by David M. Howard
Back in 1929 Robert E. Speer wrote a small book, Are Foreign Missions Done For? Students today probe campus missionary speakers with the same questions Speer raised: Are foreign missions on the wane?
Back in 1929 Robert E. Speer wrote a small book, Are Foreign Missions Done For? Students today probe campus missionary speakers with the same questions Speer raised: Are foreign missions on the wane? Are we justified in pressing our religion on the world, or do we need to learn from other religions? Do foreign missions know what they are up to, and are they accomplishing anything worthwhile? Do foreign missions really have adequate policies controlling them?
Recently the National Council of Churches announced the closing of its overseas personnel recruitment office. I have talked with the leaders of NCC-related mission boards. Not only do they lack funds and candidates, they are also questioning the entire theological basis of foreign missions.
This is not a new question. William Caret’ argued the same issue when he was told that God could convert the heathen without his help. Today it is raised on a different premise, but the basic problem remains: Does the church have a responsibility in terms of world evangelism? And, related to that: Is there a future for the missionary enterprise? Thinking students ire asking the same questions. Mission leaders with admirable honesty have discussed in many conventions the failures of the missionary enterprise. Students have heard much about colonialism, paternalism, western imperialism (religious as well as political), failures of mission policies, racism in missions, superiority attitudes of missionaries, ad infinitum. However, although a critical analysis of past failures is necessary for future progress, there comes a time when negativism can no longer produce positive results. In my opinion, we have reached that point in missions.
Therefore, the planners for URBANA 73, the tenth Inter-Varsity Missionary Convention to be held at Urbana, Illinois, December 27-31, 1973, have decided to take a positive approach. The theme for the convention is "Jesus Christ: Lord of the Universe, Hope of the World." The entire program is being built around the great facts expressed in the theme. We want to sound a forward-looking note of hope based on the sovereignty of God as the Lord of history who will fulfill all of his purposes. Let’s analyze the implications of the theme. First, it is Christ-centered. Much discussion of missions in the past has tended to lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is the heart of our message, that he is the founder of the church, and that he will consummate history as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. At URBANA 73 we hope to focus the attention of students on the person of Christ.
Second, he is the Lord of the universe. As the Creator with God the Father, he loves all of his creation and desires that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth. All authority has been given to him. Therefore, he has the right to command his church to carry the gospel to all of creation. The Lordship of Christ provides the firmest possible foundation for the outreach of his church.
Third, he is the hope of the world. We live in a day of despair and hopelessness. Disillusionment with political and economic systems, with materialistic philosophies, and with the established church have deepened this despair. It has penetrated Christian circles to such a degree that young people ask with forceful sincerity if we have any right to be talking about foreign missions. Do we really have anything to offer, or any right to try to change others when we have failed so miserably in our own culture and society?
In the midst of all this stands Jesus Christ as the hope of the world. There are few writings in all literature filled with more foreboding and apocalyptic doom than the Book of Revelation. Yet no book is filled with more hope. Throughout the awesome descriptions of the bitter rebellion of the forces of evil, of the outpourings of the wrath of God, and of the collapse of the human race as history crashes down around mankind in the final judgements stands the triumphant figure of the Lamb of Gad, the Lion of Judah, the Ding of Kings, the Faithful and True One, the Bridegroom made ready, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the one who has premised, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That is one of the most significant statements in all of God’s word. If it is not true, then the church has no hope and nothing to offer. Since it is true, then the church has all hope and everything to offer.
This hope is not based on the merits or failures of the church. It is not based on what the church has or has not done. It is used on the sovereignty of God and the authority given to His Son as head of the church. This gives the church a message not about itself but about its head who is the Lord of the universe and the only hope for the world. This hope is for a more abundant life now and for eternal life in the future.
The keynote address at URBANA 73 will be "Jesus Christ: Lord of the Universe" to proclaim the lordship of Christ over our entire lives and over all the world he has created. The closing address will be "Jesus Christ: Hope of the World" emphasizing the things just described. The entire program for the convention will be structured within the concepts expressed in those two key phrases.
During the past year or so I have been encouraged to notice among students an enthusiastic response to a positive approach to missions. The idea that Christ, as the Lord of the universe, gives hope to his church and authority for its outreach is as old as the Bible itself. Yet it comes through today with a freshness that stands in welcome relief to the disillusionment and despair that has led many into seeking an escape from reality through dregs, mysticism, occult practices or other equally hollow mockeries. Youth today joyfully proclaim Jesus as the one way. Their uninhibited proclamations of faith and unashamed identification with Jesus were graphically demonstrated at EXPLO 72. Even the skeptics and open enemies of the faith found it hard to find fault with such honest enthusiasm.
It is our fervent prayer that the message of URBANA 73 will penetrate anew this student generation and through them the church, which in turn will surge forward with renewed desire to fulfill the Great Commission given by the Lord of the universe who is the hope of the world.
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