Closure and Christs 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 ages 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 historythe 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 Churchs mission to bear testimony of Christs kingdom to every nation.
A word of caution is necessary, however. Soothsayers may predictand foolishly sothe exact time of Christs 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 Christs near epiphany as a fable, deceiving themselves and others. But Gods 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 Churchnot to some master human strategy. Yes, we are responsible to plan, to provoke others to join our Fathers 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
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 countriesespecially 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 occurprincipally in the underdeveloped countriesthe 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 Gods 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 truththe 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 Spirits leadership is neglected. The human spirit supplants the role of the Holy Spirit.
Giving lip service to the Holy Spirits 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 Christs gospel. He is sovereign. He directs world evangelization. His witnessing power is freely given by the Father to any desirous and obedient heartregardless 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 appearsat least to the last decade of this century.
Conditions for Closure
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 Gods 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
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 ethneboth translated nationsit 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 worlds 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 nationor cultural-linguistic people groupon the earth. This is no small task. The sheer volume of nationswith a large percentage of them lacking an adequate witness of the gospelrequires 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
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 Gods 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. Gods 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
Nations shall be indicators of the nearness of Christs 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
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!