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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
This past summer the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution that singled out Jews as a target for its evangelistic efforts. This obviously raised no small stir among the Jewish community. After this resolution was passed, about 50 members and guests met on a Wednesday night at Lubbock's Second Baptist Church to discuss the controversy with a Jewish friend of the church. (Second Baptist Church is the most liberal "Baptist" church in Lubbock that was expelled out of the local Southern Baptist association). This Jewish friend of theirs is a psychologist whose name is Norman Shulman and he is a member of Lubbock's Congregation Shaareth Israel. At this meeting he described "the pain he personally felt when he heard about the resolution."
After eight years of interfaith dialogue, to hear the SBC target the conversion of the Jews "is a severe setback to interfaith relations," Shulman said. He also added that he wanted to address this "arrogant, mindless, and insensitive resolution" in the hope of minimizing the damage it has caused.
The Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, pastor of Second Baptist Church, responded to Shulman's remarks. While he did admit that most Baptists "have a bedrock conviction to share their faith," he also made the asinine statement saying, "Baptists do not understand the political implications of what we say and do." Translation: we've got to be politically correct in our evangelism.
Johnson agreed with Shulman that by making a statement that targets Jews for special evangelistic effort, the convention inadvertently adds to the climate that produces anti-Semitism. What garbage! To tell others of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is to be "anti-Satan" and "pro-God."
"There is an arrogance in that resolution that is sinful," Johnson said. "If Jesus is about anything, it is humility." He went on to say that while Baptists must take seriously the command to go into all the world with the gospel, they also must be aware that "all our understandings are tainted with sin." It's really not all that hard to understand. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who rejects Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour is eternally doomed and lost.
Later on in the article Pastor Johnson had the audacity to refer to the zealous evangelistic efforts of Baptists as "Christian imperialism." Not so -- it is Christ's imperative!
Our Lord began and established the church during His earthly ministry because He had a work for it to do that no other institution could do or was authorized to do. He entrusted and committed to the church the responsibility of evangelizing every continent, nation, country, empire, kingdom, state, city, town, or village, wherever lost souls are to be found. The church, every church, is to be a missionary organization. To the church has been revealed the most glorious message known to man; to it has been committed the most tremendous undertaking in human history.
What's wrong with missions today is that too few Christians really understand the function of missions in the ministry of the local church. Some think that it is only the fanatics and the extremists in the church who think and talk about missions. In their estimation, missions is only another "hobbyhorse" like prophecy or some other subject. Others think that missions should have a place in the church's ministry, but certainly not the top priority. Some people believe that missions is a minor part of the church's ministry: an ear or a finger or a toe but certainly not the heart.
The truth is that if a person's relationship to God is right and if that person diligently searches the Scriptures for God's plan and purpose of the church in this age, he will undoubtedly come to the conclusion that the New Testament church (not the SBC or any other man-made organization) has a responsibility to take the gospel to a lost world.
Somebody once said that "there is a crying need for Biblical teaching in the area of missions for we believe that missionary education leads to missionary enthusiasm, and missionary enthusiasm leads to missionary endeavor." While there are many aspects of responsibilities and duties laid upon the N.T. church, its main ministry is evangelization. Or to be more specific: to evangelize the sinner, baptize the convert, teach and train the disciple of the Lord. In Mark 16:15 the Lord Jesus Christ forever settled the question of what a church exists for by clearly defining its mission and purpose: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
The Responsibility: "go ye"
These words are simple, plain, and straight to the point.
The Mandate: go. This is foundational to evangelism; we must be going. People are not going to come to us primarily for the gospel message. We have to take it to them. From the very beginning when the Lord Jesus Christ established His church, the disciples were commanded to go (Mt.10:6-7; Lk.9:6; Jn.15:16). As these disciples were obedient to the Lord's command, God blessed their witness with many souls being saved (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7). The early church was accused of filling Jerusalem with their doctrine (Acts 5:28) and they were going from house to house, teaching and preaching Jesus Christ (Acts 5:42). None of this could have been possible if they were not a going people. The fact that the Lord Jesus said to go makes somebody responsible; someone will be held accountable if the command to go is not carried out. See Ez.3:18.
When God called the prophet Isaiah to go and preach the Word of God to an ungodly, wicked people of his day, this is what was said: "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people..." (Isaiah 6:8-9). This should be our desire and attitude.
The responsibility of the church to go has not changed (John.20:21; Rom. 10:14-15). If we're not going, then we are standing still and idle and the Bible warns, "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion..." (Amos 6:1).
The Means: ye. Make no mistake about it, Christ commissioned His church to evangelize the world, win the lost to a saving knowledge of Christ as their Saviour. But let's not forget, the church is made up of individuals. It is true that God's people within each local church are to be united in faith and spirit, seeing to it that the church fulfill and meet the demands of its Founder and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. "For we are labourers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9); "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27).
If we're not careful, we will make the mistake of looking at our missionaries as an army sent overseas on behalf of its country. The missionary task force will be looked upon as if they alone are engaged in fighting the battle of the Lord. The truth is, each and every member of the church is a soldier in the Lord's army; each is called upon to fight the good fight of faith; each is exhorted to take on the whole armor of God. Missionaries are not to be looked upon as substitutes sent out to do our fighting for us. While they may be involved in different parts of the battlefield, they are not to do our fighting. Jesus said: "go ye." It takes individual involvement to carry out the commission to evangelize the world.
The Region: "into all the world" "to every creature"
After the Lord commissioned His church to go and after He ascended back to the heavenly Father, all of the disciples returned to Jerusalem as they were suppose to (Luke 24:49). But the problem was that they remained there and did not actually go into the regions beyond. They were to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with the power of the Holy Spirit and then they were to be His witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but everywhere else as well (Acts 1:8). "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:47) "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." (Matt.28:19).
When they actually began to practice what Jesus had commanded (Acts 8:1,4; 11:19-21), the Lord greatly blessed His church but it took a great persecution to wake them up to realize that God meant what He had said.
Not all of us can go personally to every country in the world but we can go in the particular region or locale that God has placed us in. Thank the Lord for those whom God has called to those countries and lands where the gospel is so desperately needed. We cannot all go in person but we can go with our prayers, praying for those who have gone; and we can go with our pocketbook, giving regularly and sacrificially to missions.
The Requirement: "preach the gospel"
Suppose that we properly understand our divine responsibility and go to the regions beyond, it will all be in vain, null and void, if we do not preach the gospel. Paul declared, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor.9:16). Sinners will not and cannot be saved without the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17-18,21,23; 2:1-5). There is nothing more powerful than the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16-17).
The first and foremost important thing is to make disciples, which in the Scriptural sense means, bringing lost men to repentance toward God and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by the preaching of the gospel. This is a divine experience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those whom God calls. The means which the Spirit uses is the Word of God, specifically the gospel of salvation.
Since it is the Saviour who saves, since the Holy Spirit is the divine agent who brings this experience to reality in the sinner's heart, and since the means He uses is the Word of God, it's obvious that the church's part is to preach the gospel. It is the gospel that makes Christ known to man. When they hear the gospel and receive Him as their personal Saviour, they become the children of God.
It is Satan's desire to keep us from meeting God's requirement in preaching the gospel. "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The sad truth is, Satan is using many of God's people as his instruments to keep lost sinners in the dark, because they are not willing to fulfill God's require ment to preach the gospel.
After having considered the responsibility, the region, and the requirement, there is one more thing we need to think about: The Reason: "...he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). Multitudes are still sitting in spiritual darkness and will die in their sins and go to a devil's hell, if we don't reach them with the gospel.
The mission of the church is being witnesses unto the whole world by preaching the gospel; the mission of the church is making disciples of all nations by so preaching and witnessing; the mission of the church is baptizing each new convert into the fellowship and faith of a New Testament church; the mission of a church is teaching the converts to observe in a practical way all the things commanded by the Lord; the mission of the church is to edify, exhort, rebuke, and comfort the saints, thereby strengthening and perpetuating the church as God's witness in the world.
The fact that Christ has commanded us to be personally involved in evangelism should be sufficient for every believer and every church. "Obedience to Christ is impossible without missionary endeavor." The Lord Jesus Christ in Mark 16:15 was not merely exhorting, encouraging, or expressing His wishes, desires, or preferences. No, it was a COMMAND. The command is to preach the gospel to every creature, but the question is, will we obey His command? He said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. We cannot keep His commandments without being involved in evangelism. Some may regard it as "Christian imperialism" but I believe Mark 16:15 makes it clear it is Christ's imperative.
The early N. T. churches, moved by compassion and obedience, burning with missionary zeal, evangelized the known world in their day. The mission of the church has not been fulfilled. The gospel has not been preached to every nation and creature. Our mission is great and the obstacles are many but remember that He who said to go also said, "and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Mt.28:20) We are responsible to obey, He will provide the strength and the victory. The imperative of evangelism is our undeniable obligation to God and His Word.