The Gospel: An Overview of the Great Commission
Updated: 4 days ago
Part One: God’s Redemptive Mission
The Gospel. It’s the redemptive plan of God from Genesis to Revelation, the overarching narrative of scripture, the reason the church exists, and why Christ has not yet returned. Many think the Gospel begins and ends with Jesus, but His first coming was actually the result of the Gospel—the good news first appears clear back in the 12th chapter of Genesis.
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” -Gal 3:8
You see, the good news isn’t Jesus, the good news is that God is a God of blessing. Contrast this with most other world religions which portray God as an angry deity of wrath and judgement who must be appeased in order to gain His favor. But God revealed Himself to Abraham saying that He would bless him, multiply him, and bless the rest of the world through him. In other words, God blesses us so that we can bless others. This twofold concept is utterly unique in all the religions of the world—not only is God a good God who cares about our wellbeing and wants what’s best for us, but as He redeems and blesses us, He then turns around and uses the redeemed and blessed to affect blessing and change around them. The Gospel was truly intended to “go viral” in a fallen world in order to bring it back into relationship with a good and loving God.
This strategy of God’s is so redemptive, it actually sounds impossible. But His power is so limitless and His redemption so perfect that He is able to use the very ones who created the problem to be the agents of change to fix it. God could have done it Himself, but instead He invites us into His counsel, heals us, equips us, and empowers us to go into a broken world and bring all peoples and all things back into alignment with His perfect will. The incredible opportunity is given to us to be able to both partake in and share God’s glory in the healing and re-creation of the world. That revolution of redemption was just too amazing to keep all to Himself, so He invited us to partner with Him in order that not only would we be co-heirs with Him in the result, but also co-creators with Him in the process. This invitation is the highest honor God could have possibly offered us, despite the fact that we were unreservedly unqualified and undeserving. Yet offer it He did and we have the incredible opportunity to be sent by the King with His blessing, power, and authority to bless and redeem others, invite them into the family of God, and call them into His service as sent ones as well.
But we were not the first to be sent. Indeed, that calling began with Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 when God told him to leave his country, his family, and his home to go to the land which God would show him. And Abraham was hardly unique in this regard—all throughout scripture we find this pattern, this template, and this instruction to go. Moses was sent to Egypt, Jonah was sent to Nineveh, Jesus was sent to the Earth, the disciples were sent to the nations, and even during the cataclysmic events in the book of Revelation, two witnesses are sent to those who had turned against a loving and compassionate God. This pattern is utterly consistent throughout scripture—God initiates and pursues fallen man and asks His redeemed to partner with Him in that pursuit to reconcile the world to Him.
When scripture talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, like all kingdoms it includes people, land and territory, as well as systems and structures. We often overlook this obvious fact and think of God’s redemption only of individual people, but nations, cultures, land, governments, and economies are also part of His redemptive plan. He will redeem, reconcile, restore, and reign over all things.
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. -Col 1:19-20
The overarching narrative of scripture is quite simple. It begins with God creating a perfect world and giving dominion and authority over it to man. But quickly man gives that authority to Satan, so God comes to earth to take back that authority. Then God turns around and immediately gives that authority back to man through the church and instructs us to continue the redemption process, taking territory back from the enemy for the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why the prophet Isaiah said there would be no end to the increase of God’s government and peace (Isa 9:7), because the Kingdom of Heaven would continue to redeem more people, more nations, and more systems and structures until Christ returns and completes the redemption process, reigning over all for all eternity.
So while we all are anxiously awaiting Christ to return, correct all wrongs, eliminate all sin, death, and suffering, and kick Satan off his temporary throne over the fallen world, that ultimate end cannot come until the church has been faithful with the task given to her. The command and responsibility given was clear when Jesus said go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. Equally clear was that this task must be completed before Christ could return and the end come. When the disciples asked Jesus in Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13 when the end would come, Jesus’ answer wasn’t cryptic at all, He said the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. -Mat 24:14
Knowing the character and nature of God helps us understand why our task must be complete before He will return. Yes, there is a redemption process, but at an even more fundamental level the issue is pure and simple—love.
Where is the promise of His coming? The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. -2 Pe 3:4 & 9
So ironically, we are not waiting on Christ to return, He is waiting on us. With the revelation of this responsibility, the Church should be on point and on mission to fulfill her purpose. We have been redeemed, we have been called, and we have been empowered. The world is waiting. God is waiting. We must be a people who go.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Mat 28:18-20
“The Bible is not the basis of missions; missions is the basis of the Bible.” - Ralph Winter
Part Two: The Purpose of the Church
The Church. It’s the redemptive entity given all authority by God to alter the course of both history and eternity. But all throughout that history, the Church has consisted of not one, but two structures. It is this complementarian design which has enabled the Bride of Christ to be both effective and efficient in redeeming the world around her. God’s dualistic design of the Church uniquely enables her to engage in every sphere of society, both locally and globally, while being able to simultaneously evangelize and disciple all people and all structures within the reach of her influence.
The two elements of the Church throughout history have consisted of local communities and mobile communities. The local church’s primary task is discipling local believers while the mobile church is focused mainly on converting new believers. Therefore, due to their design, the local church is more inward focused and pastoral in nature while the mobile church is more outward focused and apostolic in nature. These two structures were well developed in Judaism with both local priests and synagogues as well as the established ministry of travelling rabbis—the latter of which Jesus was a member of. These travelling rabbis had already planted synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, so the explosive growth of the early church can largely be attributed to this well-established foundation due to their Jewish forerunners. Indeed, the New Testament church model was almost entirely based on the Jewish template with Jewish synagogues becoming local churches and the travelling rabbis becoming Christian missionaries.
As the early church became more and more Gentile by percentage, the Roman culture overcame the Jewish influence and eventually Roman Catholicism took shape. But here also the Church was differentiated by two distinct entities—the parish and diocesan structure of the local church and the monastic order of the mobile church. Both the diocese and monastery were legitimate and recognized branches of the Church, just as in the previous models, but now were led by priests and monks respectively. As in the previous Jewish synagogue and early church models, the diocese was a structured fellowship open to all while the monastic order required a second decision or commitment to enter membership. As with the earlier models, the monastic movement was the primary conversion force of the Church with Celtic monks being particularly effective in evangelizing the European continent.
Then Martin Luther, himself a member of the monastic order, reacted to certain abuses and excesses and the Protestant Reformation for the first time in history, pared the Church down from two structures, to only one. With only the local church structure intact, an attractive model of evangelism became the norm rather than the sending model present throughout scripture and history. This also shifted the focus of the local church from the discipleship of existing believers to evangelism of nonbelievers as the local church attempted to do the work of both structures. As a result, the Kingdom was strengthened in numbers at the local level, but for hundreds of years, the Church largely did not expand into new territory, nations, or peoples. The West was evangelized, but the rest of the world was largely ignored by the Church.
It wasn’t until the late 1700’s—over 250 years after the Protestant Reformation—that William Carey recognized the grave error the Church had made and sought to launch the mobile church once again. He was met with great resistance by the leaders of the local church and unfortunately, much of the antagonism between the local and mobile church in Protestant Christianity remains to this day. But God’s design for the Church was for two to be one, not for one to be two. The marriage of the local and mobile church is critical in fulfilling our design and purpose in the world. Satan’s strategy is always to divide and conquer, so unity in the task is essential. That task is rather straightforward—Jesus stated it plainly before ascending to the Father in Matthew 28:19-20.
The first part of Jesus’ instruction was to go and make disciples of all nations. This element was the redemption and blessing of every people. The Tower of Babel marked the creation and dispersion of distinct languages and people groups all the way back in Genesis due to their rebellion. The promise of the redemption of every people group came to Abraham, but the fulfillment of the redemption isn’t seen until the book of Revelation.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands… -Rev 7:9
The second part of Jesus’ instruction was to teach the people of every nation all that He had commanded. This element was the redemption and blessing of every thing. When Jesus said to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you,” we realize that the Great Commission is much more than just evangelism, but intense discipleship as well. All that God has commanded is all of scripture—instructions not just in morality and theology, but God’s design and parameters for every aspect of life. These aspects are often called the seven spheres, or the seven mountains of influence: the sphere of religion, family, government, economics (business, science, and technology), education, media (communication), and celebration (arts, entertainment, and sports).
God doesn’t just want people saved so they go to heaven, He wants them discipled to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This means living according to God’s design not just for the Church, but also for families, governments, economies, etc. The Church is supposed to teach and steward the law of God for all the spheres, so our discipleship of every people from every nation has to go much deeper than the salvation message. The Celtic monks understood this and practiced a highly effective evangelism and discipleship model which sent out teams of people to plant the church in a new region. Those teams were led by monks, but included lay people such as carpenters, farmers, bankers, artists, teachers, and engineers. They evangelized the continent of Europe twice in history by teaching the commoners how to read, how to build, how to produce, how to trade, and how to love and serve God in all of it. The Great Commission is not for a select few—we all are called to ministry. The only question is which sphere we are called to, and in which geographic location in the world around us.
"The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity." - Mike Stachura
Part Three: The Progress of the Plan
The Kingdom. It’s the ever-expanding government, power, and authority of God's rule and reign in this world. It’s invisible and not of this world as Jesus described it to Pilot, but its effects are clearly seen throughout world history. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that God’s government on earth would always increase until it encompassed everything and everyone (Isa 9:7), which we know culminates in His second coming. But the increase which we see in God’s government on earth—the Church—doesn’t present itself as the simple linear growth chart we’d expect.
What we see in the last 2,000 years of history is that the Church pulses with growth and contracts between each pulse. What causes these pulses is critical to understand. As God made the seven spheres of influence to work together in harmony, it should be no surprise that they also influence the growth of the Church. Particularly, the sphere of government has an enormous effect on God’s government. This plays out on a global scale when viewed through the lens of geopolitics and world empires. Watch the growth and contraction of Christianity interplay with world empires in this short clip:
Paul hints at this key relationship between kingdoms and The Kingdom in Galatians 4:4 by stating that God sent His son at the fullness of time. This idiomatic phrase simply means “at the perfect moment in time.” This begs the question, why was that particular time the perfect one for Jesus to come and for the Church to be launched? Well, because the circumstances at that time allowed massive growth. The early church exploded onto the scene and flourished despite experiencing extreme persecution. What enabled such widespread evangelization was the Roman Empire itself, which had established relative regional peace and stability, built a massive infrastructure including roads and mail systems, established a common language, and had established wealth and trade. Indeed, we see massive Church growth all throughout the period known as the Pax Romana—the Peace of Rome—with the Church emerging from nothing, to a fifth of the world’s population at that time.
But then came a contraction. When the Roman Empire collapsed, so did the Church as economies imploded, civil unrest exploded, and wars erupted. This pattern is utterly consistent in human history—a nation rises to superpower status and establishes a period of relative peace and prosperity, then it falls and the world is plunged into war and chaos. This phase of chaos is called a multipolar season—when nations jockey for position through war. Out of these massive conflicts, eventually two opposing powers emerge in a phase called a bipolar season. Finally, one nation rises to the top to become the next world superpower and dominant civilization in a phase called a unipolar season. It is in these seasons where the Church can go out in power and numbers to preach the gospel and expand The Kingdom of God.
We see the interplay between these kingdoms and The Kingdom clearly in history. When Rome was the unipolar power, the Church grew to 20% of the world’s population. When Rome collapsed in 476 AD, the Church contracted to 17%. It remained dormant and in decline for over 700 years of multipolar and bipolar seasons until the Mongolian Empire came along. Then in that roughly 150 year unipolar season, the church grew from 17% to 24% of the world population. When the Mongolian Empire fell, the Church dropped from 24% to 18% during another nearly 450 years of multipolar and bipolar seasons. Then finally the British Empire emerged and established another 100 years of peace, and with it, another season of massive Church growth from 18% to 34% of the world’s population. That growth ended with World War I as the British unipolar season ended and yet another multipolar season came upon us. Enduring two World Wars (multipolar) and then the Cold War (bipolar), the Church contracted from 34% to 25% of the world’s population. But then the USSR collapsed, ending the bipolar season and America emerged the next world superpower. The Church then absolutely exploded from 25% to 33% of the world’s population in just 10 years. What is so remarkable about this unipolar season is that the world population increased dramatically. So while during the last unipolar season under the British Empire the Church was 34% of the world population, that total number was around 550 million believers. During the American unipolar season, while only growing to 33% thus far, that number jumped to over 2 billion believers—nearly a four-fold increase. This numerical growth in a single decade added more people to The Kingdom than all the rest of church history combined.
These growth spurts can be broken into several phases or categories. You have the ancient church era which expanded during the Peace of Rome and Mongolia and was comprised of the early church, the Roman Catholic church, and the Celtic church. Then you have the modern church era, which expanded during the Peace of Britain and America, comprised mainly of the Protestant church in terms of growth. In this modern era of Protestant sending and planting, there are 4 distinct missions movements: the Coastlands movement (1790’s – 1850’s), the Inlands movement (1850’s – 1930’s), the Unreached People Groups movement (1930’s – 2000’s), and the Call to All movement (2000’s – present).
The pace of both world events and church growth seem to be accelerating, a phenomena which also appears to be hinted at in the biblical texts. Both the length and duration of unipolar seasons and multipolar and bipolar seasons are decreasing as world population accelerates and The Kingdom jumps to increasing heights. The Peace of Rome lasted almost 450 years in the church era, the Peace of Mongolia lasted about 150, the Peace of Britain only 100, and so far the Peace of America has held for about 30 years, but is already showing signs of decay. Likewise the multipolar and bipolar seasons have contracted from over 700 years between Rome and Mongolia, to about 450 between Mongolia and Britain, to about 75 between Britain and America. Meanwhile the world’s population grew by only 35 million during the Roman Peace, basically remained stagnant during the Mongolian Peace, shot up 600 million during the British Peace, and then exploded nearly 3 billion so far during the American Peace. What is happening?
Well not once or twice, but four times the New Testament uses the analogy of a woman in labor to describe the period collectively known as “the last days.” This period began after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension and of course ends at His return. Jesus uses this analogy in Mark 13:8 and John 16:19-21, and Paul uses it again in Romans 8:19-23 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3,—both of them playing off of previous uses of the analogy by the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The thing about labor is that contractions start out slow and mild but ramp up in intensity as the duration between them gets shorter and shorter until they culminate in the birth of a child—Jesus’ return in the analogy. So, are we living in the last days? Yes. We have been for the last 2,000 years or so. But are we expecting Jesus’ return any moment? Not until all the prophecies are fulfilled, and that includes preaching the gospel of The Kingdom to every nation, tribe, and tongue. What we can expect is for things to continue to escalate and accelerate as the contractions get more intense and frequent.
"His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice." - John Stott
Part Four: The Unfinished Task
The task. It’s the core of the gospel message, the cry of God’s heart, and the reason He has not yet returned. While Christianity is prevalent in the West, the reality is there are still an incredible amount of people groups in the world today which do have access to either a Bible or a single believer to tell them about Jesus. We call these populations Unreached People Groups, or UPG’s. They should be the main focus of the Church as they are the most spiritually needy and least served. Sadly, that is not the case and instead we see the vast majority of the Church’s time, energy, and resources trained on people who have the most access to the gospel.
Out of the world’s 17,422 people groups, an estimated 7,409 of them do not yet have the gospel—a staggering 42.5%, amounting to over 3.1 billion souls. The vast majority of these peoples live in an area of the world known as the 10/40 Window, which refers to 10 degrees to 40 degrees North latitude in the Eastern hemisphere. This is predominantly North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia—home of Islam, Hinduism , and Buddhism. Not coincidentally, it is this region with the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition, sickness, injustice, corruption, conflict and terrorism in the world. In these lands, people live poorly and die without ever having the chance to hear about the hope found in Christ. As Carl F.H. Henry once said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.”
Out of the roughly 6,500 languages in the world, about 1,700 still do not have any form of scripture. Translation efforts have really picked up steam recently however, with Bible societies now projecting they could complete that task by the early to mid 2030’s. Bibles don’t do any good however without someone going to take them and the message to those who speak the language. Technology has made transportation easier, but no amount of technology can replace the human connection necessary and commanded by God.
This is where the current missions movement, the Call to All, comes in. As the last missions movement lost momentum around the year 2000, the world is desperately in need of a new wave. In fact, since 2000, world missions sending has dropped off precipitously. The US is the leader in world missions but in the last 20 years has been in serious decline, losing nearly a third of its missions force. As it lost its purpose and vision, it also lost its audience with church membership dropping from 70% of the US population in 1998, to just 50% in 2018. While the Western church has hoped that other nations would take the lead, the reality is that responsibility lies squarely upon America’s shoulders. In Luke 12:48 Jesus states plainly that to whom much is given, much is required, and America has been given more than any nation in history. She is rich in both resources and ability. In fact, though America makes up just 4.25% of the world’s population, the American church holds 60% of all global Christian finances, 70% of all global Christian technology, 75% of all global Christian training resources, and provides virtually 100% of all global missions innovation, strategy, and leadership.
It is because of this that America needs to send 200,000 new missionaries to the harvest fields of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia now—she has the means, she just needs the motivation. She must refocus her energies and resources to the peoples and regions of the world which so desperately need them. But not only is she not sending, she’s not giving either. Currently, 97% of all Christian giving stays in the local church to minister to the evangelized Christian world—the wealthiest and most spiritually rich people on the face of the earth. Of the paltry 3% of giving which gets sent outside of our Jerusalem, the majority—2.97%—goes to the evangelized non-Christian world. These are peoples and nations which have the gospel, have the Bible, and have the Church, they just haven’t converted in large enough numbers to be called “Christianized” yet. That leaves an embarrassing 0.03% of all Christian giving which goes to the most physically and spiritually needy people on the planet—those who have never heard the gospel, don’t have access to a Bible, and don’t have access to a single Christian, let alone a church. The Church needs to think in terms of triage and look beyond its local interests and needs in order to expand the Kingdom and complete the Great Commission.
But what is so exciting and unprecedented is that the Church, for the first time in history, has the opportunity to do just that in this generation—complete the Great Commission. No other time and in no other generation has the end been in sight and within grasp. In fact, if the Church were to seriously reengage in missions right now, she could see the completion of that task in the next 10-15 years. Sending 200,000 missionaries sounds daunting, but the reality is that the Western church sent 100,000 into the field just during the Student Volunteer Movement of the late 1800’s when the Church was a fraction of the size and held a fraction of the resources it does today. In fact, completing the Great Commission in our lifetimes would be possible by committing a fraction of a single percent of the Church’s people to the field. But the Church’s window of opportunity is limited. If she doesn’t act, it could be several generations from now before she has the opportunity again.
This is due to the geopolitical cycle continuing to move forward and the Peace of America fading quickly. America’s unipolar season is already in decay and a multipolar world is on the horizon. Geopolitical experts are expecting America’s collapse as a unipolar power this decade, with many believing World War III could break out within the next 5-7 years. When that happens, the Church will once again go into decline around the world until the next unipolar season enables her to go out in power and numbers. We can act now and see the largest spiritual awakening and harvest history has ever seen, completing the Great Commission in our generation, or we could miss our window of opportunity and delegate that responsibility to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren. The choice is ours and the time is now.
The American church needs to see revival, repent, respond, and resend. She is the vessel that God is wanting to use in this unprecedented season. She has been given everything she needs, she just has lost her vision and her zeal. But her fate is not yet sealed and her light has not yet set. But to change the tide of history in this season, the Church is going to have to be dedicated rather than decadent and be sacrificial rather than selfish. But if we choose this day to serve the Lord, the reward will be unlike anything the Church has ever seen.
"I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done." - Hudson Taylor
Part Five: The Hope of the World
The message. It is utterly unique among all world religions and has the power to develop nations and bless people. A common and persistent lie that even many Christians believe is that the Bible teaches much the same as any other religion, and that Jesus is but one of many moral teachers. But as we look at the teachings of other religions and the lives of their founders, a very different picture emerges. While it is true that there is some overlap in what many world religions believe, each is quite unique and mutually exclusive from the others. Genetically speaking, humans and pigs also have a lot in common, but no one claims that Beethoven and bacon are basically the same thing. It’s the differences, not the similarities, which matter most.
Islam makes up about 24% of the earth’s population, making it the second largest religion of the world and the fastest growing. Though many claim the Islamic Allah and the Christian God are the same, the reality is that the primary attribute of God is love—and though there are 99 names for Allah, the biblical concept of agape (unconditional) love, or even storge (familial) love is not among them. The closest you'll find is Al-Wadood, a name which means affection in the sense of earned favor (see Surah Maryam, verse 96). This is not surprising as like all other world religions, you must earn salvation in Islam—Allah's affection for you is completely contingent upon your obedience to him.
However, salvation is not guaranteed. You could live the perfect Muslim life and keep all of Allah’s commandments and still not get into paradise. Where the God of the Bible is faithful and steadfast, Allah is mercurial and fickle. In fact, the only way to guarantee your entrance into paradise is through martyrdom in Jihad (war against unbelievers), which is why suicide bombings are so prevalent in the Muslim world. Unlike Jesus, Muhammad lived and taught violence, cruelty, and polygamy. Women were viewed only as sexual objects by Muhammad, even in paradise. Paradise itself, rather than being a place of communion with God as described in the Bible, is just a place where carnal pleasures are experienced as reward—Allah is just a Saint Peter figure standing guard at the gate. Seeing God as a father or a loving bridegroom therefore is a challenge for Muslims. While Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet in Islam, He is not believed to be God and both His death and resurrection are thought to be a conspiratorial lie.
Hinduism is the next largest religion which makes up about 15% of the world’s population. Hinduism is very polytheistic, with 33 “devas” or gods within their pantheon. Each of these gods has different traditions, ethics, and practices, which produces an enormous variety of religious expression and regional differences. To further complicate things, as these devas or their avatars permeate all things, any animate or inanimate object can be worshipped as a god as well. The belief in karma and reincarnation differ greatly from Christianity as justice is an impersonal force which repays evil for evil and good for good either in this life or in your next life.
This results in a fatalism or determinism which sees any blessing or curse in one’s life as either reward or punishment for a deed—from current or past lives. This ties directly into the caste system in Hindu societies as good karma will result in reincarnating in a higher caste, while bad karma will result in reincarnating in a lower caste or even as an animal or inanimate object. This creates a reluctance in Hinduism to treat lower caste peoples with compassion or respect as poverty and suffering is seen as justice for past bad karma. Attaining good karma is a nearly hopeless endeavor as there are so many different gods to appease and conflicting traditions to satisfy, hence the belief in reincarnation which provides a mechanism to increases your statistical odds.
Buddhism is a sister religion to Hinduism and the next largest, making up around 7% of the world’s population. Belief in karma and reincarnation are retained, but unlike Hinduism, there not many gods in Buddhism—there are none. Other differences are that you can only be reincarnated as sentient life (spirits, humans, and animals), and that the process of reincarnation only carries over the life force of a being while the soul (mind, will, and emotion) perishes. Due to the belief in only “enlightenment” rather than deities, there is no need for prayer or appeasement in Buddhism. In fact, there is no need for a moral code at all. The basic belief of Buddhism is that desire produces suffering, so the end goal is to eliminate all desire—even for life itself—and end the cycle of reincarnation by achieving Nirvana.
Nirvana is the state of becoming "one with the universe," which means dying and losing all consciousness—a very different end goal than the eternal life described in the Bible. Due to the objective being the elimination of all consciousness and a lack of belief in deities or strict morality, Buddhism is a very pragmatic religion, allowing for practically any beliefs or practices to be adopted as long as it aids you in your journey. This openness to syncretism and “religion a la carte” is very appealing to Westerners who want a relative, custom-tailored belief system which sanctifies their personal preferences and sense of truth. This ultimately nihilistic ideology allows for the deification of self which has led to widespread adoption of Eastern mysticism in the West.
The next largest category of belief is folk religions, often labelled as animism or shamanism. This indigenous tribal belief system makes up only around 6% of the world’s population and is dwindling. This is a religious system rife with superstition and the belief that everything has a spiritual cause in which humanity is viewed as just a part of nature, embroiled in the daily and perpetual struggle for life. The afterlife in these systems is usually a more glorified and harmonious version of nature where that struggle typically ceases—or at least decreases in intensity.
Animism differs from shamanism in that the latter employs the use of witch doctors or holy men who are able to contact the spirit world while the former is left to trial and error in self-diagnosis or social tradition. As the cause of everything from sickness to drought is always spiritual in these systems, the aid of a shaman who channels a familiar spirit to gain insight into that world becomes indispensable in discerning which spirit one has upset, and what is required to appease them.
While folk religions are typically viewed as "primitive" by modern societies, the latter still have a tendency to adhere to elements of these belief systems. However, they are presented in "sophisticated" language and concepts such as the worship of nature via environmentalism, or the view that mankind is just another animal in the struggle for life via evolutionary theory. But these concepts stand in contrast to the teachings of the Bible which state that humanity was uniquely created in the image of God and was given dominion over nature.
While not exactly a belief system, a large percentage of people are categorized as “non-religious,” comprising about 16% of the world’s population. This includes 2% which identify as atheist (the belief there is no god) and 14% which identify as agnostic (the belief that the question of god is unanswerable). Atheists are typically quite vocal and are often more zealous and evangelistic about their beliefs than more traditionally defined religious adherents, but their numbers are actually in decline around the world. However, non-religious numbers are growing due to a shift away from organized or institutional religion and traditional spirituality. People are becoming more skeptical, more critical, and less satisfied with tradition, but are not necessarily becoming less spiritual. They are simply turning to less traditional sources for answers or experiences. In fact, more people are religious today than ever before (see Rodney Stark's The Triumph of Faith)
We now come to Christianity, which is the largest and most divergent religion in the world, making up about 33% of all people. This belief system is utterly unique amongst world religions in many ways. It is the only religion that teaches salvation by grace, not by works. It is the only religion which worships a loving God who is both infinite and personal. It is the only religion whose holy writings are demonstrably both historically and prophetically accurate. It is the only religion which affirmed, rather than contradicted, earlier revelations. It is also the only religion which even secular studies have shown has produced education, economic growth, justice, scientific advancement, and advantageous moral values in every society in which it has been established (see Robert Woodberry's The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy, Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World, Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason, Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, Tom Holland's Dominion, Niall Fergusson's Empire, et al).
The Gospel truly is the Good News. Where as Islam teaches submission to a fickle taskmaster and conversion through violence and war, the Bible teaches relationship with a faithful, personal God and evangelism through love and self-sacrifice. Islam believes in complete determinism where things can only happen insha allah (if god wills it), but the Bible teaches man has free will. While Hinduism claims everything that happens is karma executing cosmic justice, the Bible states that this world is plagued with injustice but that God will one day bring perfect justice. Hinduism claims that each soul has nearly infinite lives to live in order to obtain righteousness, while the Bible states that we have but one life to live and that righteousness cannot be achieved by the unrighteous, only imparted by the One who is righteous. While Buddhism claims there are multiple paths to enlightenment as a concept, the Bible states there is but one road to truth and He is a person. Where Buddhism teaches humanity's problem is eternal life (reincarnation) and the solution is eternal death (Nirvana), the Bible teaches the problem for humanity is sin and death and the solution is God's gift of eternal life. Where folk religions believe every negative event is caused by upsetting a spirit and sacrifice and appeasement is required to live at peace, the Bible states that mankind himself is often the cause of his own suffering but that God sacrificed Himself to atone for our actions and give us peace. Where agnosticism claims the question of God is unanswerable or deism claims He is is unknowable, the Bible states He is personal, can be experienced, and desires to be known—not for His benefit, but for yours. Where atheism claims God doesn't exist, there is ultimately no meaning in life, all morality is subjective if not arbitrary, and humanity is a cosmic accident, the Bible doesn't just state that God exists, but actually invites us to test that claim, encounter Him for ourselves, experience the truth of absolutes, and understand our purpose and design.
In reality, the Judeo-Christian God stands alone among all world religions and philosophies. There is no greater name, no higher concept, no more comprehensive worldview, no more demonstrable reality, no more hope, and no more redemptive and transformational power than that presented in and through the Bible as Dr. S.M. Lockridge poetically captured in his famous speech, "Seven Way King"—you'll want to watch all three minutes of it.
"I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light" - John Keith Falconer
Part Six: Beautiful Feet
The call. It’s the honor and responsibility of every Christian. Unfortunately, many believers have been under the impression that living a missional life requires a special calling or appointment by God when in reality, it is the default for all who call Jesus, “Lord.” But as the Roman Catholic church took root, so did highly structured systems of worship which led the church back to an Old Testament practice of professional clergy distanced from the common folk. This persisted even in the Protestant Reformation, though its effects were mitigated somewhat. Even in the Church today, people still view pastors or missionaries as trained professional positions rather than simply roles within the body of Christ. Sharing the love of Christ and teaching His commandments is not a profession, it is a lifestyle. The only question is what area of society and which geographic location God has called you to minister in.
Whether you are a skilled teacher of the Bible, a businessman, tradesman, or artist, the call of God on your life is the same—disciple the nations. We default to thinking that whatever nation we happen to be born in is the one God has called us to, but this an unbiblical assumption. We must go wherever the harvest is, wherever the need is, and wherever the Spirit is moving. The early church sent out volunteers, not professional missionaries. Likewise, the Celtic church sent out teams of missionaries consisting of monks, carpenters, farmers, masons, and blacksmiths. The Church was planted and the nations were discipled by people taking their skills to foreign lands and blessing the people in every sphere of society, whether it was economics, religion, family, government, celebration, education, or media and communication. This holistic approach resulted in nations being both saved and discipled, producing development, prosperity, justice, and massive improvements in quality of life. Simply put, God’s law brought enormous blessing.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” -Rom 10:14-15
This passage helps us understand that discipling nations is a team effort and not everyone will play the same role. Some are sent, others send and serving as senders is just as important as serving as one who is sent. It also allows those who are not currently sent to still be actively engaged in the Great Commission by giving their time, resources, and prayer to the unreached harvest fields while they physically work the fields at home. These roles can change too—people can return from being sent and be a part of sending others. In fact, the most effective way for missions awareness and involvement to be cultivated is by workers returning from the field, sharing their testimonies, and encouraging others to go and do the same.
Without this cross-pollination, the local church can quickly grow dull in her redemptive purpose and become too inward focused. But as the local church hosts and hears from those in the field and supports and champions the efforts, vision and purpose is planted and people begin thinking bigger than their immediate circumstances. Generosity and sacrifice become part of the church culture and physical involvement and partnership soon follows. This leads to short-term trips, which often serve as supply lines of resources and encouragements for long-term workers and efforts. Short term trips open eyes, give greater perspective, and fuel our sending. They also are often the launch pads which produce long term workers.
But of equal importance is the understanding that the Church is called to her Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth simultaneously. As a missions mentality is cultivated, individuals begin to serve wherever they are. When we stop thinking in terms of career and start thinking in terms of calling, every aspect of life in every sphere of society becomes a mission field. Most missionaries serve primarily in their home country, seeking to save, redeem and teach the people in their sphere and culture. These roles usually pay directly, so the home missionary’s financial structure looks very familiar and normal. But like the Levites in Old Testament Israel as well as Jesus, the apostles, and many others in the New Testament, God calls some to a slightly different financial structure as the mission field they are called to does not pay directly. In these cases the people of God are instructed to give and support them and the work through different tithes and offerings. It is important to understand that this is not charity—it is indirect payment for services rendered, as scripture states that the worker is worthy of his wages (1 Tim 5:18) and honor. This financial structure is what enables individuals to invest in multiple mission fields simultaneously, at home and abroad.
So who is called to the fields which require tithe and offering financial structures? Who is called primarily to their Jerusalem and who is called primarily to the ends of the Earth? It is important to consider these questions, but often they lead to either feelings of guilt or fear. The perceived safety and security of the standard paycheck and career can prevent people from even considering the alternative, but it is also true that God is not calling every believer to a field which requires a Levitical model. Even in ancient Israel, the Levites were a small minority—roughly 3% of the population according to the census in Numbers chapters 1 and 3. But while the majority are not called to serve primarily in foreign mission fields, the reality is that there is great need and few who are answering that call. Currently sending around 130,000 missionaries, the American church needs to send at least an additional 200,000 new workers to unreached people groups to meet the need. This is a number which sounds large until you realize there are over 200 million Christians—about 1/3rd of which are weekly church goers—in America. That equates to just an additional 0.3% of regular church goers sent, which would still put our total at less than 0.5% of the American church serving in the most spiritually needy fields of the world.
Are you called? Yes. The question is, in what capacity? You can send through prayer, financial, and pastoral support as well as through mobilization and training. You can go short-term and long-term through many missions organizations and groups. What you cannot do is turn a blind eye to the dire spiritual realities of people who God loves and died for around the world. We can reach them all in this generation if we would so choose. The world is waiting. God is waiting. The Church must respond, and it begins with you.
"I have but one passion—it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ." -Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf