A Church for Every People by the year 2000
What would you say if I were to ask you to sum up your life's direction with a word?
Two weeks ago I was struck by a missionary statesman's answer to this question. After thumbing the pages of his Bible, he paused and began to read those powerful words of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you, and before you were born, I set you aside for my holy purpose and made you a prophet for the nations..."(Jeremiah 1:5).
Down through history other men in other places have been captivated by a sense of God's holy purpose for their lives. And down through the years certain words have been to them a guiding light. In the late 1800s tens of thousands of young college students in the United States were flung out across the world in response to one such call, their Watchword which was "The Evangelization of the World in this Generation."
Their goal was stupendous-more stupendous than they could ever know. For a few short years the world was relatively at peace, then it erupted again in first one and then another major world war, preceded and followed by hundreds of smaller local ones. Yet these volunteers left scattered around the globe growing healthy Christian churches by the thousands.
Did they evangelize the world in their generation? They certainly got to places where Americans had rarely gone before... and they usually stayed for the rest of their lives. Yet the world has grown larger. Now we know that we cannot just reach to the 250 nations of the world. Now our courses in anthropology teach us that the world is not made up of geographical boundaries so much as of peoples within those boundaries. And all too often those closest to each other hate each other the most.
Just a few weeks ago I was in a small meeting with seven other young people and two veteran missionary couples: Dr. and Mrs. Donald McGavran, members of that early Student Volunteer band, and Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Winter. We were gathered around a book printed in 1891 which discussed the dreams of those early volunteers. In the heart of each of us present was the cry, "Lord do it again!" We knew the need now was just as great as then. We had all grappled with the fact that there are still 21 billion people beyond the reach of any mission or church anywhere in the world. What would it take for the Lord to again send forth young people like us by the thousands What could be the watchword for our day that would grip their hearts We knew that to follow Christ's example, we had to not only evangelize but gather those won into living fellowships of mutual support and commitment. Only then could they grow and as a body reach out to win the rest of their tribe, their language group, their "people".
How about A CHURCH FOR EVERY PEOPLE BY THE YEAR 2000?
One of those gathered there suggested The task it outlined was tremendous. Could we do it? The task would belong to us, the young, but we knew there were thousands like us around the world who loved our Lord just like we did who would want to share in that harvest. They only needed to be touched by that certain spark!
So we examined that watchword. Did it say all we wanted it to say? What would following it require of us?
1) This Watchword requires a sensitivity to culture
I stood recently in the great Hall of Crucifixion and Resurrection at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California and viewed there the mural which covers one entire wall. The central mural of three, standing 50 feet high, is a graphic representation of the millions of people who will greet their Lord at His second coming. There stand the Anglo-Saxons, the Scandinavians, the Latins, the Gauls and other European peoples. The splintered peoples of Africa join the Indian, Dorean and Oriental peoples of Asia. As I looked on all those faces, so enrapt at seeing their Lord return, I thought of John the Apostle's description of a similar scene in Revelation where people from every tribe, tongue and nation would be gathered in front of the throne (Rev. 7:9). Surely, if we understand what John was saying, how sensitive we should be in reaching people within their own cultures. The bride of the Lamb will not be complete until there are some from every tribe, tongue and nation who call him Lord.
My mind went back through history. I thought of the many times when against extreme odds the gospel had managed to penetrate a culture and change its people from Celtic headhunters to Irish saints, slave hunters to hymn writers, careless, idle youth to flaming wandering evangelists. Throughout the expanse of time and space, across geographical boundary and sucessive generation, the gospel had managed to cross the threshold of culture again and again and in amazing power make of that culture what it could never dream of becoming.
Yes, the gospel was effective. The Holy Spirit could be counted on to be faithful. How about us?
Just recently, in a discussion with one of the foremost missionary thinkers, Dr. Alan Tippett, I was fascinated with the story of the Fiji Islands. Once a place of many tribal factions, it has experienced a fascinating metamorphosis as a result of the penetration of the gospel. The Church has become established in many of these societies. I inquired as to whether there were any more frontiers of any kind in Fiji. He told me of the 260,000 people from India, 30,000 of whom are most likely Muslim. Also, he said, massive urbanization has created a severe stratification of the original social structure. Fiji is now grappling with the problems of suburbia.
Applying this same cultural filter to the rest of the world, we find that 16,750 peoples have yet to hear the gospel in their own cultures. The watchword of this generation must articulate that only as we are equipped with a cultural sensitivity can we objectively recognize the frontiers that lie before us.
2) This Watchword requires a "strategy of closure.
The church must continually define its purpose as that of working toward the completion of the Great Commission. It is very easy for Christians to feel we are accomplishing this end when all we are doing is broadcasting the seed by radio, by television, by literature, by whatever method without perhaps ever going back to see whether some of that seed has taken root and grown. Yet it would be foolhardy to cross new cultural frontiers if we do not have a definite, measurable plan for bringing new converts into churches of their own kind which on their own will reach out even further to others within that same language group. "Closure strategy says that it is not enough for us today to go across the world and do a good job We must work toward finishing the toward bringing all the sheaves in, toward completing the full count of the bride of Christ.
When Hudson Taylor turned his eyes to the inland areas of China, it was not because these coastal areas were fully evangelized. He saw that to complete the Great Commission, those beyond had to be reached. He had a plan and a measurable objective and set out to reach all of China. In so doing, he was following "a strategy of closure."
Fifty years later in 1910 at the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, most of the known missionary societies of the world joined together in an effort to strategize the completion of world evangelization. Essential to the basic fabric of this meeting of hearts and minds was a "strategy of closure." Only recently have plans been developed for another conference of this same sort. The World Consultation for Frontier Missions, to be held again in Edinburgh in 1980, will also draw together all the known mission agencies of the world, both Western and Non-Western, in order to strategize between themselves how to go about reaching those 16,750 still unreached peoples of the world. This again is a "strategy of closure."
I do not believe that we can be content with "vague generalizations" when dealing with the Great Commission. These 16,750 ethnic groups still need a viable church planted within their societies. India alone has 2, 900 such unchurched peoples. By the year 2000 we must attempt a final
push across these remaining frontiers. What will be the response of the Church to this challenge This I believe is the final condition inherent in our watchword.
3) This Watchword requires a sacrificial commitment
In an age of specialization, when academia and the various media encourage young people to pursue profitable careers arising from their personal interests, one wonders if this generation can ever really link up with a task as costly to self interest as the Great Commission Can their priorities be shifted? Can their small ambitions be shelved in light of the mandate which confronts us? In the words of John Wesley, our watchword--"A Church for Every People by the Year 2000"-can provide the "expulsive power of a new affection" which will wipe all small ambitions from their hearts.
Who will be required to make this sacrificial commitment? Is it only U.S. and European students? No, now there are resources world wide. In conferences in Singapore, Korea, India, and other countries in the Third World students are considering the claims of the Great Commission on their lives. The watchword today is made in the context of an international thrust.
There must also be an intergenerational thrust. Young men will see visions but old men will dream dreams! Without the resources and commitment of those who remain and fortify the base, the ability of many young people to launch into service will be hampered. The entire generation, both young and old, must take up the challenge.
Our watchword, then, like that almost a hundred years ago, must not be too weak to demand our best. It must not be so limited that it fails to work toward completing the task. And it must be wise enough to reach people within their own cultures and languages, no matter how many that may involve. "A CHURCH FOR EVERY PEOPLE BY THE YEAR 2000" requires all three of these. May we find it within ourselves, fueled by the facts and consumed by the Holy Spirit and by our love for the Lord of the harvest, to give ourselves to this great mandate.