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December 1988


Editorial Comment

Let's Not Stumble over Words Now!

Bridging the Gaps

Anticipating Tomorrow's Headlines

Project 2000- Partnerships That Help Emerging Third World Missions Penetrate Unreached Peoples

Project 2000- One Way to Help Plant a Church

Regional Centers' Meeting Encourages Mobilizers

Caring Hands Needed at Extended Family Co-op

A.D. 2000 What's Different About That?

"Oh God, Make Satan Pay for This One...

Churches Spearhead Programs for Missionary Preperation

"Closure and Christ's Second Coming

How Cockroaches Help Missionaries...

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“Closure” and Christ’s Second Coming

—G. Edward Nelson

The resounding theme of the (Assemblies of God) Division of Foreign Missions for the next several years will be the Decade of Harvest. Should the Lord tarry His coming for the remaining years of this millennium, the most exacting and exciting years of foreign missions work lie just ahead.

As the 1990s approach, the word “closure,” a word of impending importance, will be heard throughout the U.S. Assemblies of God fellowship. What does “closure” mean for us? For the real estate broker, it means closing the sale. In parliamentary law, it means a rule which ends debate and calls for a decisive vote. But for us, “closure” takes on another meaning.

“Closure,” simply put, means the fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14: “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” (NIV). “Closure,” then, means bearing for the first time a cross-cultural witness of the gospel to the last nation on earth that waits to hear it.

The most definite indicator of the nearness of this age’s end is the measure of the gospel witness to the nations. Today, more nations are hearing the gospel for the first time than ever before. And it is conceivable that every nation shall hear the gospel in our generation. The Church is on the verge of the greatest moment in history—the witness of the gospel to all nations and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

“Closure” and the second coming of Jesus Christ are inseparably linked by Jesus’ own words. To understand the importance of His soon appearing, one must understand His plan for and through the Church to evangelize the nations. The imminence of His coming is connected to the completion of the Church’s mission to bear testimony of Christ’s kingdom to every nation.

A word of caution is necessary, however. Soothsayers may predict—and foolishly so—the exact time of Christ’s return. But only the Father actually knows when Jesus will come again. Some may make His return dependent upon human initiative, putting man in control of the time of His reappearing. But only the foolhardy would attempt to wrest sovereign initiative from His throne.

Others may regard the truth of Christ’s near epiphany as a fable, deceiving themselves and others. But God’s Word is true; Jesus’ second advent is imminent. And we are admonished to daily live with this blessed hope and expectation.

When we speak of the “closure” of this age through the evangelization of every nation, we refer to the work of the sovereign Holy Spirit through His Church—not to some master human strategy. Yes, we are responsible to plan, to provoke others to join our Father’s mission, and to participate personally. But if we lean on human genius or schemes, we will fail. We should use the best means and methods for world evangelization, but only in obedient response to the Holy Spirit, who indwells our lives. The distinction between the guidance of the Holy Spirit in world missions and our own well-meaning initiatives, is not subtle.

Lessons from the Past
As we near the end of this century the word closure is on our lips and in our daily prayers. At the beginning of this century, there also came a rush of high expectancy for “closure,” though other words were used to express it. The watchword of the student volunteer movement in 1900 was “The evangelization of the world in our generation!” At the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, in 1910, we heard the cry, “Let the world hear, but once!” Why, then, did those church leaders, calling for such highsounding themes, witness instead the greatest mass exodus from nominal Christianity in history?

Statistical growth of Christianity did occur from 558 million in 1900 to 1.6 billion in 1987, due largely to a sweeping spiritual movement in many underdeveloped countries—especially in Africa and Latin America. Yet, traditional Christianity in Europe, the Soviet Union, and North America has floundered dramatically during this century.

Material, secular, and evolutionary philosophies that were embraced by the rising church leadership and their constituencies began to supplant the true mission of the Church. Even the veracity of the Bible was doubted. Millions dropped out of nominal Christianity. By 1960, most mainline denominations considered their biggest mission field to be their own membership rosters.

Where rapid church growth did occur—principally in the underdeveloped countries—the motivating factor in every case was a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While traditional Evangelicalism in underdeveloped countries enjoyed steady growth, the overwhelming part of that growth was within the context of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement.

Any lessons the attendees at the 1910 Edinburgh Conference could have learned from the then-fledgling Pentecostal movement about the spiritual bases for church growth were ignored or rejected. Prejudice and disdain for Pentecostals blocked that opportunity. The main lesson that could have been shared with them and remains paramount to the advancement of the gospel today is this: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Unmistakably, the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen has come within the context of the sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And it has often come in spite of human efforts to limit or control God’s gracious work among and within His people.

Virtually no Pentecostal Evangelicals were recognized at the end of the last century. Today, however, more than 270 million evangelical believers are of Pentecostal/charismatic persuasion. Perhaps this total represents well above half of all active, witnessing Christians on the earth. The Pentecostal movement is now too large to ignore.

When the denominational leaders at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910 called for “the best minds” to do the task of world evangelization, they neglected a vital biblical truth—the Holy Spirit gives individuals within the Church gifts and power for evangelism, regardless of class or educational accomplishment. Those leaders, influenced by the rising tide of liberalism, sought for a highly organized and unified approach to gathering the nations to Christ.

Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox countries, for example, were targets for evangelism before 1910. But out of the influence of that historic meeting, many of these nations were omitted from consideration as mission fields. Suddenly, they were included as Christian missions proper. The past evangelistic thrust toward individuals shifted to a flexible application of Christian education to “Christianize” the life of a nation. Salvation became social and earthbound.

Whenever the mission of the Church is reinterpreted from its original purpose to “make disciples of all nations” into a new purpose of “Christianizing nations” for the social betterment of mankind, the Holy Spirit’s leadership is neglected. The human spirit supplants the role of the Holy Spirit.

Giving lip service to the Holy Spirit’s initiative, leadership, and work in evangelization and “closure” is not enough. For one by one, He empowers the willing members of the body of Christ to become evangelists of Christ’s gospel. He is sovereign. He directs world evangelization. His witnessing power is freely given by the Father to any desirous and obedient heart—regardless of status, class, or expertise.

Neglect of this basic truth and empowering experience makes way for the affirmation of human social processes as the key to so-called “evangelism.” Such neglect of spiritual truth has delayed “closure,” it appears—at least to the last decade of this century.

Conditions for “Closure”
If “closure” occurs in our generation—and it should—it will happen because of our obedience to the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. If the Pentecostal/charismatic movement fails, it will do so because it has abandoned its spiritual moorings for the arm of flesh, as other dynamic movements within the Church have done in the past two millennia.

We enter the upcoming decade humbly, realizing that human effort is not enough. We know that our strategy for a Decade of Harvest will not get the job done alone.

Our submission to a worldwide sovereign move of the Holy Spirit is the vital linchpin to all that will be achieved for God’s glory.

We believe that this is the only foundation for “closure.” And we are ready for the task.

Ralph Williams, a first-generation missionary of the Assemblies of God, left a legacy of truth for us. He said that the key to evangelization in any nation is to find where the Holy Spirit is moving among the people, then plant the Church there. How true that is today!

“Closure” and the Nations
Jesus made an irrefutable connection between the evangelization of the nations and His second coming. The most sincere way for us to pray with evangelist John—“Come, Lord Jesus!”—is to bear evidence of our sincerity by total obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.

Be careful not to stumble over the word nation. A precise biblical definition is difficult. After studying the Old Testament word goyim and the New Testament ta ethne—both translated “nations”—it becomes apparent that the basic idea is one of a defined body or group of people or some specific segment of a large group of people.

But what distinguishes a “nation” from some other group? The Bible uses the word nation, or its plural nations, in several different contexts. The prevailing characteristics, however, are that “nations” exist as distinct, recognized, often political, ethnic, and, sometimes, territorial entities.

The common thread of identity for a “nation,” however, is its unique culture and language. “Nations” may exist without a political structure and territorial base. So we may not equate our word country with the biblical word nation. These words sometimes may be the same, but usually they are used differently.

Generally, we may refer to a “nation” as a distinct people group with a common culture and language. When Jesus sent His Church out into the world to make disciples of “nations,” He was referring to such people groups.

Obviously, of the 223 geographical countries and territories in the world, thousands of additional “nations” dwell within them. India is a good example. As the world’s largest democracy, it is composed of hundreds of various cultural-linguistic people groups. It is the home country for a myriad of “nations.”

“Closure” is the business of making disciples of every “nation”—or cultural-linguistic people group—on the earth. This is no small task. The sheer volume of “nations”—with a large percentage of them lacking an adequate witness of the gospel—requires that a cross-cultural missionary team reach them. The vision for global outreach by many nationally organized Assemblies of God fellowships, reflected in the idea of the Decade of Harvest, is to encourage and provide a cross-cultural witness to every “nation” before A.D. 2000.

The Old Testament and the “Nations”
The idea of “nations” is introduced in the table of nations in Genesis 10 and is explained in the story of Babel in the following chapter. At the beginning of the building of Babel, the people of the earth spoke one language. When they quit building, they were scattered by the Lord throughout the earth as many diverse “nations.” Language made the difference between these “nations.”

Today, the effects of the scattering of the peoples at Babel continues. More than 7,000 languages and dialects exist, and the number is increasing through the centuries. More than 22,000 people groups have been identified, with 17,600 still lacking an adequate witness of the gospel.

Throughout the Old Testament, “nations” were prominent in the plan of God. Abraham, in God’s covenant with him and his descendants, became the father of many “nations.” And God blessed His covenant people, Israel, to be a blessing to the “nations.”

In the Old Testament, the words gentiles, heathen, and nations are synonymous terms. Generally, the word nations refers to the non-believing, non-covenant people groups surrounding Israel to the ends of the earth. The “nations” exhibit wickedness (Deuteronomy 18:9; 2 Chronicles 33:2) and the making of their own gods (2 Kings 17:29). The “nations” stand in opposition to the covenant people of God and oppress them (Psalm 59:8). Israel, the “covenant nation,” is warned that if they live and worship like the other “nations,” they will share in the “nations”’ judgment (Deuteronomy 32:28; Isaiah 1:4; Malachi 3:9).

The “nations” are not hopelessly lost. Israel was chosen as a covenant people to bless the “nations.” God’s plan is for the “nations” to participate in all the blessings He promised to Abraham through the condition of faith. Meanwhile, God uses the “nations” to punish ancient Israel for faithlessness and disobedience (Jeremiah 4:7; Habakkuk 1:5).

In the future, God will use the “nations” to contribute to the glory of Israel (Isaiah 60:10; Haggai 2:6). They, too, are invited to seek the Messiah as their Savior (Isaiah 11:10, 42:6). Finally, one people of God will exist. They will be a “royal nation” unto God from all tribes, tongues, and territories.

The New Testament and the “Nations”
The teachings of Jesus shed further light on God’s plan for the “nations.” The “nations” will be integral to the mission of the Church, serving as the targets for evangelism and discipleship (Matthew 28:19,20). Christ died for all peoples and for all “nations”—including His “covenant nation” of Israel. He has made an everlasting covenant with His Church, which is gathered from all “nations”—Israel first, then the Gentiles.

“Nations” shall be indicators of the nearness of Christ’s second appearing; general signs of His coming shall be manifested among them (Matthew 24,25). They will wage cold and hot wars against each other. They will sustain famine and earthquakes. His disciples from among the “nations,” shall be hated by the “nations” and suffer persecution. And, of course, the gospel shall be preached to all “nations.”

When Christ comes again, the “nations” will mourn at His appearing, an indication that vast numbers of peoples will reject the message preached unto them. The elect shall be gathered from among the “nations,” showing that many did receive the truth of the gospel. Then our Lord will judge the “nations,” separating the righteous from the wicked (Matthew 24-26).

Jesus’ Soon Coming
The Holy Spirit motivates us to witness to the “nations.” The truth that Jesus’ second coming is near prods us to live in holiness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness and through our obedience to the Word of God, the “closure” of this age during our lifetime is a definite possibility.

We are entering a Decade of Harvest, but, in reality, the harvest is already upon us. The green has already gone out of the harvest fields among the “nations” of the earth. Time is precious.

Please pray for us. Intercession must be made now for the on-site workers and the workers yet to arise to the task. Missionaries, national pastors, evangelists, teachers, and national church leaders must be lifted before the Lord, because they need godly wisdom and understanding of the times.

Pray for pastors at home and for their sending and supporting churches, that their missionary vision will increase. And pray that the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen will occur in our generation.

Jesus is coming soon. Let us be ready!

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