“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The students at a leading evangelical seminary wanted to examine the question: What is the place of world evangelism in the life of a Christian and in the life of a church? They wanted to determine what the Bible says about the issue. Being seminarians, they staged a debate. They invited the most influential man in world missions at that time, Donald McGavran. McGavran said, “Missions is a most important purpose of the church.”
After the meeting I approached him, “Dr. McGavran, the last time I heard you speak you said it was the most important task of the church. Which is it, `a’ or `the’?” “Well,” he said, “if it’s `the’ purpose, that includes `a’; and some audiences aren’t ready to call it the purpose of the church.” He obviously ranked world evangelism near the top of his agenda of what the church is about.
On the other side of the debate was a leading evangelical theologian. The task of a theologian is to organize biblical truth in logical order. Most theologians consider missions part of the church history department or the practical theology division along with subjects like Christian education. They usually do not consider missions a proper subject for theology.
Before the debate began, the theologian said, “Dr. McGavran, before we begin I just want you to know that I believe in missions. It’s even in my theological system. It’s point number D-12 in my theology.” By the designation D-12 he meant that missions was a part of the outline but not a central part. It was simply lost in the list. The theologian’s statement set the stage, because missions was clearly A-1 in McGavran’s theology. After the debate the theologian said, “Dr. McGavran, you’re very persuasive and I admire you and your work. But I want you to know that missions is still point number D-12 in my theological system.”
For most evangelical churches in America, world missions is point D-12 in the church program, or off their agenda altogether. What about the handful that are committed to world evangelism? Are they misguided, or are they merely obedient to the Lord of the church? Finding an answer to that critical question is important. Today ask yourself: How important to God is world evangelization? How will living for Christ impact my concern for missions? What can I use as a measure of my concern and commitment? If what is central in God’s thinking turns out to be peripheral in mine, perhaps I have heart trouble. But God doesn’t. God is love, so much so that He gave His one and only Son that no one might perish.
The Old Testament prophecies repeatedly predicted the coming of the Messiah, but He was not for Israel only. He was coming for all peoples. What does the New Testament predict about Christ’s second coming? Jesus Himself said: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Finally, John pulls the curtain on the last act of earth’s drama: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of promises about God’s plan of world evangelization. The Spirit has a global plan, and He is bringing it to pass in our day as never before. The downside of the population explosion – more people are lost today than ever before. Now let me tell you the positive side. God is bringing in a harvest greater than any since the world began. In fact, more people have been born into God’s family in the last 25 years than in all the centuries of church history since the apostles’ day! God’s promises assure us His salvation purpose will be accomplished.
May we remember, more important than where we stand in a debate on world evangelism is to discover where God stands! When we examine Scripture, we find that:
- God’s character makes world evangelism inevitable.
- God’s activity proves His heart is passionate for the world to know Him.
- God’s promises assure a successful conclusion to His plan.
- God’s command means we must think as He thinks and act as He acts.
You may agree with John the apostle. He says that a certain characteristic of God is so central to His nature that you could even say He is that attribute (1 John 4:8). John so wanted to get the point across that he repeated the same words a few verses later: “God is love” (1 John 4 :16). God didn’t create love to give His creatures something to aim at. He is love by nature. As a result, the Spirit created humans in the image of God, so that He could love them and be loved by them. Creating humans with the power to choose was a risky proposition. People might choose to walk away from a loving relationship. They might even defy that love – which is just what our first parents did, and every son and daughter of Adam since.
But that didn’t change God’s character. He continued to so love the world that He gave His own Son to buy us back (John 3 :16). That’s the express purpose for His invasion of our humanity – to seek and to save the lost (Matt . 18:11). If love was the reason for Jesus’ first coming, love is also the reason He has not come again. People keep resisting God’s loving advances to them; and it breaks His heart. The broken-hearted God delays His coming because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet. 3 :9).
Consider the tension in the loving heart of God: longing to return to embrace His bride, the church; but at the same time, distressed over the many who are lost. How many? Just a number doesn’t reach our hearts, since we don’t have the capacity to love each one as God does. But here’s a statistic that should snap into focus what distresses God: the population explosion is so great that one demographer concluded more people live now than all who have lived and already died.
This means that more than 6 billion people today are lost. It’s difficult to grasp such numbers and even harder to love those faceless multitudes. But God does love each one – they aren’t faceless to Him. The situation is more difficult than numbers alone can tell. Half those lost people are out of reach of any witnessing church. That must break God’s heart. Because God is love, world evangelism is central in His thinking. Is it central in yours?