One hundred years ago, if you had the capacity to survey every person in the world regarding religious belief, you would have discovered that 34% of the world’s 1.65 billion people had checked the box “Christian” in one of its dominant forms of Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. Today, with the explosion of conversions all over Africa, Latin America and Asia, with prolific church planting strategies and effective evangelistic outreaches like the Jesus film, the percentage of Christians is still at 34%. With our current population near 6.5 billion people there are, certainly, many more Christians today than in the year 1900; but the percentage has not changed. To create a different future–to change the trajectory of the church– we need to think differently and act differently.
What is the one thing that is most deadly to the spread of the gospel to every tribe and tongue? Many would say the lack of money, manpower or vision. I believe it can be safely argued that dependency and the passivity it breeds is the most deadly problem for the spread of the gospel. Whether it is dependence upon foreign missionaries and foreign funds or even our own dependence upon the pastor of our local church. Dependency is a ministry killer. It burns out the people and ministries that people are dependent upon and it prevents God’s people from realizing their full potential in fulfilling the mission that God has given to each one of us to make disciples.
Church on a Mission
Perhaps what we most need to learn, since we so easily forget it, is that mission is and always has been God’s before it becomes ours. The whole Bible presents a God of missional activity, from his purposeful, goal-oriented act of Creation to the completion of his cosmic mission in the redemption of the whole of Creation—a new heaven and a new earth. The Bible also presents to us humanity with a mission (to rule and care for the earth); Israel with a mission (to be the agent of God’s blessing to all nations); Jesus with a mission (to embody and fulfill the mission of Israel, bringing blessing to the nations by bearing our sin on the Cross and anticipating the new Creation in his Resurrection); and the church with a mission (to participate with God in the ingathering of the nations in fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures).
But behind all this stands God with a mission (the redemption of his whole Creation from the wreckage of human and Satanic evil). The mission of God is what fills the Bible from the brokenness of the nations in Genesis 11 to the healing of the nations in Revelation 21-22. So any mission activity to which we are called must be seen as humble participation in this vast sweep of the historical mission of God.
All Mission Flows from God
All mission or missions that we initiate, or into which we invest our vocation, gifts, and energies, flows from the prior mission of God. God is on mission, and we, in that wonderful phrase of Paul, are “co-workers with God.” This God-centered refocusing of mission turns inside-out our obsession with mission plans, agendas, goals, strategies, and grand schemes.
We ask, “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question is, “Where does my little life fit into the great story of God’s mission?”
We want to be driven by a purpose tailored for our individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation. We wrestle to make the gospel “relevant” to the world. But God is about the mission of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel. We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness. I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.
Most of all, we need to go back to the Cross and relearn its comprehensive glory. For if we persist in a narrow, individualistic view of the Cross as a personal exit strategy to heaven, we fall short of its biblical connection to the mission purpose of God for the whole of creation
(Col. 1:20) and thereby lose the cross-centered core of holistic mission.
It is vital that we see the Cross as central to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission—that is, of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. It is a mistake, in my view, to think that while our evangelism must be centered on the Cross (as of course it has to be), our social engagement has some other theological foundation or justification.
Why is the Cross just as important across the whole field of mission? Because in all forms of Christian mission, we are confronting the powers of evil and the kingdom of Satan—with all their dismal effects on human life and the wider creation. If we are to proclaim and demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of God and his justice, then we will be in direct conflict with the usurped reign of the evil one. In all such work, social or evangelistic, we confront the reality of sin and Satan. In all such work, we challenge the darkness of the world with the light and Good News of Jesus Christ and the reign of God through him.
By what authority can we do so? On what basis dare we challenge the chains of Satan, in word and deed, in people’s spiritual, moral, physical, and social lives? Only the Cross. The Cross must be as central to our social engagement as it is to our evangelism. There is no other power, no other resource, no other name through which we can offer the whole gospel to the whole person and the whole world than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
We are living in challenging times. James writes how the 1st century Church was Tested and Persecuted and was scattered all over Asia Minor. He then writes – Count it All Joy. It has been and is getting harder for us to comprehend what James is saying. The lack of comprehension on these matters, when we are tested in the form of our loved ones dealing with cancer, families dealing with prodigals, depression, disappointments, divorce, causes us to lose hope.
Would you pray for our dear Professor Eleazor, his wife and son as they continue to trust God for healing. Please pray for the Lord’s provision for this family. Please also pray for Pastor Ray as he travels, preaches, speaks at conferences and teaches at the School of Ministry, spends time at the Girls Home, visits our Medical Clinic.
May the Lord guide and direct our paths everyday as we equip men, women and children for the work of His ministry, here at home and in India. We continue to pray for all of you that pray and support the India Connection. May the Lord bless you abundantly and touch you personally so that His presence is felt in your greatest need.
In His Service,