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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
At various times in history, Christians have taken the great commission in various directions. At some points, Christians have said, ‘It’s been fulfilled.’ At other points, Christians basically said, ‘Well, if God wants to save the heathen, then he’s going to do it without my or your help.’ And at other times, it has spurred Christians on into action globally so that men left their homes and families to go to places where the gospel was unknown. At this point in history, I’d like to suggest that we take it a little more mundanely. We still ought to be concerned for wise missions across the oceans. But we’ve got to realize that our first calling is to where we are at. I’ve just super-skimmed an article by Tim Keller about looking for revival in our secular world, and there are two things he said I’ve recently read and thought: first, we’ve got to get back every member carrying the gospel. And we’ve got to be creative. And this work is going to be blanketed in prayer and effected through the permeation of the word of God in our whole lives. So let’s think through these things.
First, every member. We’ve got to reflect on the every member nature of the early church. Of course, Paul and Peter and the other apostles were instrumental in the spread of the gospel. But then again, they were only twelve guys. How did the church spread from 12 to 10,000 in the first few years of the church? Is is plausible that is was just those 12 guys? No, instead, there was a common burden that every Christian live faithful and fruitful lives. This doesn’t mean that everyone was going out and evangelizing everyone on the streets. But it does mean that every Christian didn’t shyly hide their identity. In fact, Christians had to chose not to do engage in pagan practices, and they still worked to live charitably with their neighbors. What described the early Christians wasn’t zeal. Instead, it was patience. Patience in suffering. Yes. But sometimes patience in fleeing persecution. Sometimes patience in being uprooted like those Christian Jews who were expelled from Rome for a time. But what happened in this patience? The Christians diligently lived holy lives to God. There were immature Christians who needed to be told not to commit adultery. There were Christians in a point of weakness denied Christ and offered incense to the emperor. And yet even in how the church recalled these members to the gospel was a proclamation of the patience that we Christians are called to today.
And I’m afraid we aren’t very patient today. I know I’m not. I’m tempted to push the process faster than God has ordained. The Christian church has expected that evangelism and conversions happen at the drop of a hat after you share your testimony. In the grand scheme of things, we should expect that our evangelism, as we sow the seed of the word diligently, to bear fruit over the decades. But imagine if even every Christian faithful labored in seeking to make disciples if only one person came to Christ through your weak efforts through your whole life. God has done an amazing work through you. And any more than one person that the Lord saves through you statistically moves towards an exponential growth. And then how about the people that you aided in coming just a little further along? In our zeal for immediacy, we sometimes forget the glory of the limited fruit God has produced near us. And I think too that in our seal for immediacy and in our busy life style we actually neglect instructing young Christians properly so that they can endure suffering. I’m afraid that the fruit of the past 100 years of the church’s instruction has been an anemic preparation especially for the upcoming season of secularity. And so, dig in deeper to endure the long haul, and be diligent in your sowing.
I planted watermelon plants last year, but I failed. I wasn’t patient with them. I didn’t water them enough. I didn’t give them the space they needed. Instead the squash and other stuff took over. I didn’t get one watermelon because I packed the plants in, wasn’t diligent in tending them, and I wasn’t patient with them. This year, I tried again, but I’ve given them the space they need, the water they need, and I am careful in tending them. I expect fruit. We are going to have failures, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We’ve got next year to plant again, tend more carefully, amend the soil, and water properly.
I think that the hope in creativity is often misplaced, but if we actually tend the church and our Christian witness more consistently, I expect that the Lord will open hearts and minds and bring the dead back to life. I honestly think one of the problems of the past 100 years has been the lack of faithfulness to the core of what scripture calls the church to even with tons of creativity. It’s not that we shouldn’t be creative. It’s that we’ve got to first build healthy churches who know what they confess and confess what they love. It’s that we’ve got to pursue whole-hearted worship as we gather and as we scatter. It’s that our gatherings should be bathed in prayer, permeated with God’s word, and infused with the gospel of Jesus Christ. At All Nations, we’ve never had a show to enjoy, we’re too small. We’ve never had flashy graphics, we don’t have a graphics department (and yours truly is the website admin.) So what? We take what we’ve got and pursue faithfulness to where we can go. And I think as we pursue this faithful health, we will find ways of inviting those we’ve evangelized to see how we love one another. And I think as we pursue this diligent and devoted witness that we’ll find ways of proving to the secular world the goodness of the gospel against any accusation. And perhaps by some means, we might save some to the glory of God.