My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

12 September 2007

Why "go" means "go"

In the comments section of a previous post, a discussion emerged about the propriety of the church maintaining an emphasis on international missions. Apparently, there are some who believe the American church should focusing more (or as it will practically mean, solely) on those God providentially brings to our nation.

To answer, I'd like to point out a few things about the Great Commission (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.) and then a few practical remarks about the mission work of the American church.

Jesus' commission was to the apostles, but not the apostles alone. That is, this commission extends through the apostles to the whole church. The only proof one needs is to see the actions of the commission: teaching and baptizing. Those were actions repeatedly imparted to the church; if the imperatives of the commission were given to the church, then we can assume the scope of the commission (all nations) belongs to her as well. More proof of this would be to read on into the book of Acts to see how seriously the church took her commission to disciple the nations. There is nothing in the pages of the New Testament to make us think the geographical focus of the commission will be lifted before the return of Christ.

Jesus' commission is based upon and geared toward the great covenant promise God gave to Abraham: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3) There has always been, and there must always be, a worldwide focus of gospel-centered churches. We see this focus in Jesus' repetition of the commission in Acts 1:8, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

More broadly, the pattern we see in the church of the new covenant is a pattern of sending. All we have to do is read through Acts and the Epistles to count up how many people were sent from one place to another for the purpose of gospel ministry: Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Philip, Silas, Timothy, Apollo, Titus, etc. The book of Philippians is especially strong with the expectation and need for sending: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (2:25)...a Christian church is one that sends laborers into the harvest fields, near and far.

In response to the charge that a focus on international missions is a foolish waste of money and resources and an unnecessary danger, I would note the following: Gospel ministry has never operated according to the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:4-5); remember the story of Paul being forbidden by the Spirit from going to Asia! This doesn't mean we don't use wisdom - it means we seek and use heavenly wisdom. If God has decided to use the foolishness of international missions for the building of His church, we are in no position to disagree. As to the threat of danger, we must weigh it seriously, but if the church comes the point where we aren't willing to risk our lives for the kingdom, what really has become of us?

In response to the charge that international missions can be accomplished in our own backyard, I say "amen." But it's an "amen" with a qualification. God has providentially arranged the world so ministry in American can have consequences reaching farther than ever before. But this isn't enough: there are yet some countries that have no significant presence in America. And even among those that do, there are families and certain groups in societies which will never be represented in America, being prevented by poverty and/or oppression.

In response to the charge that American missions is prideful, given the greater numbers of Christians elsewhere and the moral decline of the American church, I would reply: hogwash. Proper missions says: we are both sinful and worthless. The only difference is the access to God I've found in Christ. There is no pride in evangelism, local or worldwide. Also, it's important to note that, despite the decline of the American church, she still has much to offer a needy world. Even as the numbers of American believers declines, the church still has more financial resources than any national church at any point in history. Simply put, we can afford to send more missionaries and so we ought. Furthermore, the American church has a wealth of theology and men and women with ability to impart that theology to the baby churches around the world. Realization of our theological and monetary resources isn't prideful as long as we recognize the Giver of the Gifts.

But even if we had no money and our theology was paper thin, we must still go. Always going, always sending, the church - every church, everywhere - must participate in the great commission, beginning with our neighbors and extending to the corners of the earth. This is Jesus' plan for extending His dominion over the nations (not just individuals, but nations!) - may God keep us from anything that would hinder our participation in His plan.

16 comments:

A said...

Amen! The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

kurt said...

Jared,

I’m sorry but it looks like I’m going to have to respond to your allegations one at a time.

”In the comments section of a previous post, a discussion emerged about the propriety of the church maintaining an emphasis on international missions. Apparently, there are some who believe the American church should [be] focusing solely on those God providentially brings to our nation.”

That’s not true. Go back and read the posts. You need to change the word you used from solely to more.

”Jesus' commission was to the apostles, but not the apostles alone. That is, this commission extends through the apostles to the whole church. The only proof one needs is to see the actions of the commission: teaching and baptizing. Those were actions repeatedly imparted to the church; if the imperatives of the commission were given to the church, then we can assume the scope of the commission (all nations) belongs to her as well. More proof of this would be to read on into the book of Acts to see how seriously the church took her commission to disciple the nations. There is nothing in the pages of the New Testament to make us think the geographical focus of the commission will be lifted before the return of Christ.”

Not much to disagree with here; although, your implication that a “geographical focus” is a necessity, is a weak one for our modern times. Even our etymological dictionaries recognize the change over time in the English word “nation.” I quote, “Political sense has gradually taken over from racial meaning ‘large group of people with common ancestry.’" I painstakingly tried to prevent you from using old words in a modern way in my previous posts by the use of the Greek word “ethnos” instead of the English word “nations” which today means “political entities.” The Great Commission is not about political entities but about “races, tribes, and peoples” – ethnic groups – which have representatives all over the world. So, for one to say that we need to send missionaries to every one of the 221 political entities (nations) in the world today to fulfill the Great Commission, is to read a modern meaning into Jesus’ words of two thousand years ago. Inappropriately attributing modern meanings to ancient written words, I think is what’s gotten those “Left Behind” folks into such a prophetical quagmire. :>)

”Jesus' commission is based upon and geared toward the great covenant promise God gave to Abraham: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3) There has always been, and there must always be, a worldwide focus of gospel-centered churches. We see this focus in Jesus' repetition of the commission in Acts 1:8, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.

I’m certainly no Hebrew scholar, but a simple check in my Hebrew concordance and lexicon revealed some basic observations. The word “earth” in Gen. 12:3 is the Hebrew word adamah which means “soil, ground, land, earth.” Within the context the passage, where blessings and cursings were mentioned, along with the nation God is raising up with Abraham (Israel), that "all the families of the land or ground" (rather than “earth” as a geographic expanse), appears to work better. In fact, if “earth” here means “geographic expanse” - as you contend - then a better Hebrew word egrets would have been used. See how this word is used in the same surrounding passages, like Gen 12:5 “…they went forth into the land of Caanan” which describes geographic locality. In fact, egrets is most often translated “earth” in the OT when the “geographic expanse” of the known world is being described. Just do a Strong’s concordance search and you’ll see what I mean.

As far as the “end of the earth” in Acts 1:8 goes, context is very important here as well. The “end of the earth” is really referring to the Roman empire. This is supported by Jesus starting with where there were now (Jerusalem), then slightly expanding out to Judea, then Samaria, and then to the rest of the known civilized world at that time – the Roman empire. Gary DeMar makes this point as well as some scholars I think. And, I know that you wouldn't what to wrongly attribute two meanings to the word "earth" here as that would be an exegetic "no-no," wouldn't it?

And, again, for us “to witness” to all the different ethnic groups, does not necessarily require that we travel to every corner of the globe. To say that we are commanded to do so, is reading into the text.

”More broadly, the pattern we see in the church of the new covenant is a pattern of sending. All we have to do is read through Acts and the Epistles to count up how many people were sent from one place to another for the purpose of gospel ministry: Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Philip, Silas, Timothy, Apollo, Titus, etc. The book of Philippians is especially strong with the expectation and need for sending: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (2:25)...a Christian church is one that sends laborers into the harvest fields, near and far.”

No argument here. My point was God has given us a wonderful opportunity to disciple the different ethnos who have come to study or work temporarily in our country and send them out back to their own countries to disciple their own people. We basically are ignoring this opportunity when sending non-natives to those very same countries.

”In response to the charge that a focus on international missions is a foolish waste of money and resources and an unnecessary danger, I would note the following: Gospel ministry has never operated according to the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:4-5); remember the story of Paul being forbidden by the Spirit from going to Asia! This doesn't mean we don't use wisdom - it means we seek and use heavenly wisdom. If God has decided to use the foolishness of international missions for the building of His church, we are in no position to disagree. As to the threat of danger, we must weigh it seriously, but if the church comes the point where we aren't willing to risk our lives for the kingdom, what really has become of us”?

You need to better qualify that, Jared. I said, in effect, that “a focus on international missions is a foolish waste of money and resources and an unnecessary danger” only when there is a better alternative. When it is prudent and necessary to do so, we certainly can send out a non-native missionary. I think I was pretty clear on that in my previous posts.


”In response to the charge that international missions can be accomplished in our own backyard, I say "amen." But it's an "amen" with a qualification. God has providentially arranged the world so ministry in American can have consequences reaching farther than ever before. But this isn't enough: there are yet some countries that have no significant presence in America. And even among those that do, there are families and certain groups in societies which will never be represented in America, being prevented by poverty and/or oppression.

Jared, I never said we couldn’t send Americans to those countries “that have no significant presence in America.” Also, I never said that countries that were well represented here (ethnos that moved here and became citizens), could not still be “discipled.” Although, it would make better sense for the same ethnos to be discipling their own people overseas for a multitude of reasons.

”In response to the charge that American missions is prideful, given the greater numbers of Christians elsewhere and the moral decline of the American church, I would reply: hogwash. Proper missions says: we are both sinful and worthless. The only difference is the access to God I've found in Christ. There is no pride in evangelism, local or worldwide. Also, it's important to note that, despite the decline of the American church, she still has much to offer a needy world. Even as the numbers of American believers declines, the church still has more financial resources than any national church at any point in history. Simply put, we can afford to send more missionaries and so we ought. Furthermore, the American church has a wealth of theology and men and women with ability to impart that theology to the baby churches around the world. Realization of our theological and monetary resources isn't prideful as long as we recognize the Giver of the Gifts.”

Jared, your argument sounds good, but there’s still a growing problem that is not being addressed in our country. Africa, for one, I know is sending missionaries to America! They see the moral decay and the “field ripe for harvest.” Maybe if we took better care of our own “harvest field,” then more Africans could stay home and better serve their own people.

”But even if we had no money and our theology was paper thin, we must still go. Always going, always sending, the church - every church, everywhere - must participate in the great commission, beginning with our neighbors and extending to the corners of the earth. This is Jesus' plan for extending His dominion over the nations (not just individuals, but nations!) - may God keep us from anything that would hinder our participation in His plan.”

Jared, this would be very inspirational….if we were still living in the early days of the Roman Empire. But, today, the Kingdom of God has advanced mightily. There are billions of Christians spread throughout world. Today’s Christian nations are among the richest nations on earth. They are THE freest nations on earth. We have many more options to spread the Gospel in much more effective, efficient, and economical (more “bang for the buck”) ways than to use the missionary paradigm of old. There still is a place for the traditional missionary, but he no longer needs to be the “first pitcher out of the bullpen.” :>)

Ellen Olivetti said...

I guess I'm being overly simplistic here, but Jesus said, "Go," so I guess we'd better do it.

Jared said...

Kurt, I modified the wording in my first paragraph as you requested.

Thanks for your comments. I am not persuaded by your arguments - but based on past experience, I'm not going to respond in detail.

Kurt said...

Ellen,

I guess we better take a sword (or a gun in our modern times) when we "go" because Jesus said that too! :>)

BTW, Jared, I'm curious. Why are you leaving the word "solely" in your first paragraph? I don't think anyone made such a proposition.

Jared said...

Because I believe "solely" will be the practical outworking of "more". If we focus "more" on those around us, we will come to the day when no one is going away from their nation to disciple the nations.

kurt said...

Jared,

That's what you believe may come of "more" but that is not what your paragraph says. You need to correct it or you're misrepresenting what others have said.

Jared said...

No, I'll leave it. I think the paragraph represents fairly - especially since you weren't the only one to respond to the last post.

Anonymous said...

does this work?
Jon

Anonymous said...

Why "few" means "few"
A is correct. The harvest IS plentiful, BUT the laborers are few.
The action point in this verse is that the laborers are few. As an economist I would say that labor is the scarce resource. ( We might talk later about other scarce resources; money, time, transportation, housing etc.) The point of pointing out that a shortage of laborers exists is to make this reality known, so that the believers will not waste this resource.
Lets say....I am a harvester. Lets also say that my harvest is complete (or enough complete) that I might be in a position to share some of my abilities with others who are not finished.
My first instinct would be to look across the county road and ask Dale if he needs harvest help. I have known Dale for years. Dale trusts me. If Dale needs my help no doubt we could work side by side on his harvest, building upon the relationship we have had over the years I would probably only be able to help him for part of the day because I still have responsibilities at home ( I forgot to tell you that I have 4 young harvests in progress and a harvest-mate to tend to) but home is just across the street so nothing could more efficient than helping out Dale. My prayer is that when I finish Dale's harvest he will join me and we both can cross the other rock road and help Scott with his harvest. Scott knows Dale and I. Scott trusts Dale ( long story he tolerates me). Can you imagine the harvesting force if Scott, Dale, and I all go to help Ed then A.J., David, Jimmy, Larry, and Steve. And I never had to cross a paved road or go more than a couple of miles. I stayed in my own home, worshiped in my home church, was spiritually supported in my own Bible study, spoke my own language, drove my own car, and paid my own way.
BUT
I’m ashamed to say I have never shared the gospel of Christ with Dale, Scott, Ed, A.J. David, Jimmy, Larry, or Steve.
The trap that has been set for me and I have fallen into is the same one we Americans always do. I call it the “paid staff syndrome”. In this country we have fallen into the temptation of paying professionals to do the work for us. Professional; law enforcement, teachers, daycare, gardeners, pastors and missionaries. If we can simply pay a staffer to take care of our duties our minds can be freed of the guilt burden of our responsibilities given to us by God.

This reality was first shown to me when a girl was hired by our church to “go” to Yemen to work on the “harvest” This young single girl was “sent” to a land hostile to the gospel in an effort to illegally spread the Word. It felt good that we were doing our part in spreading the Word to the corners of the world, but!! She flew from the US thru Detroit Metro Airport. Detroit has a larger population of Yemenese than in all of Yemen, save one city. It is not illegal to share Christ in Detroit. One can minister in Detroit and support yourself. The middle-eastern peoples in Detroit, by definition, have a desire to leave the ways of Yemen / Islam, at least in part. And like Yemen, {lil Yemen} Dearborn/ Detroit finds that THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL AND THE LABORERS ARE FEW. But she “went” and ministered, and survived. Yet this experience made me think about the inefficiency of the entire situation. It seems like this harvester was encouraged to tip-toe past her “Dale” needing help in search for some unknown “Dale” in an exotic far away land. Sorry I don’t get it, given our shortage of laborers.
This is not to say that no one should ever go to Yemen. My hope is that Yemenese from Dearborn will someday soon return to their native country freed from the burden of Islam excited to share the liberation of Jesus with their families at home. For they have their own “Dales, Eds, and Scotts” who trust them, look like them, eat like them and even smell like them. Amway did not create multi -level marketing, God did. So go now to the ends of the world. The first step needs to be across the street. Start your upline with your’ Dale’. I believe God will bless your effort and take care of the ends of the world in His time.

Jon H.

Jared said...

Jon, I appreciate much of what you write, especially the challenge about our "Dale"s. But I would like to take issue with a couple points.

1. Part of your argument is from the inefficiency of world missions. I would counter that efficiency is beside the point if God has clearly told us to go. That is, we can't use economics to weasel out of a command just because we could think of a better way to do it. Is it inefficient? Perhaps. But it boils down to this: if we believe God said "go" we go, whether or not we believe it will bear fruit. I made this point in my sermon on Sunday about Peter's obedience in the boat: he put down the nets before he saw one fish. He had no earthly reason to believe it would work. But he obeyed before he saw the fruit of obedience. So must we.

2. I believe the reason Jesus pointed out that the "laborers are few" was not so we would be careful with our resources, but so that we would pray! I say this with confidence, because it's the reason Jesus Himself gave for that statement. We are never told to conserve our spiritual resources - we are told to spend them with great liberality and see how God will supply the increase.

3. Re: discipling the Middle East via Detroit - if we baptize and disciple folks in Detroit, we're "reaching" ex-patriates, not real Middle Easterners. How many of them will return? Almost none. And so we must go.
Additionally, we must go because the nation belongs to Jesus, not just the people. The whole kit and caboodle (families, government, culture) must be brought into submission to Jesus Christ. And so we must go.

I'm not sure about this - but I sense on your part a merely economic, dollars-and-cents way of looking at this question. But we must first address it Biblically and spiritually. Only when everything else is equal does the money or efficiency part come into question. As stated in the original post, everything isn't equal (i.e., the Bible's pretty clear about this) - so to look at it through the goggles of economics isn't fair.

Apples of Gold said...
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Jason said...

One idea that stood out fairly boldly for me from Chesterton's Heretics was:

"When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk
about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk
about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot
be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation
than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and
the New Jerusalem. There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to
run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None
of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for
efficiency" (5-6).

While we certainly need to be wise with the resources God gives, I'm not sure we can always gage effectivness by a linear equation. Often there seems to be a mysterious working of God that can't be factored in. Our lives are His to use however He sees fit, whether they appear to others to be effective or not.

Kurt said...

Jason, I certainly agree with you that “there seems to be a mysterious working of God that can't be factored in” that “our lives are His to use however He sees fit…”

One way we know this for certain is by seeing that God uses our mistakes to bring about His will. For example, God used a movie presentation of the Gospel containing physical representations of Jesus to bring a friend to Christ. Now, is that the way God wants us to present His Gospel? We don’t believe so (due to second commandment difficulties), but God used it anyway. God’s plan will not be thwarted, even by wrong-headed decisions made by His own people in the effort to announce the Gospel.

As a fellow member of the book club that read through Heretics, I don’t think Chesterton would entirely agree with your application of his words, however. In your quote, we see him contrasting “processes” (efficiency – i.e., counting beans) versus “aims” (vision seeking – “dreaming big”), within the context of “weak and ineffective” and “vigorous” societies. Weak societies tend to concentrate too much on “watching their steps” while forgetting to keep their aims in mind, while strong societies tend to keep their aims front and center. In other words, weak societies tend to “miss the forest for the trees.”

In addition, we need to remember that Chesterton also thought that we shouldn’t do things for the sake of doing them. We don’t “do” art for art’s sake. Neither should we “go” for going’s sake, especially when considering the true “aim” of Jesus’ command. By placing undue importance on “going” (the process) along side the Gospel (the aim), Christians would risk being “weak and ineffectual” according to Chesterton.

Surely, I hope we can see by now that Christians, who desire to innovatively use opportunities provided by God to better attain the “aim” or “big dream” of obeying Jesus’ command (to “announce the Gospel, disciple the peoples, and baptize them”), should not be condemned for somehow not fulfilling it by not always promoting the “sending” of local Christians to other parts of the world.

kurt said...
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Kurt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.