Ralph D. Winter
The topic I have been given, Countdown 2000, is a rather heavy combination of words. It is no idle subject, and its meaning is heating up day by day, especially with the sudden new opening of hope this coming January 5-8 at Singaporethe Global Consultation on World Evangelization by AD 2000 and Beyond.
Years and years ago at Edinburgh 1980, the World Consultation on Frontier Missions adoptedfairly casuallythe goal of A Church for Every People by the Year 2000. At that gathering of mission executives from all over the globe (1/3 from the non-Western world) it was fairly east to think that almost anything could be done by the year 2000! Today, while time is shorter, lots of things have gotten better! Even in 1980 the great strides forward in China were encouraging everyone, as Thomas Wang impressively defined for us in his plenary address.
In the goal statement, A Church for Every People by the Year 2000, the key phrase, every people is surely biblical and central.
The God of the Bible confronts entire nations, challenges whole peoples, takes seriously every cultural sphere. And, the God of the Bible doesnt talk about most of the people (individuals) of the world. God has not commanded us to go into most of the world. We do not read in the Bible that in the end times every tribe and tongue and people with a few exceptions will be represented. The Bible talks about every peoplethat is, every nation, tribe and tongue.
This, now, is a relatively simple picture. A testimony among all peoples (Mt. 24:14), although it may not be all God has in mind, , even by the year 2000, is looking more feasible every day. Especially now with the potentialities of glasnost.
Thus I dont think that the word closure ought to be objectionable. It simply means talking about the completion of the task. But, as I say, eight years ago it was easier to think about closure by the year 2000 than now.
As the end of the century looms before us, the whole world will be counting down to the year 2000. The human family in its global consciousness has never faced a date comparable to the year 2000.
Im sure some of you are thinking, But what about the year 1000?
What About AD 1000?
But even if it had, only a small portion of the world would have been looking forward to the year 1000. As late as the year 1582, 11 days had to be dropped out of the oft-patched up calendar to make it fit the seasons more accurately. And with that, the Russians waited another 300 yearsuntil 1918before accepting the correction. Thus, even in this century it has not been possible even for Christians to agree what day it is, much less what day will begin the year 2000.
But, rightly or wrongly, virtually the whole globe today uses the same calendar. Even non-Christian populations may fearfully approach that date.
Never before has there been a time when the majority of all the people in the world were aware of, let alone employing, the same dating system. This is the first time any century date, much less millenial date, has ever existed so prominently in human global consciousness.
Of course, there are many other reasons why the year 2000 is an unusual date in terms of the actual countdown of events and progress of the gospel. But that would be another very large and exciting subject.
Todays Kadesh Barnea
I have the overwhelming conviction that wewe IFMA people, mission leaders, evangelicals in all the world . . . we stand at a crucial moment in history.
I think what were facing is similar to the moment of history when, at Kadesh Barnea, the 12 spies came back from the Promised Land (Numbers 14).
The major question wasand isDo we go all out to do what we think God is asking us to do? Or do we pull back?
As you know, it was the minority of the investigators at Kadesh Barnea who leaned forward. It may be that even Israels sending out the spies in the first place was already a timid step away from what God had fully expected of them.
But all through the Bible that standing back reverberates as appalling apostacy on the part of his chosen people.
Now, you say, what possible parallel is there between what the Israelites did at Kadesh Barnea and what we are about tonight?
Let me ask you: Who are the spies tonight? Who, pray tell, has been sent out across the world to investigate what God wants us to go in and possess? Whoif it is not the mission executives of this world?
We are the ones who either will, or will not, give a trumpet sound which will be uncertain. I truly believe we stand in that very same situation.
All of you have before you a copy of the most recent issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions. The entire issue (Ed: an edited version of Todd Johnsons 32-page supplement in the August Mission Frontiers) focuses on last centurys Kadesh Barnea experience. That hundred-year old story of a roughly 20-year period of rising and then falling hopes ought to throw light on where we are tonight in 1988.
I remember holding Todd Johnsons document in my hands, having looked through it, and being absolutely stunned by the overall force of many of his quotations from key people a hundred years agotheir faith, their earnestness, their willingness to go all out. And I said to myself, almost gasping for breath, I have never, outside of the Bible itself, held a more important document in my hands. What those men had to say was not only important for the people of their day. It speaks, I believe, to us, tonight.
On page 91 a seven-word phrase occurs. These words have burned themselves into my consciousness like almost nothing else in my life. They are the words of one of the leading thinkers and workers of that time: We are compelled to abandon the hope.
Arthur T. Pearson said this in 1895.
If we falter today, we will face a similar turning point in the near future. I believe that we are right now in the beginning period of a brief window of time during which decisive action is possible.
If this group here tonight, and others in the IFMA, and other mission-minded people across the world will gird themselves up in prayer, devotion and obedience, we are in a position to be key instruments in Gods hands to set in motion a major movement that will sweep the world and do things that no one has ever dreamed before.
Now I say a window because within 24 months, 18 months, 12 monthsyou choose . . . within a relatively short period of time, it will no longer be possible for even a major movement to do anything conclusive by the year 2000.
It will be just like it was back in Numbers 14. After God said, Go up and possess the land, they said, Well, we cant go. And God said, You know what is going to happen if you step back, and they said, Well go! Well go! And they rushed ahead, but it was too late.
There will come a time in this centuryin the next few monthswhen it will be too late for us to rush and finish the job.
The Lausanne meeting next Summer in Manila may be that watershed of faith. If we cannot see a major global mobilization within the next 24 months, I myself will say, We are compelled to give up the hope.
So. This is a significant document. Read it and weep, because this is a story of retreat and failure in a crucial moment. It is an accurate description of a Kadesh Barnea experience for the entire Western world one hundred years ago.
Now today a global church with four times as big a taskyet 40 times as many resourcesfaces the same crisis. What will happen?
Some say, Back then there was no good reason for the kind of hope Pierson and others expressed . . . and we dont want to make the same mistake! They must have been wacky. How could they have possibly imagined they could evangelize the world by the 1900? Of course they had to give up hope. They simply didnt have their facts straight.
What Hope Did They Have? What Hope Do We Have?
Just because the world was not evangelized by the year 1900 does not mean it was not possible.
Their rationale for hope may be instructive to us. Public proposals were made: in 1877, in 1881, then, preeminently, in 1885 (15 years away from the final goal), then in 1888, 1889, and 1891. Again and again you can see them grappling with the statistics.
In 1885, with 15 years to go (we have only 11 or 12), they said, Look, there are one billion non-Christians. They figured there were 400 million Christians of which 10 million were evangelicalspeople who were willing to send missionaries.
All right, they said. What if 10 million people, somehow between them, collaborating or not collaborating, will each win 100 people in 15 years?
That really would have done it! No one supposed that each person would win exactly 100 people, but the average could have been that. I do not doubt that if they had heeded in 1885 that great document that came out of the Moody conference, An Appeal to Disciples Everywhere (see MF, May 1987, pp. 6-7), they could have done what was proposed.
What especially gives me pause is that those who wrote the Appeal also proposed a world-level conference where evangelical leaders of the day could figure out how to arrange and adjust the work so the job could be done by the end of the century. There was already a world-level (mission) conference in the planning stage for 1888just three years away. The principal author of the Appeal, A.T. Pierson, was invited to go to that London Conference in 1888 to speak. And he did.
But, but, BUT! The mood that prevailed at that conference in 1888 was that We cant do this by the year 1900. And, of course, in the next two or three years Pierson and others were forced to wonder. Piersons strongest statement ever printed was a small book in 1891 called, The Greatest Work in the World: The Evangelization of All Peoples in the Present Century. But by 1895 he, too, gave up.
Thats right, there was a window of time beyond which everyone gave up.
Why Did They Fail?
First, there was outright opposition. From whom? Some theologians who opposed the idea on exegetical or theological grounds. The human mind has always been able to think up reasons not to move, to risk, to believe.
Secondly, they welcomed distraction.
Many Americans back then were jingoists. As an American, I sense even personal guilt for this fact. People today dont want to remember this. We were imperialists. We were latter-day colonialists. We were going to conquer the worldmilitarilyin those days (for its benefit of course).
In order to keep Canada from the Northwest Territories, we rammed through the Senate in one single month four new states and drove our boundary right out to the Pacificbefore the Canadians could get the drop on us.
We grabbed the Philippines, confident we could do a better job than Spain. We grabbed half of Samoa. We were going to take Cuba and Central America. (Some of our home mission boards still extend clear down to Panamawhich is embarrassing.) Apparently, some of the more sensible Americans spoke up.
Those were the Teddy Roosevelt days. We were out to conquer the world.
But that kind of imperialism was not what God had in mind. God is not asking for Crusaders today, who are not going to depend upon the power of the Gospel.
And so it was opposition. It was distraction. It was also dissipation.
The Gay Nineties were not given that name for no reason. On the other hand, during that same ten-year period there was so much belief on the part of some that it was the greatest 10-year period of mission mobilization that has ever occurred before or since. (A close second would be the final decade before 1800!)
I dont mean to say that everyone lost faith. There were a significant and valiant few. But there simply were not enough people who said yes.
This was the period when the Faith Missions that compose the IFMA, came into existence: all the founding missions of the IFMA except the CIM (which, though founded earlier really did not spurt forward until this time).
Take the Church Mission Society; the impact of Moody on Cambridge and the Cambridge 7 that went out under the CIM; the new birth of the CIM in America: all these things combined together.
The Church Mission Society, the Anglican society of England, went from 135 to 1100 during that ten year period. Many other missions, like the C&MA, climbed right out of sight during that period.
So. Many wonderful things did happen. But those good things only obscure for us the fact that probably 100 times as much evangelical money went into parties as into missions. There were some parties that cost many millions of dollars.
The Gay Nineties were not necessarily all a series of evangelical parties, but the evangelicals were surely involved. They had to somehow mix with everybody in order to give their testimony, ...and they wasted their time and money along with the rest.
The result was that we did not give our utmost for His highest. We simply did not do our best.
And the Aftermath?
Apparently, what we are willing to fritter away, God may decide to take away!
But in recent times that earlier missionary spirit seems to be climbing back into existence. There are probably 40,000 young adults in the United States today who have signed cards at Urbana or have made similar decisions at other mission conferences. They are not on the field, not because they lack interest, but because of the overall makeup of our society and the icy cold congregations to which they return from these conferences.
We stand once more, I believe, at a crisis comparable to Kadesh Barnea.
(Note to the reader: there is now space only for a few excerpts from topics treated more extensively in the original presentation.)
But it is clearly not too late right now. I am so amazed and pleased by the sudden emergence of the GCOWEthe Global Consultation on World Evangelization by the Year 2000 and Beyond. Never before in history has there been a world level gathering quite so strategic. In only 14 weeks this event will take place! This is not a Lausanne-sponsored meeting. This is an ad hoc meeting, yet its leadership has been granted the privilege of guiding what is called the AD 2000 Track at the Lausanne meeting in Manila in July of 1989.
Frankly, the Lausanne meeting in 1989 could very well compare to that one in 1888, which back then was the largest meeting in history up to that point of church leaders, and mission leaders concerned about evangelizing the world. But at that meeting there was a decisively non-decisive response in terms of what they could do if they went all-out by the year 1900.
I am so glad the North American Lausanne Committee sponsored so widely representative a meeting as they did in March of 1982 where working terminology for peoples and unreached peoples was hammered out. This enormously clarifies our vision. It ends the silly home vs. foreign geographical distinction, and allows us to SEE the unreached peoples right in Los Angeles. There may come a time in the near future when every unreached group in the world may be found in the midst of Christian populations. That date is getting close!
But lets not spin our wheels arguing about definitions. Wycliffe scholars tell us that well never know the precise number of languages needing the Gospel until the Gospel is actually planted among them.
Lets not waste time arguing about which communication medium is best. We need to use satellites, radio, the printed page, cassette recorders, and yes real human beings. They all have their place, since the more powerful the medium, the less diversity it can cope with. The real question is not how many languages or dialects or New Testaments or radio programs. The real question is how many human communities need to be visited with the evangel. Local congregations can adopt these peoples one by one.
If all the groups are adopted by churches around the world by 1991, which is not an unreasonable hope, if they are engaged (thats the technical term for work has begun) by 1995, then it is not beyond possibility that there will be a viable witness within every group by the year 2000.
But, you know, in all the Bible the most deadly sin is not a flagrant sin. It is simply dullness of heart. Its the inability to believe. Its hesitancy in the time of opportunity. And I believe God is expecting more of us than of the hard-worked and burdened-down pastors in our country, who are dealing with broken families and all kinds of problems that pastors twenty years ago didnt have to deal with.
I believe God is expecting not them but us to say Yes!to blow the trumpet that has no uncertain sound, and to be in there, involved up to the hilt in everything that moves, in every kind of collaborationall across the worldin every possibility that will bring this to pass.
And I believe God is asking us tonight, in this conference, at this moment, in this year, more than at any other time beforeor, perhaps, at any other time in the futureto give everything we have, to glorify His name maximally by the year 2000.
Never before have the stakes been so high, or the opportunity been so great. Never before has it been so impellingly possible for us to give our utmost for His highest!