Mandate for World Evangelism
Part IX: The Dream: The Evangelization of the World in a Generation
“While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces … But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.” Daniel 2:34-35
Are present day disciples called to evangelize the world in our “generation?” Many teachers have minimized this centuries long dream of God or have simply chosen to ignore it in their treatises concerning “Christian freedom,” “the role of evangelists and elders,” and “autonomy of individual congregations.” Let us also consider that though “Christian movements” have over centuries “gone around the world,” the evangelization of the world in a lifetime has not been accomplished since the first century. (Colossians 1:6) Therefore, in future articles in this series, Scriptures will be shared that will reveal that world evangelism is not only God’s dream for each generation, but that by faith it is possible!
God’s eternal plan from before the beginning of time was to create a people that would love him forever. In the Old Testament God uses prophecy and foreshadowing to reveal His heart for a lost world. We must remember that the Old Testament was the “Scriptures” of the Christians in the first century. Foreshadowing occurs when our sovereign God orchestrates the physical events of the Old Testament to parallel the spiritual truths He reveals in the New Testament. For example, the Hebrews’ slavery in Egypt parallels our slavery to sin in our old lives. The blood of a lamb smeared over the doorposts saved each Hebrew firstborn from physical death. This parallels the blood of Jesus, the Lamb, saving us from eternal death. (John 1:29) Crossing the Red Sea represents baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-2); the wanderings in the desert correspond to our new Christian lives; the crossing of the Jordan represents our physical death. (We sing about this in the song “Jordan River.”) And finally their Promised Land is our heaven! Understanding the Old Testament foreshadowing of New Testament doctrines is essential to deeply appreciating the breadth of God’s love and His plan of salvation.
As we begin to comprehend God’s desire to teach us about His love, let us examine some of the most convincing Old Testament prophecies about world evangelism and God’s eternal Kingdom. In Genesis 12:1-3 God tells Abram, “I will make you into a great nation…and all people on earth will be blessed through you.” The first level of fulfillment of this prophecy is in the building of a physical nation – Israel. Exodus 1:7 reads, “But the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so the land was filled with them.” We learn from this passage that it was in Egypt that God began to form a great nation through human families physically multiplying (being fruitful) in great numbers. (This is a foreshadowing of spiritual fruitfulness by the multiplying of disciples under the new covenant.) However, the second level of fulfillment is the concept of all people – Jews and Gentiles – being blessed through Abraham’s seed – Jesus. This promise is further detailed in Genesis 22:17 when God sees Abraham’s faith when he was willing to “sacrifice his one and only son,” (more Old Testament foreshadowing.) Then the promise is given, “your descendants will be as numerous as… stars in the sky.” In Deuteronomy 1:10, Moses preached this promise was fulfilled in the Jews by the time he led the Jews out of Egypt. However, we by faith understand it also means all Christians of all time because Genesis 22:18 adds all nations on earth will be blessed, both Jew and Gentile! You and I as disciples are part of the fulfillment of this prophecy! God has always desired to be loved and glorified by all nations!
Isaiah 2:1-4 is another powerful prophecy of the New Testament Kingdom and world evangelism. God tells a hurting and backsliding Israel there will be a day, when the mountain (Old Testament symbolism for kingdom/nation) of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains and all nations will stream into it. (This initially begins to be fulfilled in Acts 2:5, see verse five!) Then God adds in verse four, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” This is because we will have brothers in all nations and we would not want to kill our brother! Also, in Isaiah 11:1-9, the prophecy of a kingdom built from the stump of Jesse (the remnant Jews) will someday be a unique fellowship where previous adversaries “will neither harm nor destroy” as referenced by “the wolf will walk with the lamb.” Then in verse 9, the great proclamation of this grand vision is concluded by “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the earth.” Only through world evangelism could this be fulfilled.
Finally for this article we will study the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel retells the dream in Daniel 2:31-35 and then interprets it in verses 36-45. In this dream there is a huge statue of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel says these metals represent certain kingdoms. Borrowing from our high school history courses, we know that gold represents the Babylonian Kingdom, silver the Medo-Persian Empire, bronze symbolizes Alexander the Great’s Kingdom and the iron the Roman Empire. According to the dream, during the days of the Roman Empire “a rock was cut out, but not by human hands… it struck the statue on its feet of iron… and smashed it… the wind swept away without leaving a trace…However, the rock struck the statue and became a huge mountain and FILLED THE WHOLE EARTH.”
Obviously, if something is “not made by human hands,” it is of God! The rock is Christ! The mountain is the Kingdom – the church – and those of faith in heaven, for this kingdom will never be destroyed! (Daniel 2:44) However, let’s focus on Daniel 2:35. In the dream, the rock becomes a mountain and fills the whole earth! This is what God desires for His Kingdom, to “fill the whole earth!” God through prophecy lays the foundation for Jesus and His Great Commission to the apostles, “Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19) This is how God plans to bless all people on earth! Simply stated, this is the mandate of God for world evangelism.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentiles.” In the eyes of God, all mankind is divided into two groups. First are the Jews, those who possess the law and the true knowledge of God. The second group is the Gentiles, those who do not have the law.
In Romans 1:18-32 Paul preaches emphatically that all Gentiles are lost, because of “all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Since God has revealed His eternal power and divine nature in creation, Paul states, “Men are without excuse,” to not follow God’s precepts. In the second half of chapter one, Paul specifically details many of the sinful acts of man. The Holy Spirit is very clear, the Gentiles are lost.
In Romans 2 and 3, Paul decrees that all Jews are lost! Many of these Jews “brag about the law,” but “dishonor God by breaking the law.” He goes on to ask the rhetorical question, “What advantage is there in being Jewish?” He answers by saying, “They have been entrusted with the very words of God.” Then he writes that through the law, they became “conscious of sin.” Therefore, since no mortal man can keep the law without at least one transgression, no Jew will be declared righteous by perfectly keeping the law.
Romans 3:19 declares, “the whole world is held accountable” by God. Chapters 1-3 are summarized in Romans 3:23, “All [both Jews and Gentiles] sin and fall short of the glory of God!” All are lost and our only hope is “faith in Christ’s blood.” (Romans 3:25) Many through the centuries have asked the question, “What about the man in Africa, that does not have the Word of God? How could a “just” God condemn him?” Romans 2:12-16 specifically addresses this most crucial issue, because if people are not lost without the Bible, there would be no motivation for world evangelism.
In essence, Romans 2:12-16 teaches that those who have the law (which we parallel to the Bible) will be judged by the law – the Bible. No one is perfectly obedient to the Word; all fall short – they sin. Therefore, all who have the Bible are lost. Then Paul says that those without the law (which can be paralleled to those without the Bible) will be judged apart from the law, apart from the Bible. Now that’s fair! “The requirements of law are written on their heart,” therefore God judges them by their conscience. Since no one perfectly lives up to their conscience, all who do not have the Bible, are lost.
When we come to a deep conviction that we live in a lost world, we must come to an equally deep conviction about what the Bible teaches about salvation. The entire theme of the book of Romans is “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) In Romans 4, Paul explains that being justified before God has always been by faith not works. He shows that the father of faith Abraham was saved, not because of circumcision or the law but by his faith: “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” To reinforce this concept, in verse nine another rhetorical question is asked, “Was Abraham justified by faith before or after circumcision?” The answer is before. Then Paul explains this concept so all who are uncircumcised (Gentiles) may call Abraham their father of faith as well as the Jews who do so by lineage. Therefore, the Jew is saved by faith and the Gentile has no need for circumcision. Both Jew and Gentile can only be justified by faith.
In Romans 5:1-10, Paul reminds the Christians in Rome they were “powerless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies” before they became disciples. In chapter six, he reminds all that they died to their old lives in baptism and they were, like Christ, “raised to a new life.” Let us never cheapen the grace of God by under emphasizing our degenerated state without God. Our only hope of salvation is to respond in faith – believe intellectually in the resurrection of Christ, be cut about our sins crucifying Jesus, repent by turning away from sin and deciding to be a disciple and then being baptized for the forgiveness of sins to receive God’s promised Holy Spirit! (Acts 2:36-42) To be saved by faith means to respond to God’s grace through repentance and baptism.
Perhaps the most overwhelming teaching of God’s Word is that the world is lost. Only the gospel has the power of salvation. And as Paul preaches in Romans 10:14-15, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they believe without someone preaching to them?… How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Let us be uncompromising on this truth: the only plan God has provided for the world to be saved, which begins with our next door neighbor, is by our feet taking the gospel to them – world evangelism.
“Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord. “Go and inquire of the Lord… for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the Word of the Lord.”
2 Kings 22:8, 13
During the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, God’s people drifted so far from Him that they lost the Book of the Law! Most scholars believe this “Lost Book” was Deuteronomy! After King Josiah’s zeal for God began the restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law was found by the High Priest in the temple! When the Spirit-filled words of this book were read to Josiah, he tore his clothes, wept and asked the Lord, “What are the consequences for not keeping the Word?” Because of his humility and brokenness, God gave him and his people mercy. Motivated by this mercy, Josiah’s restoration movement becomes even more radical. Of primary importance, he unifies the remnant by initiating a public renewing of God’s covenant as found in the lost Book, first with the elders and then with all the people. Guided by Deuteronomy, radical sweeping changes now rapidly occur in worship and life. This culminates in the greatest celebration of the Passover ever! (2 Kings 23:22)
For us over 2600 years later, it is almost unimaginable that our “brothers of faith” could have lost the entire Book of Deuteronomy! In our day, something especially shocking has been lost; God’s plan to give everyone on earth the opportunity to be saved. Truth: Jesus is God’s only path for salvation. (John 14:6) Truth: there is only one Biblical response to be saved – faith, repentance and baptism. (Acts 2:38) However, hidden in God’s Word for centuries, most have lost God’s only plan to save the entire world in a lifetime – the multiplication of disciples. Truth.
This plan is fully revealed through the three year ministry of Jesus. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus knew He was the hope of both Jew and Gentile – all who were “poor…prisoners…blind…and oppressed.” (Luke 4:18) The very mention of this radical vision in His home synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry resulted in an uproar and a brutal attempt to kill Him. (Luke 4:28-30)
After this incident, Jesus traveled “throughout Galilee preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23) Many followed him from Judea, Jerusalem, the Decapolis, and the region across the Jordan! He preached to the masses. True to His Father’s vision, Jesus made disciples. After about six months, Jesus went up on a mountain where he prayed all night for one of the most crucial decisions of his ministry. In the morning, “He called his disciples to Him and chose twelve of them” (Luke 6:13) He called them apostles – “messengers” – “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” Jesus was not only training preachers, but by revealing God’s principle of focusing on a few, he was discipling as a group the future leaders of a new kingdom. By walking with Him daily the Twelve learned the Word of God and saw how to preach effectively. Equally as important, they saw how to impact individuals. Interestingly, in John 4:1 the Pharisees note that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than John. “Although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” Different than John the Baptist as well as in modern denominations where only the preacher wins souls, Jesus was multiplying His effort with the Twelve doing the baptizing, not Him.
The Twelve, after watching Jesus call people to repentance as well as perform miracles, were sent out two by two to preach the Word and cast out demons! (Mark 6:7) Gradually Jesus calls the apostles to do more and more on their own. The apostles represent a second generation of disciples. By Luke 10 Jesus appoints 72 others to be preachers of the Word, admonishing them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” This is an interesting number. Perhaps Jesus allowed the six pairs of apostle to be the leaders of their own twelve! This would have allowed the paired apostles to begin to replicate how Jesus had walked and worked with them!
When the seventy-two returned to share about their successes, they were fired up! (Luke 10:17) After this time of sharing, Jesus pulled the Twelve aside privately. He says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but did not see it.” He wanted them to mark this momentous moment of the multiplying of a third generation of disciples! Though slow and numerically few, His every effort was intended to build a movement that would change the world.
After His resurrection, Jesus returns to Galilee where He gives the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20) Implicit in this command is a teacher-student discipling relationship. It begins before baptism and then continues afterwards, as we are to teach each other to obey the commands. However, if one studies the ministry of Jesus, we see other types of discipling relationships. Jesus set up adult-adult relationships by pairing up the apostles as well as “group discipling” by Jesus, the leader of the group. The apostles were commanded by word and example to put into practice all of these types of discipling relationships.
After Jesus’ ascension, in 29 AD, the faithful numbered 120. This included the Twelve, the 72, Jesus’ mother and brothers and the women followers of Jesus. (Acts 1:14-15) No doubt, this group believed in discipling and on their first day of preaching, 3000 were baptized! Three thousand new disciples were “added to their number” The unique power of the movement of Jesus was His call to be as committed as Him and to put into practice His ministry of discipling. From this point the number of disciples exponentially multiplies! “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47)”The number of men grew to about 5000…” (Acts 4:4) “Nevertheless more and more men and women believed…and were added to their number.” (Acts 5:14) “In those days where the number of disciples was increasing…” (Acts 6:1) “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly…” (Acts 6:7) “The church [the movement – no autonomy] throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria… grew in numbers…” (Acts 9:31-32) “The Word of God continued to increase and spread…” (Acts 12:24) “They spoke so effectively [in Iconium] that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.” (Acts 14:21) “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5) “These are the men who have turned the world upside down for Jesus!” (Acts 17:6 RSV) By 62 AD, Paul writes the whole world has heard. The whole world had been evangelized!
Today many churches in the ICOC fellowship have either abandoned discipling relationships or compromised them by teaching there is no such thing as teacher-student (one-over-one discipling) relationships in the Scriptures. This is devastating false teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-4) No wonder so many disciples are confused, lonely, lukewarm and lacking zeal for souls. One person teaching another is the essence of the method and ministry of Jesus. Let us not forget Josiah’s humble response to the words of the lost Book of God. His concern was that God is angry when we fail to obey his Word. Making disciples is a command of God for every true Christian. Jesus built God’s movement on the now lost plan of multiplying disciples. It was and still is the only plan of God to evangelize the world. And to God be the glory!
“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s love for a lost world is utterly incomprehensible. God loves lost souls so much that he sent Jesus to die for all sins of all mankind of all time. Our appreciation of this “amazing grace” is directly proportional to how much we are motivated to live the Christian life. (1 Corinthians 15:10) In motivating each disciple in Corinth to become passionate ambassadors for Christ, Paul writes, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) Paul continues and exhorts the Christians to no longer look at people from a worldly perspective – we must see those around us as hurting and lost. Paul reasons that we who are in Christ have become “a new creation, the old has gone, the new is come;” therefore he admonishes, “Since God reconciled us to himself through Christ, he then gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) It is interesting to note in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ … and he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Paul is saying, yes, Jesus died for the entire world’s sins, but God has given the responsibility to win a lost world to disciples – we all have become ministers of reconciliation! In denominational churches, only the paid staff are ministers. In churches composed of disciples, every member should be a minister!
In Chapter 6:4-9, Paul pointedly shares the price he has paid to preach the Word, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed.” This is the price to be a servant of God, a minister of reconciliation, an ambassador of Christ – a disciple. By no means does this earn our salvation, but it should be our response to receiving God’s grace.
If our family of churches is going to evangelize the world in our generation we must go back to the cross. When we remember how much we have been forgiven, then our evangelism, sacrifice, lifestyle and relationships will be motivated out of this overwhelming appreciation for God’s grace. Today, too many churches preach a message of “cheap grace.” Cheap grace says, “Just feel good that you are saved; after all you are not saved by works.” True, works do not save us, but grace cannot be without effect. (1 Corinthians 15:10) Church leaderships with the theological persuasion of cheap grace, will not call church members to spend time with God everyday or to be involved in one another’s lives by discipling, by obeying the “one another” passages. These members simply come to church when “they feel like it.” In many of our churches, the preachers are not calling their congregations to go out and share their faith. There is simply a lukewarm commitment. Where there is lukewarmness, we can be sure the Word and God’s grace are not being preached. (Revelation 3:14-21) Cheap grace is only a Satanic fate of salvation. One can lose the grace of God. In 2 Corinthians 6:1 Paul admonishes, “Since you are God’s fellow workers do not receive God’s grace in vain.”
Today, sadly in most autonomous congregations, preachers are afraid to preach the truth, some because they themselves are confused by Satan (John 8:43-45) and do not have a clear message. Others hold back from fear of church boards, elders, the people, and losing their jobs. (Where do we find preachers restricted in the Bible?) These same preachers and members alike pull back out of suspicion and cowardice from fellowshipping some churches because they do not want to be associated with controversy which always comes with the radical call of grace, commitment and discipleship. They selectively preach Scriptures that do not challenge the people, and just as in Jeremiah’s time God says, “my people love it this way.” (Jeremiah 5:31) In many parts of the United States and the world, disciples report that their congregations have little fire in the services, with little zeal in their singing, little discipling, little warmth, and very few baptisms. Last week a visiting disciple to Portland shared his thoughts about being in the service. He said, “This is so refreshing. I have not been in an exciting worship service for so long. I’m moving here because this is the church I was converted in!” If we are to win the world, preachers must preach the Word at any cost, just like Stephen, just like Paul, just like Jesus.
Let me once again acknowledge and apologize for any sins whether intentional or unintentional (Leviticus 4) that I have directly or indirectly caused for any who are involved in discipling relationships. It is true that many of our churches drifted from preaching the cross as a disciple’s preeminent motivation. Numbers were too often used to motivate people to evangelize and it crushed them. Discipling became too authoritarian and controlling. We drifted from teaching obedience to the Word of God, to immature (and many mature) disciples calling for obedience to their opinions. Also in many cases, we failed to change the dynamics in the discipling relationships as people grew older physically as well as in the faith. In all discipling relationships, there should be a gradual shift from a teacher/student, mentoring dynamic to an adult-adult relationship. However, now is the time of forgiveness and not a bitter reaction or rejection of God’s only plan to win a lost world – “making disciples.” (Matthew 28:19) Remember, unrepentant bitterness will cause you to lose the grace of God. (Hebrews 12:15)
In the Portland Church, the leadership teaches that God expects newly baptized Christians to be in teacher/student discipling relationships. The very term disciple means student or learner! Carpenters have apprentices, doctors have interns, athletes have personal trainers and coaches, high school students have tutors and mentoring programs, and we believe the key to remedy and prevent further hurts is choice. In Portland we teach from the Bible that everyone is expected to be in discipling relationships. (We call these Discipleship Partners.) However, each member chooses how many, who it is, and the two of them define whether the relationship will be more teacher/student or adult/adult. Also every week, the leadership expects each member to be in an evangelistic, discipling group – Bible Talk. However, once again each member chooses the Bible Talk in which he or she will participate. In early January of this year, Wallace Arsmeier, Ron Inloes and myself studied with a man who committed a very serious crime. Also, he had persecuted his wife, who is a disciple, to the point of her almost falling away. When we studied sin, he confessed everything and cried uncontrollably. After his baptism, still under house arrest, he bought his wife a new car, new house and gave generously to our Missions Contribution all out of his retirement fund! He did this without any advice, but simply out of his gratitude for God’s grace. Last weekend was his first in prison. He called me collect. I asked, “How are you doing?” He said, “Awesome. I’m reading my Bible and have shared my faith with my fellow prisoners everyday so far!” This brother understands the grace of God and God’s call to be an ambassador for Christ! Yes, under the law of the United States he must serve time. But in Christ there is no law and he is totally forgiven by the blood of Christ. Now his Kingdom dream is to start a prison ministry!
One person once wrote, “To Jesus there was no difference between domestic and foreign missions, all was world evangelism.” As disciples we must individually and collectively humble ourselves before the cross. This will unleash the inexhaustible motivation of grace. Then and only then will we be the lifelong ministers of reconciliation God has called us to be. Disciples are God’s only plan to win a lost world. And to God be all the glory!
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
In this frightening passage, Jesus preaches to His disciples what will happen to His Kingdom, the then “modern day movement of God.” Encouragingly in verse 14, Jesus prophesies that indeed the “gospel of the Kingdom” will be preached around the world in their lifetime, and then the end will come. “The end” is not the end of time or the second coming of Jesus, but the end of the temple and the physical “Jewish nation” in 70 AD. Jesus’ prophecy of taking the gospel to the whole world is fulfilled by the time Paul writes Colossians in 62 AD! He exclaims, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.” (Colossians 1:6) However, Jesus tells the apostles while preaching to all nations, they will be “persecuted and put to death” and “hated by all nations because of Him.” Then came the passage that shocked me. In verses ten and eleven Jesus said when the Word was preached around the world, “many will turn away from the faith,” they (fellow disciples) will “betray and hate each other,” and “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” These two verses describe what is now taking place in so many of our family of churches.
Recently, I received this email feedback from the article “The Mandate for World Evangelism Part III: The Lost Plan.”
This disciple wrote:
“Amen, amen, amen! My husband and I are so encouraged! We are in _________, USA and are deeply concerned about the recent decisions our so-called leaders have made. True discipling has ceased, evangelism is spoken like it is a dirty word, autonomy had occurred (dis-unity) and more.
My husband and I have been praying about all this and finally tried to approach the leader of the church today regarding these things. Sadly, Satan had a tremendous victory. My husband and the evangelist were speaking with highly elevated voices. My husband got angry when the evangelist said he would not call people to evangelize or challenge people to date only disciples. The leader told my husband, “If you don’t like the way things are being done then you can leave.”
He also told us we have not contributed at all to the church. (Totally a lie and very hurtful.) At that point the leader said that the conversation was over.
Anyway, reading your article made me cry because ________, USA has forgotten the Word of God. Please pray for us. We have been disciples for 13 years and love God. Our church here is unraveling before our eyes. Some see, others are oblivious and sucked in. We don’t know what to do, except pray! Help! We literally are stuck in the desert! Love your true brother and sister in Christ, ____ and___ _________.
The above disciple couple realizes that the work of God, building a unified brotherhood of churches around the world through discipling, is being destroyed by those who preach autonomy. Many preach autonomy motivated by bitterness from the mistakes and sins of our past. They too are deceived by Satan because they refuse to see their own sins of rebellion and severed relationships. They label the heroes of our past as pharisees and criticize their “leadership style.” Yet their own congregations continue to shrink and have little zeal for souls. Once more I stand in awe of God, as Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:12 ring true, “The love of many will grow cold.”
The email asked for help. So I called and talked with the brother. I shared Matthew 24 with him and gave him the advice of Jesus in verse 13, “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned these past two years is to draw close to God. Too many of us have confused God and the church. Do not get me wrong, I still want to be in a church that loves and trust each other with our lives. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) However, the church is imperfect and at times will utterly disappoint us. Why? Because it is full of imperfect men like you and me. God is perfect and he will never forsake us. (1 Hebrews 13:5)
In 1 Hebrews 13:6, I have gained courage to boldly preach the Word remembering, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” At the end of the conversation, this brother asked, “What more can I do?” I simply said to seek out a congregation where God is honored, discipling is practiced and many are being baptized. That night, they called me back saying they are traveling several hours to come to Portland’s married retreat in April! They are willing to do whatever it takes to stand firm! We should not be shocked by this kind of commitment. This level of commitment should be the ideal and the standard! Therefore, let us always be in awe of God and His unwavering love for us – by this faith, we will stand firm.
“Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire… He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
1. Sal·va·tion (s l-v sh n)- Jesus is the only way of salvation. (Acts 4:12) Every person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9) To accept this grace and become a true Christian each person must believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, repent of his or her sins, make the decision to be a disciple, and to complete their obedience to the gospel, be baptized in water to receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) From the early days of the Boston Movement (International Churches of Christ) we referred to Christians as baptized disciples (or simply as disciples) because the terms “Christian” and “believer” were so fuzzy and so undefined in the secular and religious worlds. (Acts 11:26)
2. Church U·ni·ver·sal (y n -vûr s l) – The church universal comprises all disciples of the world that God sees when he looks down from heaven into people’s hearts, whether they are in the ICOC, the mainline Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), the conservative Christian Churches (instrumental), in breakaway small groups, or a single disciple in a denominational church. God adds baptized disciples to his “church universal.” (Acts 2:41, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
3. Vis·i·ble Church (chûrch) – In the ICOC, the visible church exists as congregations where we have applied God’s standards in building congregations to be composed of only baptized disciples. This was one of the distinctive qualities of the ICOC. Even now in Portland, to be baptized you must be a disciple, to place membership you must be a baptized disciple and to be restored you must be willing to live the life of a baptized disciple.
4. God’s King·dom (k ng d m) – This is the same as the church universal. In the apostles’ time “Kingdom,” “movement,” “church universal,” “visible church” and “brotherhood” were synonymous. Today, a baptized disciple is in God’s Kingdom, the church universal, but not necessarily in God’s movement or visible church.
5. Broth·er·hood (br th r-h d ) – In 1 Peter 2:17 the Christians are admonished to “love the brotherhood of believers,” the church universal. However, scholars as well as church members have used the term “brotherhood” or “fellowship” to refer to a collection of churches sharing the same ideologies. For example, the mainline Churches of Christ considers itself a brotherhood, a fellowship. The International Churches of Christ considers itself a brotherhood, a fellowship.
6. Rem·nant (r m n nt)- At different points in history the sins of God’s people made Him so angry, He was forced to bring disaster on these people. These extreme measures were necessary to refine a few, a remnant, that is purified of heart and able to hear His collective call to be His people, His movement. For example, Noah and the seven others saved during the flood, or the remnant that returned to Jerusalem from the seventy year exile in Babylon. (Ezra 1:5)
7. Move·ment (m v m nt)- These individuals are bonded together in a “fellowship,” a “brotherhood,” that has a common mission. Movement implies growth numerically and expansion geographically.
8. Au·ton·o·my (ô-t n -m )- An autonomous congregation is one that is void of influence, direction, and authority from an outside individual or group. (This is the practice of the mainline Churches of Christ and the conservative Christian Churches.)
9. Great Com·mis·sion (k -m sh n) – Jesus called the eleven faithful apostles to evangelize all nations. (Matthew 28:16-20) This command extends to each generation to evangelize the world in their generation. Some have questioned whether it is God’s command to go to every nation in their generation. Literally in the Greek text of Matthew 28, Jesus commands the eleven apostles to, “disciple and baptize all the nations.” Implied in this is that this command be obeyed in their lifetime – one generation. Jesus called the apostles to be “witnesses to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Prayerfully, the past five articles on “The Mandate of God For World Evangelism,” have renewed our convictions that it is God’s dream for an evangelized world in our lifetime. Jesus came to save the world by dying for our sins, but He also came to save the world by building a new spiritual Kingdom, a movement that would sweep through the nations. The physical kingdom of Israel consisted of twelve tribes. These twelve tribes were the descendents of the twelve sons of Jacob the grandson of Abraham. These twelve sons’ families multiplied exponentially into twelve tribes which numbered approximately two million people by the time they left Egypt! (Numbers 1:44-46) To parallel the twelve tribes, Jesus selected twelve apostles. He walked with and discipled these men for three years and then charged them with the Great Commission. He gave them the “now lost plan” of multiplying disciples (Part III). And in their generation, the world heard the gospel! (Colossians 1:6)
With the advent of autonomy in many International Churches of Christ, brotherhood and world vision have been lost. In some nations, the national leaders want no part of their foreign spiritual fathers in the faith. Many churches in large cities are splitting into smaller churches or “autonomous” regions! Particularly in America, unity (which allows the forceful advancement of the gospel) in larger congregations is a rarity.
For the last few years, many have misunderstood the phrase the “Modern Day Movement of God.” Movement implies growth numerically
and expansion geographically. For the visible church, expansion is certainly the mission of God, “who wants all men to be saved.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) When growth and expansion are no longer taking place, a group of Christians ceases to be a movement; they become lukewarm and merely a fellowship. From 1979-2001, in the ICOC movement, there was a always a time when some churches were not growing, but the church as a whole was still baptizing and planting new churches. When a church was struggling, overseeing evangelists following in the footsteps of Paul, tried to give them special attention to help them “turn it around,” just as we would help individuals who were struggling. A disciple or a church may go through periods without growth, but we either grow or die.
Confusion has reigned for many years within the ICOC concerning the concept that, an individual can still be a disciple, be saved, and be a member of a church partly composed of disciples and partly of non-disciples. During the 1980’s, some brave souls from the mainline Churches of Christ and conservative Christian Churches came into the Boston Church and our plantings, collectively called “the Boston movement” because they saw something they had never seen before, a church composed of only disciples. (In 1994 we named ourselves the ICOC.) In essence, the ICOC was a unified remnant of disciples out of the Campus Ministry movements (preeminent was the Crossroads Movement) and the mainline Churches of Christ and the conservative Christian Church fellowships. Some were rebaptized, some were not. Here’s an excerpt from a recent email:
“They were mainliners [so] my father-in-law sold his business and moved to Toronto to be close to the [ICOC] church. They studied the Bible and the whole family was baptized!”
However, heroes such as George and Irene Gurganus and Pat Gempel were not rebaptized coming into the Boston movement from the mainline churches. In mainline churches, they had been converted to the “lordship of Christ” (the terminology of that day) and then baptized. (The common use of the terminology of “baptized disciples” began in Boston.)
Many have asked my opinion about the meeting in Abilene between some of the leaders of the mainline Churches of Christ and some of the leaders of the International Churches of Christ. I applaud the opening of the lines of communication. Some in the mainline Churches of Christ are disciples, our brothers. However, one of the main reasons for the separation between the two “brotherhoods” was the ICOC’s call and commitment that each congregation be composed solely of disciples. Why? We had a vision to evangelize the world. ICOC congregations were unified not autonomous because we realized we needed the spiritual, financial, and people resources of all the congregations to accomplish this task. God perpetuates His movement through disciples making disciples. From this concept, the ICOC planted churches that planted churches into 170 nations.
Now, with the questioning and in some cases the abandonment of “discipling,” the acceptance of autonomy, no overseeing evangelists, the distinctiveness of the ICOC churches from the mainline has greatly lessened. Sadly, some who were among our members feel they were deceived because we said the ICOC was “the true church.” Granted, we were not clear there are Christians in other “fellowships.” Yet by “true church,” we simply meant it was a church as in the Bible, composed of only disciples. This uniqueness produced a dynamic fellowship and outreach, unseen in church history since the first century. Though there were flaws and sins in our building of the churches, a closeness and warmth existed between all ICOC churches around the world because of the cross of Christ and our common mission.
Having attended Harding Graduate School (sponsored by the Churches of Christ), served as a minister for seven years in the mainline church and for a year as the campus minister to one of their colleges (Northeastern Christian Junior College) – I know there are true Christians in their membership, but many are uncommitted. Also autonomous congregations by definition are disunified and will never be a united movement necessary to evangelize the world. For example in Nashville, USA alone there are 120 different mainline Churches of Christ. Over the last year, some ICOC churches have dropped the “International” part of their name – desiring to be totally identified with the mainline. Let us have clarity. It is time for evangelists, elders and members to be candid with God and themselves that in many places, the ICOC movement is becoming lukewarm. A defining question must be asked, “Are the International Churches of Christ ‘the’ movement of God, or at least ‘a’ movement of God, or are we quickly becoming a fellowship of saved disciples?”
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times…. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Today, Easter Sunday, we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will sing, preach and pray in thankfulness for His grace that forgives all our sins. Jesus died on the cross and in fact became sin for even the “worst of sinners”, so that everyone who follows Jesus would have a new life, a new purpose and a new hope.
Jesus died for:
Adam and Eve – They were “unrighteous parents” as they brought sin and death into the world. (Romans 5:12)
Cain – He was bitter towards his brother Abel. In a “fit of rage” fueled by jealousy and hatred, Cain killed Abel. (Genesis 4)
Abraham – Our “father in the faith,” who gave his wife Sarah to another man out of fear for his life, twice! It would be surprising if Sarah did not struggle with bitterness towards Abraham.
Tamar (daughter-in-law of Judah), Rahab, and the two women that Solomon judged – He died for all four of these “sinful women” who offered their bodies for money.
David – An awesome leader that led Israel to unprecedented victories, but committed adultery and then murdered one of his “mighty men” to cover up his sin.
Amnon – Who “emotionally abused,” “molested” and “raped” his half-sister Tamar.
Absalom – Who used charm, manipulation and the promise of a “better leadership” to steal the hearts of the people of Israel from his father, David. (2 Samuel 15:1-12)
Ahithophel – The once trusted advisor who betrayed David for Absalom. (2 Samuel 15:1-12) He later commits suicide.
Peter – Who was one of Jesus’ best friends, who denied Him three times at His moment of greatest need.
The Prodigal Son – Though a story, Jesus died for everyone who for whatever reason, left their parent’s teaching of righteousness and went into the world.
Barabbas – Jesus died for him and every criminal, imprisoned or not, such as: Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, and Osama Bin Ladin.
Judas – Jesus died for this longtime friend and disciple who betrayed Him for money with a kiss.
Alexander the Metalworker – A non-Christian who “strongly opposed the message” of Christ as well as the messenger, Paul. He harmed and hindered Paul’s work. (2 Timothy 4:14-15) Christ died for all His persecutors, even the thieves on the cross.
“Enemies of the cross” – Disciples who persecuted Paul and the message of the gospel. (Philippians 3:18) Paul writes in2 Corinthians 11:26, he was “in danger from false brothers.”
You and me – Jesus died for each of us. Our innumerable sins crucified him.
Jesus taught we must follow His teachings and His example to be true disciples. (John 8:31-32) He taught to be forgiven, one must forgive. If we remain bitter from hurts caused by sin and do not forgive our unrighteous parents, unrighteous brothers and sisters, our unrighteous preachers and elders, our unrighteous wives or husbands, our unrighteous disciplers, our unrighteous children (both physical and spiritual), our unrighteous friends, unrighteous strangers, our unrighteous persecutors, then at the judgment God will not forgive us. Without Jesus, we are just as unrighteous as anybody who has sinned against us. In fact since every sin we commit is ultimately against God, how many more times have we sinned against God, than any one person has sinned against us. No one has the “right” to be bitter. Let’s not have the heart of the unmerciful servant! Renounce and repent of the bitterness that comes from being unwilling to forgive even the most hideous of sins. Jesus died for all sinners. Therefore, forgive from the heart each sinner that has sinned against you.
To have world evangelism, God’s church must be unified. To be unified we must love and continually forgive our fellow disciples. Yes, people’s unrighteousness may have “hurt” us as many as 77 times, but let us be a merciful people and forgive 77 times, 78 times, 79 times…and so reflect the mercy of our Father in heaven. Let’s celebrate being free from the penalty of sin and the power of bitterness.
“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Jesus was anointed at Bethany just two days before the “Last Supper.” A nameless woman poured a very expensive perfume onto Jesus’ head. The disciples in the house of Simon the Leper were shocked, because in their minds the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Immediately after this passage of the “money controversy” surrounding Jesus’ anointing, Matthew records that Judas began his betrayal and went to the chief priests. Seemingly this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Judas. (Fueled by mistrust, conflicts about money have embittered many to turn against Jesus.)
In the above passage, Jesus rebuked this woman’s critics, his own disciples! He explained this is His anointing before his burial! Then he said, “whenever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:12) Jesus knew by faith the gospel would be preached throughout the world in the apostles’ lifetime. He built a movement of disciples who were willing to “do anything, go anywhere, give up everything” including surrendering their lives to accomplish the monumental dream of world evangelism. Jesus’ words about the world impact of the gospel, reinforces what the previous seven articles have taught, that God desires the world to be evangelized in a generation.
In a closer examination of this passage, other issues must be raised. Jesus says that this woman’s story will be told in memory of her. What will be told in our memory? What eternal impact will our lives have? And is the price of world evangelism worth it? Interestingly, in Mark’s account of this moving event, Mark adds that Jesus said of this humble woman, “She has done all she could.” (Mark 14:8 – J.P. Phillips) What an incredible commendation by our Lord!
Are we as individuals doing all we can for Jesus and world evangelism? Forget for a moment the challenges in the ICOC churches and your particular situation. Are we winning souls and after our friends are baptized continuing to “teach them to obey everything [Christ] commanded?” (Matthew 28:20) To love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself must include a lifestyle dedicated to being a “fisher of men.” (Mark 1:17) But if one is not catching any fish, or even baiting the hook, is one a fisherman? If one is not making disciples, is one a true disciple? How can we say we love God and not be passionate about His mission?
Sunday was an incredible Easter service! The singing was angelic, the communion encouraging, Carma’s baptism was so inspiring, the response to our continuing study of Romans was so heartfelt. Many heard God’s upward call in Romans 8:37 that admonished each of us to walk in the Spirit as “hypernikomen” – “super conquerors!” (translated in the NIV as “more than conquerors”) Sunday, God increased our attendance to 332, which is a record! (Let us not forget, that by the end of last summer, our membership was reduced by over half leaving only 120 members at that time.) As your evangelist and partner in the gospel, I would like to take this time to commend all of you in the Portland Church because it is evident, everyone is doing “all you can for the Lord.” Individually and collectively, all of us have been humbled by our sins, mistakes, setbacks, and the ensuing criticisms. Yet where Satan intended to harm, God has purified our lives and motives in the fires of criticism and hardships. Having been discipled by God, we should be even more capable to be about the mission of Jesus than ever! (Hebrews 12:7-12)
Our Lord went to the cross abandoned and hated by most — which was so powerfully portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” However, the memory of Jesus for those who later responded to Him was one of overwhelming gratitude. Let us never forget, He was always more hated than loved by the world. Ask Jesus, “Was it worth it?” Surely His answer will be, “Look at all those who are in heaven for eternity with me.” (Hebrews 12:2) Paul expanded on this theme when he wrote to the disciples in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and our joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) His joy and glory and crown were all the disciples he had initially won to Christ when he, in three weeks, started the Thessalonian Church (Acts 17:1-4), as well as all those who believed in their message: the fruit of making disciples! Though we, like the nameless woman who anointed Jesus, may be unknown in the world, be confident that our names and sacrifices are known to God. The greatest act of faith “expressing itself through love” is to lay down our lives while preaching the message of the cross which changes the course of eternity for all who dare respond. Let it be said of us that “they have done all they could.” Then and only then is there hope for the world to be evangelized in our generation. And to God be the glory!
“Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.'”
It has become necessary to write one more essay in the series, The Mandate of God for World Evangelism. “The dream to evangelize the world in a generation” was the compelling vision and unifying mission of the Boston Movement. (ICOC) We believed this dream was God’s dream and had not been accomplished since the first century. We believed every disciple should be willing to “do anything, go anywhere and give up everything” for God to use them in this momentous undertaking. Our faith in God and His plan of making disciples, as revealed in Jesus’ ministry, would allow disciples to multiply around the world in a generation. Today, if questioned very specifically several leaders of the former ICOC churches have quietly renounced their belief in this dream. Correspondingly, confusion among disciples has arisen on this issue. It is very concerning when leaders are in error because they do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. To regain clarity, there are two fundamental questions that must be answered. First, what does it mean to evangelize the world? And the second, what and how long is a generation in God’s Word?
To evangelize the world was explicitly commanded by Jesus to the apostles in Matthew 28:19-20. Did this mean everyone in the world would become a disciple? No. In fact Jesus taught only a few would find “the narrow way.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Did it mean everyone would go through the “first principles study series?” No. One can become a disciple in the duration of a “chariot ride” by simply being taught to love God with all ones heart, soul, mind and strength, to follow and live like Jesus and be baptized for the remission of sins! (Acts 8:26-39) THE PRIMARY ISSUE OF WORLD EVANGELISM FOR JESUS IS PROCLAMATION, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) In Acts 5:28, the charge against the apostles was “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching!” This impact, enhanced by the ripple effect of persecution, was accomplished in seven years. By 60 AD Paul writes in Colossians 1:6 saying, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.” Even after the world was evangelized, people were still becoming disciples!
Before I moved to Boston, the disciples of Heritage Chapel Church of Christ “filled Charleston, Illinois” (all 18,000 people) with the gospel in just under three years! Everyone had heard about the church, through disciples preaching the Word and the ensuing persecution. In Boston, through God’s power we filled that city of four million with the gospel, with the help of the Boston Globe Newspaper, in less than 10 years! However, in both cities people were still becoming Christians after the city was saturated with the gospel. To evangelize the world, would be to fill it with the teaching of Jesus as the early Christians did Jerusalem.
The second question of the length of a generation can easily be found in such quotes as Exodus 1:6-7, “Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” This generation was the span of Joseph’s and his brother’s lives. Joseph began overseeing Egypt at 30 years old! Joseph lived to 110! Therefore, this generation lasted about 80 years! Judges 2:7,10 reads, Though no age is given for Joshua when he began leading God’s people, like Caleb he was probably around 80. He dies at 110 and the elders around him outlive him for perhaps 20 years. Minimally this generation would span 50 years! Too many have looked at a modern definition of a generation; for example, the generation of Baby Boomers to Generation X was only 28 years, (birthdates 1946-1964). However, Biblically a generation is at least 50 to 80 years…a lifetime. This indirectly was Jesus’ explicit command to the faithful eleven, “Go to all the nations and baptize them!” Inferred, the apostles were to accomplish this task through the multiplication of disciples in their lifetime.
Many of the leaders who no longer believe in “the dream to evangelize the world in a generation,” thought that the “push and pressure” to grow, plant churches and expand into new countries was excessive. I personally am not of that persuasion. I do believe that some churches and Christians were exasperated by these costs. Let me be clear, it was and is wrong to exasperate a fellow leader or disciple. However, it is sad that they were silent and did not speak up for years, because bitterness came into their hearts causing them to resent “the dream” and its corresponding people and monetary sacrifices. Gone is that intense urgency to save souls, since we no longer feel the urgency of accomplishing God’s dream in our generation, our lifetime. Today there exists in many churches an overreactive “pendulum swing” away from a hot, passionate proclamation to a lukewarm indifference to the very mission that saved their souls! Also, those that broke off from or left the ICOC no longer saw a need to “pool” their collective resources of people and money to plant and sustain churches in particularly the third world. Today these splinter groups are doing little or nothing for world evangelism. Rightfully, by the intent of God, “the dream” birthed in our movement an urgency, a zeal to pay any price , incredible love between disciples and a unifying interdependence between the churches.
The first KNN story about the disciples in Norway called us all to “grab the dream.” Let’s once again determine to fulfill God’s dream to “evangelize the world in a generation.” God’s Spirit and plan make it possible. The price is incredibly high, but Jesus has already paid the ultimate price. One question still remains, will we follow in His steps willing to pay the same price or abandon all urgency, true unity and an undying love for Christ?