This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
I read a frightening statistic recently.
“Only 29 per cent of Christians believe that reaching unreached people around the world is 'very urgent.' ”
It's a quote from the Barna Group, the American research firm which specializes in faith and culture. I don't believe that it's far from the truth. (It could be even worse in Canada.) It holds up against recent research. In 2017, Barna asked churchgoers about The Great Commission. Only half had ever heard of it. It rang a bell for some, but only 17 per cent were actually familiar with it.
Yes, that's scary. It's frightening for the simple – and I would suggest “obvious” – reason that there is nothing more important for the church than to do our part in rescuing souls from eternal separation from God. Life is a blink of an eye compared with what's to come.
(It also begs the question: what on earth do we think church is about anyway? Also: what in blazes are pastors doing?)
Most denominations, congregations and believers simply do not place a high priority on evangelism. Tragically, it's only a few in Christendom who genuinely take it seriously.
The pandemic made it worse. Yes, being online allowed us to reach out in a new way. And yes, some of us received new people into our midst because of online technology – or at least we welcomed some back who haven't been able to be with us in person.
But in our race to adapt and go online – and establish protocols for meeting in person – evangelism went from the back seat of our churches to the storage room. Something that was already weak became even less of a priority.
It's time for that to change. And what better time than now, when we emerge from what we hope and pray are the final waves of COVID-19 and we enter a new church season.
Let's be reminded of what The Great Commission is, as stated in Matthew 28:18-20.
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (NIV)
I love how Jesus sets this up with a reminder that He is the Son of God. He is holy and heavenly royalty. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He is God in human form. And if we truly believe that, then we are obligated to listen and follow everything He says in His final words before He ascended to heaven. “Therefore” is the kind of word which should make listeners or readers pause and open their eyes, ears, hearts and minds to what follows. Skin should tingle as we take it in.
“Go” means to move, with purpose and in complete faith. “Make disciples” means to actively work to a specific goal.
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is not just for ministers. We are the priesthood of all believers. Notwithstanding what our denomination teaches – that the sacrament of baptism is to be administered only by teaching elders and those ruling elders who have been commissioned by presbytery – the truth is that real baptism is not a ceremony but rather being present to prayerfully and lovingly guide someone as they give their heart and mind – indeed, their entire eternal being – over to God in Christ.
There is nothing in this world or the next that is more important than this.
What will it take for the church to wake up to this? A church which does not make evangelism its chief priority is turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the will of God.
I am not aware of any 12-step program how to make this happen. And if anyone tries to sell you on one – buyer beware.
However, we can start by getting some encouragement from the apostle Paul – the great church planter – who was not particularly good on his feet. He was a powerful letter writer and brilliant theologian, but hardly a candidate to lead a megachurch. Not much to see in person, from what we glean from Scripture.
What he had was the ability to submit his entire being to the loving mercy of God, the brotherhood of Christ the Shepherd and the awesome capable power of the Holy Spirit to operate in ways that are unseen and beyond our abilities.
As Paul says, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)
Read it carefully and take in each word. “Mighty … power … at work … within us … infinitely more.” Do we believe God can do all that? And I mean, do we believe with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind? If so, let's live it and proclaim it.
Let all of us – teaching elders, ruling elders, members, and adherents everywhere – stop, drop, and pray for however long it takes to receive that power and hear our Lord's voice. For some of us, it will be the first time in quite a while. For others, it may be in a new and powerful way. Or it may even be the first time.
We are powerless on our own. We need Him. Allow Him to work.
As we emerge from pandemic distancing and as church programs (such as they are) fire up once again, we are invited to put aside pointless and destructive theological disputes which are orchestrated by the devil. Let us admit that we will never be able to reconcile our differences, at least not on human terms.
Shake off the dust and move on to what is more important.