Missions: The Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism
Most people today do not believe in the cause of foreign missions. Walbert Buhlmann, a Catholic missions secretary in Rome, speaks for many mainline denominational leaders when he says, “In the past we had the so-called motive of saving souls. We were convinced that if not baptized, people in the masses would go to hell. Now, thanks be to God, we believe that all people and all religions are already living in the grace and love of God and will be saved by God’s mercy” (Time, Dec. 27, 1982, 52). Sister Emmanuelle of Cairo, Egypt, says, “Today we don’t talk about conversion any more. We talk about being friends. My job is to prove that God is love and to bring courage to these people” (Time, 56).
Most people, like these two missionaries, do not submit themselves to the authority of God in the Bible, but instead create their own God according to what they would like him to say. And since they would like him to say that all men are saved whether they hear the gospel of Christ or not, therefore that is the kind of God they create.
Eternal Life Hangs in the Balance
But essential teachings of Scripture have to be rejected in order to believe in such a God. Listen to the words of the Son of God that he spoke when he called the apostle Paul into his missionary service:
“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles — to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16–18)
That is a meaningless and empty commission that our Lord gave to Paul if in fact the eyes of the nations don’t need to be opened, and they don’t need to turn from darkness to light, and don’t need to escape the power of Satan to come to God, and don’t need the forgiveness of sins that comes only by faith in Christ — who is preached by the Lord’s ambassadors. Paul did not give his life as a missionary to Asia, and Macedonia, and Greece, and Rome, and Spain in order to inform people that they were already saved, but in order to proclaim that salvation had been accomplished in Jesus Christ for all who repent and render to him the obedience of faith.
And so when his message about Christ was rejected (for example, at Antioch by the Jews), he said, “Since you thrust the word of God from you and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). What is at stake in missionary outreach to unreached peoples is eternal life. Conversion to Christ from any and every other allegiance is precisely the aim. “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Salvation Comes Only Through the Gospel
God is not unjust. No one will be condemned for not believing a message they have never heard. Those who have never heard the gospel will be condemned for their failure to own up to the light of God’s grace and power in nature and their own conscience. For as Romans 1:20, 21 says, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him.”
“Apart from the special, saving grace of God, people are dead in sin and alienated from the life of God.”
Apart from the special, saving grace of God, people are dead in sin, darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, and hardened in heart (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18). And the means that God has ordained to administer that special, saving grace is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish; so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:14–16).
The notion that people are saved without hearing the gospel has wreaked havoc in the mission effort of liberally oriented denominations. Between 1953 and 1980, the overseas missionary force of mainline Protestant churches decreased from 9,844 to 2,813, while the missionary force of evangelical Protestants, who take the Bible more seriously, increased by over 200%. The Christian Missionary Alliance, with its two hundred thousand members, supports 40% more missionaries than the United Methodist Church, with its 9.5 million members. There is amazing missionary power in believing the Word of God.
Two Irresistible Incentives of Frontier Missions
Many of you are on the brink of setting a new course of commitment to missions: some a new commitment to go to a frontier people, others a new path of education, others a new use of your vocation in a culture less saturated by the church, others a new lifestyle and a new pattern of giving and praying and reading. I want to push you over the brink this morning. I want to make the cause of missions so attractive that you will no longer be able to resist its magnetism.
For the true Christian Hedonist, our text contains at least two irresistible incentives to leave home for the sake of Christ and his gospel.
1. All Things Are Possible with God
Notice Mark 10:25–27, in which Jesus said, “‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ And they were exceedingly astonished and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’” This is one of the most encouraging missionary conversations in the Bible. What missionary has not looked on his work and said, “It’s impossible”? To which Jesus agrees, “Yes, with men it is impossible.” No mere man can liberate another man from the enslaving power of the love of money. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful because the bondage to things cannot be broken by any man. With man it is impossible. And therefore, missionary work, which is simply liberating the human heart from bondage to allegiances other than Christ, is impossible — with men! “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” And therein lies an incomparable incentive for missionary service.
Noël and I went to Urbana ’67. I recall how John Alexander, head of InterVarsity, said that when he was young, he thought, “If predestination is true, I would never become a missionary.” But then he added, “But now after years in the field I say, ‘If predestination is not true, I could never be a missionary.’” If God were not in charge in this affair doing the humanly impossible, the missionary task would be hopeless. Who but God can raise the spiritually dead and give them an ear for the gospel (Acts 16:14)? The great biblical doctrines of unconditional election, and predestination unto sonship, and irresistible grace in the preaching of Christ are mighty incentives to venture forth into a Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or tribal culture where people seem hard as nails against the preaching of the gospel.
“With men it is impossible, but not with God, and therein lies the incentive for missions.”
Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will heed my voice” (John 10:16). Therefore, when Paul enters city after city on his missionary journeys, his aim is clear — to gather in the sheep. The Lord said to Paul in a vision when he entered Corinth (Acts 18:9–10), “Do not be afraid but speak and do not be silent . . . for I have many people in this city.” And when Paul was finished preaching in the city of Antioch, Luke describes the result like this, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The missionary, who goes armed with the great truths of predestination and irresistible grace, goes with the confidence that God will do for others today what he did for Lydia — The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
When it comes to entering the kingdom, there are two truths. One is this: “With men it is impossible,” and no one will be saved. The other is this: “With God all things are possible,” therefore, those who are ordained to eternal life will give heed to the gospel and believe and be saved. David Brainerd, whose missionary journal and diary have probably done as much to fire the cause of missions as any book beside the Bible, said that he lived for two things: “my own sanctification and the ingathering of God’s elect.”
So the first incentive to missionary service is the great encouragement that when we leave home for Christ and the gospel, the conversions we seek will be the work of God in accord with his eternal plan. One plants, one waters, but God alone brings forth new life and gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7). What is impossible for us is not impossible with God, and he will do it. What a thrill to walk with God into an unreached town dominated by sin and Satan and to hear God say, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent . . . for I have many people in this city! I must gather them also. The sheep will give heed to my voice” (Acts 18:9, 10).
2. Christ Makes Up for Every Loss
The second incentive for becoming a missionary is seen in Mark 10:28–30. “Peter began to say to him, ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’” This text does not mean that you get materially rich by becoming a missionary — at least not in the sense that your own private possessions increase. It means mainly that if you are deprived of your earthly family in the service of Christ, it will be made up a hundredfold in your spiritual family, the church. But even this may be too limiting. What about the lonely missionaries who labor for years without being surrounded by hundreds of sisters and brothers and mothers and children in the faith? Is the promise not true for them? Surely it is.
Jesus Makes Up for Every Loss
Surely what Christ means is that he himself makes up for every loss. If you give up a mother’s nearby affection and concern, you get back one hundred times the affection and concern from the ever-present Christ. If you give up the warm comradeship of a brother, you get back one hundred times the warmth and camaraderie from Christ. If you give up the sense of at-homeness you had in your house, you get back one hundred times the comfort and security of knowing that your Lord owns every house, and land, and stream, and tree on earth. Isn’t what Jesus is saying to prospective missionaries just this: I promise to work for you, and be for you, so much that you will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything. That’s the way Hudson Taylor took it, because at the end of his fifty years of missionary labor in China he said, “I never made a sacrifice.”
Christ aims to be glorified in the great missionary enterprise. Therefore, he intends to remain the benefactor and for us to remain the beneficiaries. Even when we were called to be missionaries, we remain invalids in Christ’s sanitarium. We are still in need of a good physician. We are still poor in need of his wealth and welfare. So when he sends us to Liberia, or Cameroon, or Brazil, or Japan, or India, or China, he sends us there as part of our therapy. He says, “Now I know that there are some negative side-effects to this prescribed therapy, for example, persecutions, but I promise as your doctor that if you follow this missionary health regime, your condition will improve one hundred times more than if you reject it.”
Missionaries are not heroes who can boast in great sacrifice for God. They are the true Christian Hedonists. They are the ones who know that the battle cry of Christian Hedonism is missions, and have discovered that there is one hundred times more joy and satisfaction in a life devoted to Christ and the gospel than a life devoted to frivolous comforts, and pleasures, and worldly advancements. As Ralph Winter says at the end of his booklet, “Say Yes to Mission,” “Jesus, ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame . . . ‘ To follow him is your choice. You’re warned! But don’t forget the joy.” Or as I. Cambell White said in 1909 when the Layman’s Missionary Movement was at its peak, “Fame, pleasure, riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans.”
Give Up to Gain
I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I appeal to you to renounce all that you have in order to obtain the pearl of pearls. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in the service of the King of Kings. I appeal to you to take off your store-bought rags and to put on the garments of God’s ambassadors. I promise you persecutions and privations, but “remember the joy”: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
“Missionaries are not heroes who can boast in sacrifice for God. They are the true Christian Hedonists.”
Two incentives to become a missionary — straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ: First, every impossibility with men is a snap for God; the conversions of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with his sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s and he will give us the victory. Second, Christ promises to work for us and to be for us so much that when our missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything. When we follow his missionary prescription, we discover that even in the negative side-effects the improvement of our condition — our growth, our spiritual health, our joy — improves one hundred-fold.
Two Reasons God Is Moving at Bethlehem
Now I want to give two additional reasons why I think God is going to do a surprising work in missions at Bethlehem in the near future.
1. God’s Spirit Is Moving
One reason is that the breezes of his Spirit are already picking up. He called Glenn Ogren of our staff back into missions. Tonight we will commission David and Faith Jaeger who leave Tuesday for Liberia — the first new missionaries to be sent out from Bethlehem since Steve Nelson about ten years ago. The Frontier Missions Prayer and Study Group and Toshavim Missions Ministry Team are studying and praying and dreaming about how to make us a world church. The women’s missionary circles continue a steady base of prayer and education. Tom Steller is weighing the possibility of taking a team of people next summer to the U.S. Center for World Mission for a course of study in the Institute of International Studies. And Ralph Winter, the founder of the U.S.C.W.M. and missionary statesman, has agreed to be our keynote speaker at next year’s missionary conference. These developments at Bethlehem have not been engineered by any one person — they are evidences that something new from God’s Spirit is in the wind. Many of you have been praying to the Lord of the harvest — and the first fruits of his answers are already visible.
2. God’s People See the Need
The other reason I believe God is going to do a surprising work in missions at Bethlehem is that the extraordinary need of the world is becoming increasingly obvious, and we are not the kind of people who can ignore it. Satan’s great lie in the past generation has been that the Great Commission is completed, and so the church can forget her wartime mentality. People confused the “nations” of Matthew 28:19 (“Make disciples of all nations”) with political nations of our day, and concluded that disciples have been made in every nation, so the end can come. But they forget the song of heaven in Revelation 5:9, where Christ is praised: “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
When Jesus commissioned his church to disciple the peoples, he did not have in mind merely political boundaries. He had in mind the distant, distinct groups, including tribes and tongues and peoples. And today there are over sixteen thousand such groups undiscipled. If every Christian in the world won all his neighbors to Christ, half the world would be unevangelized; because two billion people make up culturally distant people groups who do not have an indigenous witness. They are the “hidden peoples,” the “frontier missions” of our day. The only way they can be reached is by cross-cultural missionaries. The day of foreign missions is not over. On the contrary, we stand on the brink of a new movement in the western and third-world churches to penetrate the last frontier.
One hundred fifty Protestant missionaries from North America serve among 733 million Muslims in four thousand Muslim people groups; one hundred missionaries among 537 million Hindus in three thousand Hindu people groups; two hundred missionaries among 405 million Han Chinese, and two hundred missionaries among 255 million Buddhists, for a total of six hundred fifty Protestant North American missionaries among a little less than half the world’s population who are basically unreached (1,930,000,000). And then we look at America. There are more churches in the Twin Cities than there are missionaries to almost two billion Muslim, Hindu, Chinese, and Buddhist people. Is that obedience? Americans give seven hundred million dollars a year to mission agencies — the same amount they spend on chewing gum. Every 52 days Americans spend as much on pet food as they do annually on foreign missions. And the reason for these things is not that we are living for pleasure, but that we do not believe Jesus when he says that a hundred times more pleasure can be had by forsaking everything for his sake and for the gospel.
Build the Church Across the World
I got a phone call Friday morning from a seminary in another part of the country asking if I would be willing to let my name be put on a list of candidates for a professorship in New Testament. It didn’t take me five seconds to answer that question. I said no. I’ve got a great church. God is beginning to move. Don’t even add my name to your list. I want to build a world church with you at Bethlehem. I want to see new missionaries go out from this body every year. I want to be here to welcome home David and Faith on their first furlough. I want to travel to some of our fields and minister to our missionaries and bring back reports of what God is doing. I want to preach and write in such a way that young, and old, and men, and women cannot go on with business as usual while there are more churches in the Twin Cities than there are missionaries in half the world. The challenge is great. God is greater. The rewards are a hundred times better than anything the world can offer. The battle cry of Christian Hedonism is: Go! Double your joy in God by sharing it on the frontiers.