg) Hence I dare you to step out of the boat with me – a very scary (I’m in my 70’s) but rewarding experience…
Where does Christ’s mission-mandate rate in your personal life and local assembly? Is it central or peripheral? A recent missions training-day in my city highlighted several practical issues:
a) The training could have benefited from the fact that the Gospel/’Good News’ commences, not with Gen. 3 and the ‘fall’ (however important) but with the beauty of God’s person, creation and communitas in Gen. 1-2. How many popular ‘gospel presentations’ fail this test?
b) I was arrested by the statement, ‘mission is God’s pathway to maturity:’ “After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all those who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them'” (Mk. 8:34-35/CEB). Every time I hear these familiar (over-familiar?) words, I’m ‘undone!’ Jesus’ balance between the inward and outward journey scrutinizes our claims to maturity, both individually and corporately.
c) In contrast to the OT’s largely selective anointing of prophets, priests and kings, we should be struck by the NT’s major, ‘game-changing’ drum-roll of the Spirit poured out on all people for the sake of the Kingdom (Acts 2:17-18). Note the apostle Paul’s clear statement in 2 Cor. 5:17-20, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ… And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God!’ ‘Reconciliation’ appears 5x, ‘us’ 4x! How wrong the Calvinistic Strict Baptist Fraternal in the late 1700’s got it when newly-ordained Englishman William Carey rose to plead the cause of world mission: an older minister interrupted,“Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me!” Thank God Carey ignored the silly old man. He went on to serve in India for 41 years at great personal cost, translating the NT into Bengali and earning the legacy ‘The Father of Modern Missions!’ (1)
d) We noted the amazing growth of the Early Church, when persecution and mission was ‘normal Christianity.’ Take the story of the little Thessalonian assembly, ‘The Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere!” (1 Thess. 1:8-9) Interestingly, subsequent to Christianity becoming the state religion under Constantine, the NT ecclesia drastically faded in life, power and mission, for centuries! Over the past 200 years, ‘Christianity’ has once more become a global force, although the challenges are enormous: with approximately 6.5 billion people strangers to Jesus and some 714 local churches for every 1 un-reached people group. What does this say about the state of the Church today? The seminar suggested that the task is do-able in a generation, ‘If we get back to what God intended Christianity to be from the beginning – a movement of the Spirit!’ (Zech. 4:6-7).
e) On the Church being an ‘organism that is organized,’ I would personally counsel against over-organization which throttles it’s very life!
f) The seminar submitted that in addition to the biblical metaphors of body, family, etc, we may add contemporary metaphors like hospital, refueling station or even an airport/a rail terminal facilitating God’s people on their outward journey.
g) The ideal is for every congregation (or network of congregations) to reach a ‘critical mass’ in mission:
I relate my ragamuffin missions-story. I was raised in a nominal Christian home, at age 14 Christ graciously encountered me, resulting in my new birth and simultaneous call to preach. Besides my Bible, the first two books I read were ‘Teach Yourself Preaching’ (sigh) and James Hudson-Taylor’s story ‘The Man Who Believed God.‘ I confess to losing the plot somewhat in High School due to academic and sporting pursuits. However the Lord graciously restored my sense of call during my first year of training as a chemical engineer. After 3 years of study and work, I was privileged to undergo 4 years of excellent theological training, an anonymous party sponsoring all my accommodation and tuition fees. Again I confess to somewhat neglecting my missional sharp-edge during my first two pastorates, but God patiently disturbed me in the 3rd and 4th. A North American, David Bliss, came to South Africa in the late 80’s to revive the message of Dr. Andrew Murray and his trumpet-call to ‘prayer, revival and mission.’ David Bliss and a prayer-warrior David Mniki from the Transkei brought their shared burden to the Eastern Cape. This was followed by two decades of annual city-wide conferences in Port Elizabeth under the banner of Bless the Nations, monthly ‘concerts of prayer,’ a ‘lay’ missions school I was privileged to lead, etc. During that move, our local congregation and others in our Metro gained, under God, the required ‘critical mass’ for outreach locally and abroad. In co-operation with various missions agencies, our congregation was able to to send missionaries into various parts of South Africa, the Middle East (Turkey and Cyprus) and South America, including a church-plant among the un-reached Quechua/Morochucos in the high Peruvian Andes. Other congregations in our city commissioned missionaries to Northern Mozambique, Egypt, Russia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Japan, etc.
Let me conclude by honouring David Bliss’s erstwhile professor of evangelism at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, Dr. Christy Wilson, veteran missionary from Afghanistan and speaker at one of our earlier conferences.
At this time my wife and I had been considering a possible missionary career in Malawi. Providentially, we hosted the saintly and prayerful Dr. Christy Wilson in our home. What a man of prayer! After sharing our interest in Malawi with him, he wisely challenged us to instead motivate world missions pastorally. God kindly gave us a measure of success in this regard. I share this story to show that even a Joe Soap believer like me or small assembly can impact our world for the Kingdom!
Are you and am I, and our church-family, willing to follow Jesus into his world, even if it means ‘taking our little candle and running to the darkness?’ (cf. song below) With such a scary step comes Christ’s personal assurance ‘I am with you always,’ to the end of the age! (Mt. 28:20)
(1) On the other hand, what about the pre-Reformation Bohemian martyr, Johannes Hus, and the subsequent 18th century Moravian revival movement in Herrnhut Germany, which did more for global mission than the Church world-wide? By 24/7 prayer alone, they sent missionaries to Greenland, the West Indies (selling themselves into slavery for Jesus’ sake), the USA and even my native South Africa.