by Frank Severn
Some concerns must be faced if we are to be faithful to the Great Commission.
We face great challenges as we seek to obey the Lord’s command "to make disciples of all nations." Listening to futurists could make me pessimistic about the future of North American missions. Every generation has its great challenges. We are in one of those periods of history where change seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. How will we respond to the opportunities and challenges to faith in today’s world?
THE HERETICAL IMPERATIVE
This is a phrase coined by Peter Berger to describe our society’s distaste for dogmatism and objective truth. It reflects Western society’s commitment to separate scientific truth from moral or religious truth. In this view, religious belief is a matter of personal choice and is only truth to the believer.
Almost imperceptibly, society’s views have crept into evangelical schools and churches. James Hunter describes the great ambivalence among professors and students at evangelical colleges and seminaries on the issue of the lost ness of the heathen in his book Evangelicalism, the Coming Generation. Will God send a person to hell who has never heard the gospel? Are the heathen lost? Is Jesus the only way, or is he the only way for us?
We must sound a clear trumpet on this issue. The Bible declares one way of salvation-by grace through faith in Jesus Christ God, who reveals himself and who always acts consistently with his revelation, has declared that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. The word declares God is just, and all men will stand guilty before God, based on truth known through creation, law, or conscience. The word of God declares that salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ.
I don’t want to belittle the gravity of the question. We must be convinced of the lost ness of men regardless of the light they have received. This truth lies at the heart of mission motivation. God does intend for the gospel to get to every person, and he has commissioned his church to proclaim it.
THE FOG OF STATISTICS
How many lost are there and where are they? We are bombarded with statistical descriptions of our world. I can quote and use statistics to prove almost anything. I am fearful that we may be guilty of reducing lost ness to a percentage. Lost ness is an eternal state, not a percentage of the population.
I am very grateful for the prophetic voice of Ralph Winter, who unceasingly calls us to disciple those people who are yet totally unreached. It is the essence of our task to spread the gospel beyond the present border of the church. However, I am very uneasy about some applications of the principle of reaching the unreached that call into question the validity or importance of missions to people where there are churches, albeit those churches may make up less than 1 percent of the total population. Is mission more valid among populations where zero percent are Christian, and less valid where 99 percent are lost, or 1 percent are Christian?
What about the question of receptivity? Should we withdraw from countries like the Philippines, where there is a great harvest because the church is growing rapidly and evangelical Christians may number 5 percent or more of the population?
How should we respond when God shakes the nations and opens previously closed doors, like the present situation in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union? Strategy must be based on more than one factor. Statistics must serve us, not tyrannize us.
Are we giving a false impression to the church when we analyze the task, as David Barrett has done in his tremendous research, by lumping all of professing Christendom together and only looking at the "non-Christian" areas of the world as unreached? I say, Yes we are. I believe Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, animists, and secular materialists are lost and must be reached. I also believe that nominal Christians and Jews who have yet to trust Christ are also lost and must be reached. In fact, anyone who has not believed in the Lord Jesus is lost, whether they are tribal or urban, rich or poor, religious or nonreligious.
Mission work is necessary and imperative wherever the church does not exist, or where it is surrounded by such an overwhelming majority of unbelievers that It would be difficult, if not impossible, for that church to effectively evangelize its people group. Let’s not be guilty of assigning degrees of lost-ness, or assessing the validity of mission work by percentages only. I hope we can dear some of the fog that some statistical analysis may have created.
SACRIFICE IN A WORLD OF SELF-FULFILLMENT
How can North Americans who know so little of sacrifice and economic hardship effectively minister to a suffering world? How can we challenge a new generation of givers when they are over-committed to high mortgages, credit card debt, car loans, and financing the good life?
How can we sell faith missions in the high-tech, high-touch consumer-oriented society? Will missions be reduced to ministries that can be felt, touched, or participated in?
We must be creative, while we guard our values. We must not be insensitive to our market, nor should we stick our heads in the sand. However, we must respond with integrity and faith and eschew manipulation and advertising techniques that violate our values.
We must look for ways to involve a new generation of missionary supporters. We must provide more "hands-on" exposure and learn how to motivate and inform a generation that has not grown up with missions as we know it.
PIONEERS IN AN AGE OF GROUP THERAPY
There seems to be a great gap between the idealism of the new missionaries who desire to be Romans 15:20 people (". . . to preach the gospel where Christ is not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation") and the spiritual, physical, and mental toughness required to take the gospel into pagan territory. On the one hand is the great desire for pioneering, while on the other, there are great expectations (often built by our society) of being a part of a loving community that will meet my needs.
I fear that much of the interest in teaming arises from unspoken and yet real expectations of a safe group that will minister to me. Recently, I received a letter of resignation from one of our new pioneer missionaries. "We left our friends and family with the confidence that the support they gave would be replaced to some significant degree by the team we would be working on. For whatever reason, this has not happened, and we do not hold out any expectation that it will."
How do we prepare people for spiritual battle? How do we prepare pioneers in an age of group therapy? How do we prepare teams to be outreach teams rather than self-ministering teams? How do we prepare people for isolation and long obedience in a society given to instant results, immediate solutions, and strong peer group orientation?
Missions involves risk and sacrifice. I know our mission has spent considerable time and money to address the attrition question. We are working hard on member enablement. We want to provide our missionaries with the help they need to accomplish the task. However, I am concerned that meeting the needs of missionaries may supplant the task of making disciples. Our task is not to minister to one another, but "to make disciples of the nations."
PARTNERSHIP, NOT MORATORIUM
There is a new and subtle call for moratorium. This does not come from churches, but from voices in North America who are rightly concerned with the "high cost of mission."
These voices ask, "Why support a missionary family for $50,000 a year, when you could support 100 nationals at $500 a year?" History teaches us that whenever a church’s mission thrust is reduced to sending dollars rather than people, we are just one generation removed from no foreign mission thrust at all. God’s method for reaching the world is always incarnations!.
We all praise God for the new day in missions as the churches of Latin America, Asia, and Africa are taking on an increasing share of the world mission movement. This is the way it should be. God desires the mobilization of every church in the task of world evangelization. We must find ways of partnering and sharing resources. Let’s join hands with the emerging missionary movements and multiply resources to obey the Lord until he comes. We must speak without defensiveness to the stewardship question. We must encourage partnerships. We must continue to ask and motivate churches in North America to send both dollars and their own sons and daughters.
UNITY WITH DIVERSITY
While we may not be comfortable with the way some of our brothers draw their lines of cooperation; and while we carefully guard the fundamental truths that are the basis of our unity, we must also demonstrate and work for evangelical unity as we do mission. I believe the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association should continue to seek and promote true evangelical unity. We must do so with respect to our own diversity and in recognition of the diversity within the wider evangelical fellowship. Unity can never be at the expense of truth, nor should it be forced. It is always a spiritual unity. We must be especially concerned for unity of fellowship with the strong national movements that may not be as concerned with some issues as we are. Let’s work for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We need spiritual revival in our land. May we be men and women of prayer. May we live a life of holiness. May we reflect a walk of servant hood as we lead our missions. May we support each other and never allow our task to erode our passion for God. Perhaps the greatest ministry John Orme could have would be to encourage and facilitate the spiritual life and growth of mission leaders. We join with you, John, in mutual prayer that God would use you and us as unworthy servants in the great task of reaching our world.
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