The Work of the Savior
by Ralph D. Winter
Salvation in Christ is aimed at the whole world and always has been, from the beginning of redemptive history. Reaching back to our Pietist and Reformation roots, however, we evangelicals have conventionally focused our attention upon the person and work of Christ as these pertain to our own salvation.
Even the major creeds of Christendom do this, whether we look at the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Confession. When they focus on His work, they reduce that work primarily to the atonement and its implications for us, rather than seeing in the work of Christ His relentless concern for the largest possible audience for that atonement.
Although the Westminster Confession was hammered out in the aftermath of the Reformation, it was not until the 1890's, three centuries later, that evangelicals in the Northern Presbyterian church in the United States undertook to add a chapter entitled, "Of the Love of God and Missions."
Putting it differently, it took almost three centuries for the Pietist/Evangelical tradition, with all of its serious Biblical exposition, to gain sufficient confidence for even one of its bodies to dare to alter the "sacred" creedal text!
How refreshing are the frequent reminders we hear on the front lines of the missionary expansion of the Kingdom that, as respectful as we ought to be of the institutional and quasi-political tradition of the creeds of Christendom, the documents of the Bible are much more significant and reliable!
One of the things that endangers a high view of the Bible, a danger recognized in the period of the Reformation, is the tendency to allow creedal treatments of Holy Scripture a status very close to that of the Bible itself.
Perhaps God has raised up the symphony of voices and perspectives from cultures a-round the world where the Bible has become the fresh and primary source of orientation in order to enable us to reflect upon our own cultural traditions with greater objectivity and to understand the Bible with greater certainty.
For instance, we should notice that it is not the Nicene Creed but the Bible that astounds us with the picture of Jesus ignoring the disciple's concern for food claiming "My food is to do the will of the Father and to finish His work."
Is it not a bit strange that the great mass of theological writings in history, while rightly taking special interest in the work of Christ on the Cross, gives so very little space to the work of Christ that we as his disciples were intended to pick up and carry forward?
How easy it is÷how human÷to dote upon the blessings of Christ for ourselves and pass over lightly the clear call to lose ourselves for His sake and the Gospel's and to bend every ounce of our energy to give away this great gift to others at the very ends of the earth!
We quite rightly covet the truth of the Finished Work of Christ, but humanly we are tempted to underemphasize the fact of the Unfinished Work of Christ
When Jesus says His food is to do the will of His Father and to finish His work, are we to assume He was only referring to the Cross? Is that all He means to us? Are all the other little stories about Jesus meant merely to be the basis for sermons about the little things in our lives?
Surely we do well to teach our children to say that Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins. But we must not forget that Jesus also lived among us relentlessly seeking out in love the poor, the dispirited, the handicapped, the sick, the blind, the women, the Greeks, and, yes, even the Samaritans. Why? Because He died on the Cross to save a lot of other peoples besides our own.'
We can search the Gospel accounts in vain to discern any very great mutual understanding between Jesus and His disciples. Like us, they were interested in His Person and His Work, but also like us, they were interested in His Person and His Work as it might pertain to their own agendas.
Even our missionaries who go to the ends of the earth are all-too-often willing to spell out a traditional, self-interested Christology, a Christology that allows Japanese believers to take no special interest in the one million despised and unmentionable Eta people among them, or the million socially disenfranchised Koreans concentrated in Osaka ÷and a Christology that permits us to be no more concerned than the Japanese about the maze of minorities in our own cities.
George Eldon Ladd came out at the very end of his teaching career with a huge tome on New Testament Theology. It contained not a single line specifically referring to the crucial, urgent, day-to-day implications of the love of our Savior for the non-Jews and other non-entities of His day. That is, it had not a single line concerning what seems actually to be the central theme of the New Testament: the global, cross-cultural mission of Christ!
We are confronted on every hand with the fact that an inerrant Bible does no one any good if it is not accompanied by thoughtful, authentic understanding. We deny our belief in the Bible if our actions do not bear out our words. For example, what is the value of an inerrant Bible if we do not bother to translate it so all the peoples of the earth can understand what it says?
We, the consecrated leaders in this room, could terminate permanently the scandalous situation we have today in which there are 723 languages needing a translation of the Scriptures. I figure it would take us just 30 minutes a day of prayer and agitation in order to see that task completed in five years. But are we willing to devote our time to correct the situation?
Does it really matter in God's eyes what words evangelicals parade in public about an inerrant Bible; does it matter how many times the Bible is translated into English, occasioning each time millions of dollars of new expenditures for ourselves when these groups have no scripture at all? Surely it is possible to deny the inerrancy of the Bible by our behavior!
Let me leave with you three concepts I believe bear significantly upon the way we deal with the topic of the Savior and His Work.
1. The Concept of Non-Disclosure.
Again and again God makes clear that it is not yet possible for us to digest all that He is and is about, but that what is revealed is for our admonition in the present world, and for those who are actively walking in the light they have.
No matter how much we may believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, if we are not yielded to its mandate, God will not allow us to raid its treasures. Jesus told the parables both to reveal and to conceal. The concept of non-disclosure is a crucial parameter in our handling of the Bible.
For example, we must not draw too much from the fact that Jesus did not teach His disciples a course in mission strategy. The Gospel accounts show that, had Jesus exposed them to additional information, the disciples would have totally misunderstood His purposes.
Even late in Jesus' earthly ministry, in the final chapter of Luke, we see two of His followers struggling with the obvious discrepancy between His perspective and their understanding of the Savior and His Work.
If Jesus had explained or tried to explain to these self-concerned disciples just what was the full meaning of the Abrahamic Covenant, it would have been as if He had taken a tennis racket, run into an accident ward of a hospital where all the patients were bundled up in splints and in traction and doped out with anesthetics, and shouted, 'Tennis anyone?" The disciples could not have responded had they wanted to. Thus He did not in that passage review the Great Commission.
2. The Concept of the Kairos (the Time).
When the Christ appeared, it had been 2,000 years since the call of Abraham and God's crystal clear enunciation of His concern to be a blessing to Abraham, to Abraham's children by faith, and, through them, to be a blessing to all the other peoples of the earth.
Throughout the Bible God reveals His constant concern for the "other" peoples of the world. When He pushes Abraham into the very presence of the Pharaoh of Egypt; when He places Joseph there, and Moses; when He throws His people again and again into contact with many other nations, placing them precisely on the land bridge connecting the continents of Africa and Eurasia, when He sends Jonah out to the nation of Ninevah, when He sends all the northern tribes out into a diaspora among the nations, when He sends the Judeans off lo the "ends of the earth" (as they referred to Babylon), and, indeed, when He disperses them throughout the Roman Empire, and when He brings 137 nations to live in Los Angeles÷we see at work God's constant concern for the other peoples of the world.
When Jesus appeared, what time was it? How was the nation of Israel doing with its Commission to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth? Had it been hiding its light in the ground? Had it revolted, not just against Rome but against the Land Owner who finally sent His Son to check up on things? Were Galileans delighted that God had brought so many foreigners into their midst, and that now they were called Galilee of the Gentiles? (Are evangelicals in American cities today delighted that God has brought the mission field to their doorsteps? Are we taking this as seriously as we ought?)
God may be looking at our nation today with the same timing in mind. Do we have places, "Galilees," in our country which we regard as having been infiltrated by the wrong people? Are we, by and large, quite unconcerned about giving our blessings away?
3. The Concept of Literalism.
In our inerrant Bibles we must admit that the real meaning of Christ's call does not show up in the bulk of the text.
It is an undesirable literalism which fails to distinguish between what happened in the Bible and what the Bible is trying to tell us ought to have happened. That is, we must distinguish between inerrant descriptions of errant behavior and inerrant descriptions of God's purposes for His people. We must use the text in more than a superficial manner.
God clearly and distinctly commanded the Chosen People to reach out with blessing to all the peoples of the earth. (It does not help that our modem translations for the most part translate the Hebrew imperative in Genesis 12:2÷"be a blessing" or "you must bless"÷ as a simple prediction÷"you will be a blessing.") Despite this mandate, repeated very clearly five times in Genesis, we find that the bulk of the text of the Old and New Testaments does not portray an obedient people reaching out with blessing to others.
It is an undesirable literalism which accepts these failures and foibles as though they are to be considered normative, and assumes, as so often has been the case, that there was no intention on God's part for the missionary dimension of the Abrahamic Covenant to be taken seriously until 2,000 years later.
If we do not believe the Chosen People were chosen to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth, and that this Mandate was in force the moment it was given, then we must believe and accept that all God was after for 2,000 years was good behavior: people staying out of trouble.
Talk about distortion of the Bible! I believe no greater single misunderstanding of scripture exists among us today than the widely-held reductionism that sees the global mandate of the early chapters of Genesis as a hibernating mandate that was supposed to be held in suspense until Jesus appeared, . . . or until Jesus died, . . . or until He was resurrected, . . . or Paul was commissioned, . . . or William Carey bestirred England, . . . or the heavenly angel of Rev 14:6 and 7 preaches, ...or... or....
Too often we live within this kind of literalism. The Mandate always applies to "someone else," "somewhere else," "some other time." The sobering fact is that God does not have much use for any nation with such an attitude, no matter how often they print and reprint the Bible.
The Mandate of all Scripture, both implied and explained again and again, derives from and is the "application" of the Work of Christ.
Jesus came to save some from every tribe and language and people and nation. How do we know this? The Bible tells us so.
(Mission Handbook, North American Protestant Overseas Ministries, World Vision/MARC 1987, 648 pages, cloth bound. Retail price $19.75, special price to Mission Frontiers readers, $11 plus $1.75 postage and handling- it's a heavy book. Note: no use looking for this late breaking offer on the order page on page 23! But, do tear off that page to send with your check for $12.75)
Now, after 8 years, the new 13th edition is finally out!
÷Why would you want for your very own a catalogue of 764 different North American Protestant overseas ministries, and see what God has done in eight fantastic years?
÷Why would you want to know when they were founded (358 were founded since 1950), whether or not they are affiliated with some association (like IFMA or EFMA or the NCCCCUSA/DOM or the FOM or nothing)?
÷Why would you want to know their exact name and address, phone number, top leaders, their income, how many missionaries they send, where they work around the world and what they are doing there?
-Why would you want to see a list of the 22 agencies that have grown the most in the last few years, a list of the 20 countries that send the most missionaries, (one of them 14 times as many as the USA in proportion to its own population)? DO you want your own copy? See fine print in heading.