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    Oct 12, 2014

    Class 7: Taking the Gospel to all Nations

    Series: Missions

    Category: Core Seminars, The Glory of God, The Gospel, Evangelism, International Missions


    I. Introduction

    In the first few weeks of this class, we have talked about the foundation of missions and the urgency of missions. We saw from scripture that the underlying foundation of missions is God’s passion to see His name glorified by showing mercy to sinners. We also saw that this task, of taking the Gospel to the nations, is one that is particularly urgent because only through a conscious faith in Christ can a person be saved from God’s righteous wrath for their sins. Then last week, we began to think about the question of how to go about this task of reaching other nations with the Gospel, and we discussed the various ways that we can engage in cross-cultural evangelism even from right here in Washington D.C.

    This week, we want to think more about this question but specifically in terms of going oversees? Does God have a plan for this missionary task and can we know it? Are there particular things we should consider as a church in the process of sending people oversees to proclaim the Gospel?

    Let’s use the following illustration to help us focus on this question. Let’s take the example of two sinking ships, both with large numbers of people, and both sinking equally fast. You’re in charge of a team of rescuers on two boats which arrive at the scene of the first sinking ship, with people yelling and screaming. Off in a distance is the second ship, which is in the same critical condition, with people equally in need of being rescued. You have limited time and resources. What do you do? If you focus all of your efforts on saving the passengers on the ship closest to you, you’ll probably save more people from drowning then if you diverted one of the rescue boats to the far-off sinking ship. In terms of a utility analysis, it would make sense to concentrate your efforts fully on the sinking ship that is closest to you.

    Would God have us use similar reasoning in terms of deciding where to proclaim the Gospel oversees? If we use that same human reasoning in missions, shouldn’t we then go to places where there are large numbers of people, where there is the most religious freedom, easiest travel, and the most comfortable conditions?

    When we ask if it’s possible to know God’s plan for his missionary enterprise, it is probably helpful to start by saying what we do NOT mean by asking the question. We do not mean to imply that there is a specific and detailed plan revealed to us regarding each trip, every journey, all Gospel conversations. God certainly has a plan in regard to those details, but he hasn’t chosen to reveal all of it too us. But can we know at least part of this great plan. If so, how?

    II. God’s Commission for Missions – Matthew 28:18-20

    We can begin in our efforts to understand what is revealed about God’s plan for missions, by starting at the point of Christ’s commission for the work of Gospel missions . . . at what we term the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20.

    And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

    We find at least three clearly detailed parts of God’s missionary plan, embodied in this command.

    1. First, that we would go into all the nations. So God would have us go all over the world, not just where we believe that we can achieve the maximum effect or results.

    e.g. – So we see this in some of the Apostle Paul’s journeys. In chapter 15 of Romans, Paul says that it his ambition is to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that he would not be building on someone else’s foundation. [read Acts].

    2. And second, not only should we go, but also make disciples by teaching them thoroughly.

    And finally, notice also that we can go with assurance that Christ’s work will be accomplished. How do we know that? Because Christ lays claim to all authority in heaven and on earth, and for this reason commands his followers to go. We see that in verse 18. Because of this, and we see the word “therefore” used in verse 19, we are to go and make disciples of all nations. There is a cause and effect relationship in these two sentences because of the use of that word “therefore.”

    So we know we are to go to all the nations and make disciples, and we know that God’s purposes will be accomplished because all authority has been given to Christ.

    But if the task is merely to go to every “nation” and make disciples, isn’t our task done? Can’t we end the missions course right now and go sit in on the parenting class or something else? I mean hasn’t the Gospel been preached in every nation on earth. I would submit that there are Christian churches in every nation state on earth. Doesn’t even Saudi Arabia, which really cracks down on religious freedom, have churches, though many of them may be underground?

    And yet, despite this, Christians keep sending out missionaries and talking about the Great Commission as there was something yet to be completed. And, in particular, Christians keep sending missionaries to difficult places, where conversions seem to be slow in coming.

    Why do you think that is? Have they just not gotten the news? Or could it be that the word ‘nation,’ as we have read it in this passage and as it appears throughout Scripture, means something other than what we think of when we hear the term?

    [ask for responses from class]

    Here’s what John Piper says about this question in his book: Let the Nations be Glad, which we’ve been using for this missions class.

    God’s call for missions in Scripture cannot be defined in terms of crossing cultures to maximize the total number of individuals saved. Rather God’s will for missions is that every people group be reached with the testimony of Christ and that a people be called out for his name from all the nations.

    - John Piper, “Let the Nations be Glad,” pg. 169-170.

    So Piper views “nations,” as used in the Bible, not to mean a sovereign state, as we might think of it today but rather a people group.

    III. The Biblical basis for People Group thinking:

    Now this may be a helpful or interesting way to think about missions, but the question we should ask is this, “Is this a Biblical way to think about the work of missions?”

    To that question, I think the answer would be both no and yes.

    And I say no only in the sense that it’s NOT a command from Scripture. In other words, we’re not saying that you must agree with this understanding of classifications for missions (God’s plan to reach all people groups) in order not to sin. So it’s a wonderful thing for believers to leave their homes and native lands and go out for the sake of the name, even if they are not thinking of missions in categories of people groups. And in one sense, it doesn’t seem like Paul modeled this kind of specific thinking in any of his missionary journeys. As far as we know, he never learned a new language or targeted a particular ethnic group, although he did cross a huge cultural barrier in preaching the Gospel to the gentiles. But Paul’s focus seemed to be on just taking the Gospel to particular, large cities where there was no witness.

    But having said that, the concept of people group thinking in missions is both Biblical and significant. We think that the way we understand this idea actually will affect how we engage in missions and will influence the degree to which we are modeling our work on the revealed purposes of God in Scripture. And most of this stems from the differences in how we as modern people think of the word “nation” as opposed to how that word was used and understood in the first century.

    A. Mathew 28:18-20 “go and make disciples of all nations…”

    So thinking again about the Great Commission passage that we just read in Matthew 28: 18–20, Christ has commanded his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. Now, when we read the word nations we think of nation-states, like Russia or Germany or the United States.

    But that is not what the word used here means, and that is not what a reader in the first century would have likely understood. The word, which is very adequately translated from the Greek as “nations” here in the NIV is the word “ethnos” from which we get our English word ‘ethnic.’

    So Nation = ethnos

    Therefore, nation can be more accurately described as people group or ethnic group or ethno-linguistic group. You get the idea.

    And “all nations,” which translated from the Greek phrase: “panta ta ethne” can be thought of as “all the ethnic groups”

    This is confirmed by scripture verses throughout the Bible that speak of the Gospel going out around the world. In these verses, the word “ethnos” very naturally carried a corporate meaning in reference to people groups with a certain ethnic identity.

    B. Old Testament Verses

    For example, this idea of missions as reaching all people groups is also supported by many verses in the Old Testament that use the term nation. Many of these verses involve promises and expectations that God would one day be worshipped by all the nations or peoples of the world.

    For example:

    I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance (Pslam 2:8)
    Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples. (Psalm 96:3)
    I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever (Psalm 45:17)
    For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory. (Isaiah 66:18)

    But particularly significant and foundational for the missionary vision of the New Testament was the promise that God made to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, where he said that:

    - Genesis 12:1-3 “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you…”

    [So, what was the blessing of Abraham to the nations?].

    How is this promise seen in the New Testament?

    In Galatians, chapter 3: Paul says, “understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.’”

    Thus, we can conclude that the blessing of Abraham, namely the salvation achieved through Jesus Christ, would reach all the ethnic people groups of the world.

    C. Verses in Revelations

    Finally, the book of Revelations strongly supports the view that the central missionary task is to reach all people groups. A central text is Revelations chapter 5:9, where the apostle John is given a glimpse of that great climax of redemption as God’s redeemed people worship Him at his throne.

    And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.

    The idea behind this is that all people groups must be reached because God has appointed people to believe the Gospel who He has ransomed through the death of His son. The design of the atonement prescribes the design of mission strategy.

    Other verses in Revelations use this language of “tribe, language, people and nation.” So, for example we read in Revelations 7:9-10,:

    After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

    These converts were worshipping God. They are clearly pictured in the kingdom as peoples from all over the world.

    IV. What is a People Group.

    I hope this is sufficient to help us understand that the message about Christ is intended for every different people group. You might be thinking, well, that’s all and good but how do we define a people group?

    We should note some things initially. First, a precise definition of people group is probably not possible to give on the basis of what God has chosen to reveal in the Bible. Second, God probably did not intend for us to use a precise definition of people groups in a way that would lead us to believe that we could ever stop doing missionary work because we concluded that all people groups under our definition had been reached. Rather, as is more likely the case, as we read in Matthew 24:14, as long as the Lord has not returned, there must be more people groups to reach, and we should keep on reaching them.

    Indeed, we read in Matthew 24:14, this incredible promise by God:

    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.

    Well, all of that being said, how should we think of a people-group? Any ideas? [ask class]. Well, there are some biblical pointers to understanding what is meant by a people group. We read from Revelations earlier, which talks about God ransoming men from every tribe, and tongue and people and nation.

    So some have described a people group as follows:

    A significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, ect., or combinations of these. (1982 Lausanne Strategy Working Group).

    So, for example, Operation World lists the following as unreached people groups:

    • Lampugnese people in Indonesia
    • Hui and Hakka Chinese
    • West Iranian Peoples
    • Azeri Turk
    • Bhutanese

    These groups are particularly numerous in what’s called the 10/40 window of the world; which is defined as that area of Africa and Asia from 10 degrees north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator (mostly North Africa, the Middle East and Asia).

    (By the way, OW is a great resource; it contains detailed information about the extent to which the Gospel has reached individual countries and people groups within those countries; and provides specific ways to pray for those nations).

    V. Reached vs. Unreached

    Thinking about these unreached groups brings us to the next question that we need to consider; namely what does it mean to speak of an unreached people group. Now, interestingly, when the Scriptures speak of a group as being reached, it doesn’t mean that every person in that group has heard and embraced the Gospel. We can note Paul’s own reflections on reaching particular regions. As we read before in Romans, in chapter


    - Romans 15:18-21, Paul says:

    I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So, from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the Gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written, ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

    Ask: What do you think Paul meant by saying he had fully proclaimed the Gospel? Did he mean that every single person had heard the Gospel in that whole region?

    I don’t think so. Paul saw his mission as one of proclaiming the Gospel to those who had not heard the news. It seems that once the Gospel had taken root in a particular area, Paul saw that as the completion of this work. This is supported by Romans 15 if we read on in v. 23-24, where Paul says

    - “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain.”

    It would seem that Paul considered an area reached when there was some established church of believers that had taken root in a particular area. Once that happened, Paul was ready to move on to another place. Here, Paul moved on to Spain.

    Piper uses the following definition of an unreached people group in His book: “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.” [Great Commission: task involves making disciples as well as proclaiming Christ].

    Paul’s missionary journeys raise the question of whether the idea of frontier missions to unreached people groups (which is what we see Paul doing), whether that is the only Biblical model for missions?


    The answer I think is no. We also see models in Scripture of other types of folks being sent out with the Gospel message for a different task. For example, Timothy and Titus are both models of men who were sent to work very purposefully, “doing the work of an evangelist” even in areas that Paul had considered already to be “reached.” See 2 Timothy 4:5 (Paul left Timothy in Ephesus exhorting him to continue the work there)

    We also have examples in Titus (Titus 1:5), where Paul leaves Titus in Crete to take care of “unfinished” business and appoint elders to serve; and in Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) where Paul leaves Timothy in Ephesus to watch out false doctrines creeping into the church.

    In the end, whether we’re working in frontier missions, or coming behind someone else to train and establish the emerging church as Titus and Timothy did, establishing the church among unreached people groups is the work of missions in every age.

    VI. Brief Introduction to Contextualization:

    As we conclude our consideration of what it means to establish churches among unreached people, we need to briefly touch on the topic of contextualization. Contextualization refers to the process of planting a church in a particular context that is faithful to, and not importing unnecessary ideas from another context.

    For example, if you are planting a church among a Muslim, Central Asian people would it be wise to insist that they sit on pews, even though sitting on the floor is the norm in their culture. When people think about this topic, some have suggested a continuum labeled C1 through C5. A “C1” church plant would basically be a traditional church from suburban America planted in another context, say in an African village among a tribe that has just been reached with the Gospel. I mean can you picture it now; an Americanized church in that land, with its worshippers dressed in western clothing, listening to a praise band in English, .

    A “C5” church might be at the other extreme, perhaps a church of Muslims that still go to the Mosque to gather and still identify with all the traditions and festivals common to Islam. I hope you see the problems with either of those examples. The first one leads to an unnecessary burdening of a new church with extraneous cultural baggage; the second violates the principals articulated in the book of Hebrews (that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation as the mediator of God’s grace and that Christians should not even appear to return to an inferior covenant, not to mention returning to a false religion).

    We don’t have time here to go into much depth on this topic, but it is sufficient to point out that this is an area of some controversy. For us, however, I think we can best approach contextualization not by studying that topic but rather by being students of the local church in Scripture. If we gain a good knowledge of the fundamental biblical marks of a NT church, we can probably figure out what is good contextualization and what is Gospel-gutting accommodation. In short, if we understand that the core of a local church is: (ask if there is additional time)

    1. the right preaching of the Word of God.
    2. the right practice of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
    3. the right practice of church discipline (formative and corrective)

    then we will likely be well prepared for the countless alternate contextualization scenarios that may confront us. This is why at CHBC we try to get all individuals who may be planning to go overseas to spend a great deal of time studying not missions perse, but studying what the Scripture teaches about the church, it’s work and structure. By knowing that, we are best equipped to plant churches that will be thoroughly Biblical in any context.

    Note: If you would like to think more about this in the context of Missions, you should get a copy of the International Mission Board, Church Planting Guidelines.

    VII. God’s Glory in Reaching All Peoples

    Finally, we want to close with the question of why God does missions this way? Why is it that He chooses to ransom men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation? [Ask class if time].

    Well, we began this class about 9 weeks ago asking why we, as Christians, should take the Gospel to the nations. We concluded that it brings glory to God, who delights to show mercy to sinners.

    Here, as well, God is glorified in saving a people for Himself in every tribe, tongue, nation and people. [Ask class how that is so – through diversity].

    1. Diversity exalts His glory – Psalm 96:3-4

    More praise comes from unity in diversity rather than unity alone. It is more powerful and beautiful. Consider multitudes of people who have nothing else in common except for their salvation in Christ. That brings glory and honor to God.

    That’s why the church is such a beautiful picture and provides us with a glimpse of heaven. So I may have nothing in common with person X (use example) outside of our mutual great hope in Christ; but that commonality is everything. Our unity in Christ is a reflection of God, giving testimony to the one true God. The fact that we may be different in any other regard only highlights God’s greatness more.

    2. Demonstrates his universal greatness – Romans 15:11

    The fame and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty. If a work of art is admired among a small and like-minded group of people, its worth is minimal because it is not universally recognized. So its praise can be attributed to the particular biases of that small group of people. But if a work continues to win more and more people across cultures over centuries, then its greatness is clearly evident to all.

    3. Crushes ethnocentric pride.

    By focusing on all the peoples of the world, God undercuts ethnocentric pride and reminds people of His free grace rather than any distinctive of their own. See Acts 17.

    4. Worth shown in variety of those who love Him.

    God is magnified in leading a diverse group of people rather than a homogeneous group. The more diverse the people groups who forsake their gods to follow the one true God, the more visible is God’s superiority over these other false gods.