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The Great Commission – Part 2

Category Articles
Date February 4, 2004

How far have we to go?

Erroll Hulse

(Continued from Part 1)

Paradigm five , the Modern Missionary Movement 1800 to 1970

The revivals of the first part of the 18th century as explained by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) must be seen as the watershed of a movement which led to the great world-wide missionary movement that got underway from about 1800 onwards. In 1735 a powerful revival came to the churches of the Connecticut valley and to the church where Edwards was minister in Northampton in particular. 1840-42 marked a general great spiritual awakening in Britain and in New England. Edwards wrote about and defended this revival. Eventually Edwards wrote six books on revival which earned him the title The Theologian of Revival. He propounded the view that revivals from heaven would herald world-wide conquest of the gospel. This vision is described in his book The History of Redemption. Edwards was practical and this is seen in his call to concerts of extraordinary prayer for outpourings of the Holy Spirit. He penned this appeal in the form of an exposition of Zechariah 8:20-23 which he saw as an unfulfilled prophecy describing a future time of city wide prayer meetings similar to what took place in the remarkable prayer revival which began in New York in 1857 and spread and impacted the entire nation.

Both Carey and Judson were disappointed. They found the cultures to which they went far more resistant than they imagined. William Ward, one of the threesome of a dynamic partnership, Carey, Marshman and Ward, wrote of his frustration in these terms: ‘the restricted progress of Christianity’ formed ‘one of the most mysterious dispensations of Providence that has ever occupied human attention’ In the case of Judson, he made hardly any impact on the Buddhist stronghold to which he was called, but remarkable accessions of tribal peoples have accrued to Christ in Burma as a result of his work and the missionaries who were inspired to follow him into Burma.

David Smith warns against a preoccupation with revival that limits the possibility of decline, loss and recession. He warns against euphoria in the marvellous blessings that accrue from revival but which ignore the reality of setbacks, sufferings and periods of decline and loss which seem to form an integral part of the wider purpose in the world. He also warns about the real danger of optimism which overlooks the reality of divine holiness. Smith cites Kenneth Scott Latourette who wrote a magisterial history of Christian missions but was a realist who recognised that ‘advance and recession, not irreversible progress, was the pattern of Christian expansion, just as John Bunyan saw that there was a way to hell even from the gate of heaven’. David Smith also warns against false prophets who tell us that we are on the verge of a mighty revival when that is not the case. He cites Michael Riddell of New Zealand who said that he ‘lost count of the number of revivalist movements which have swept through New Zealand promising massive influx but a year after have faded. The Christian community seems largely unchanged, apart from a few who have grown cynical through the abuse of their goodwill, energy and money.’

The advance of Bible Christianity can be understood as the outcome of Holy Spirit awakenings. These can be traced out from the 16th century onwards. These revivals differ very much in character. There are some revivals like the one reported from Rwanda that are emotional and not adequately rooted in the Bible and which fail to change the character of the nation. There are others like the revival which began in North Korea in 1907 and has continued ever since in South Korea. This revival rooted in the Bible has resulted in South Korea becoming the second largest missionary sending nation of the world with over 10,000 missionaries working in 156 countries. There was a revival among the Boer prisoners of war in 1902 in Bermuda and Sri Lanka which was rooted in Scripture and resulted in one of the most effective missionary movements in the history of the Christian Church.

There are national revivals such as the revival which began in Oradea, Romania, in 1976. This revival continues to bear fruit. There is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Indonesia. The evangelicals there have increased over the last forty years from 1.3 million to over 11 million. We must pray that this will result in effective outreach to many seemingly unreachable UPGs of Indonesia. As indicated above there are at least 155 UPGs. in Indonesia.

The first ten years of the 20th century was a period of revival in many countries and suggests that there may yet be such a phenomena as a global revival.

Revival must be distinguished from revivalism which is the idea that revival can be created by human organisation. Revival is essentially a sovereign work of God which comes down from heaven. For instance Samuel Buell described a revival in New England in the mid 1760s: ‘Jehovah himself is come down by way of divine influences upon, and in the hearts of the people in East Hampton, with amazing power and glory, exceeding all I ever saw before, and all I have ever read or heard of, since the primitive times of Christianity.’

The great missionary movement associated with William Carey and Adoniram Judson led to the formation of many missionary societies. Some of these were denominational and some were not. For instance one of the most famous inter-denominational societies was the China Inland Mission which now works under the title Overseas Missionary Fellowship. The CIM was founded by Hudson Taylor (1832-1905). Eventually there were several thousand missionaries working in inland China. In 1949 they were ejected. When leaving, the missionaries did not think the work well enough grounded to survive the persecutions that would follow. However far from declining the Chinese believers have multiplied to become the largest entity of evangelical believers in the world.

All the missionary work of the 19th century and most during the 20th was inevitably characterised by a feeling of superiority, that is the superiority of Western knowledge and resources.

Paradigm six , the present accelerating missionary movement to reach UPGs

With the rapid demise of Modernism and the predominance of Postmodernism has come a radical change in missiology. Now we find ourselves in the midst a fast developing new missionary paradigm in which we seek to avoid every sign that we in the West are superior. Furthermore the missionary movement today is increasingly international in character. It is grappling as never before with UPGs.

Practical Application

As we have seen there is only one age for evangelism. That is this present age. Will the commission ever be completed? Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah anticipate that all nations will be blessed in him (Gen 12:3). There are Psalms such as Psalm 67 which suggest that all people groups, all ethnolinguistic groups to the ends of the earth will come to bless him. There are other passages that encourage us to believe in the ultimate universal penetration of the gospel to all nations. (Ps 72; 87; 110:1, Isa 2, 11, 42:1-4, 49:4-6; Mal 1:11).

We may struggle with very slow growth in England but many of our pastors have a vital role of teaching in Africa, Asia and Latin America. About one third of the world speak English and in English we possess the best theological books designed to build up and strengthen. That sounds like a contradiction of what is stated above. But this is not a reference to know-how, finance, or superior intellect. It is a statement of fact. Reliable literature by way of commentaries, dictionaries and history is in English. Reformed and Puritan classics are being translated into many other languages.

In the last forty years or so, just one generation a tremendous advance has taken place for evangelical Bible-centred Christianity. While Christendom in its nominal sacral form has been dying in Western Europe there has been a widespread increase of believers in Latin America, sub Saharan Africa and much of Asia. Even the most critical observers who have first hand experience of the mission field acknowledge this. It cannot be dismissed or reduced in significance because of the shallow nature much of what is reported. From observation of inter-denominational work in countries like Brazil, Indonesia and Mozambique, I have noted that one of the most encouraging features is the hunger in young Christians for literature faithful to Scripture and a hunger to grow in grace and knowledge of the truth.

This is a time to maximise the reality of the unity of Christ’s body world-wide. The outpourings of the Holy Spirit in other nations should bring us much encouragement. But we need to be informed. We need to be in contact with missionaries and if possible involved practically in their support.

Information is vital. Every church should adopt an UPG and then work through the practical implications of that adoption.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that this is the final age. It is the age of the Holy Spirit. We fail constantly. We are weak. But he will never fail. He will carry through his great purpose of mission. He began at Pentecost. He continued in his work as we see in the book of Acts. He did not cease to work even in the middle ages when there was political chaos and much corruption among the visible leaders of the Church. He has confirmed his presence and power in every revival. Revivals have come packaged in many forms, local church visitations and nation-wide awakenings. It is right that we should study the promises and give God no rest until he come and make Jerusalem, his cause, a praise in the earth (Isa 62:6,7).

Our narrow expectations are not the measure of the entire work of God. When the Spirit came down at Pentecost, the people were ‘utterly amazed’ (Acts 2:7). In fact they were ‘amazed and perplexed’ (v 12). God is full of surprises. This is why A Skevington Wood, the historian of the First Great Awakening, proposes:

‘The next great spiritual awakening may be utterly unlike any that has gone before We must beware, then, of an undue fixation in our concept of revival. The Holy Spirit is not limited to a stereotype. He enjoys and exhibits an unconditional liberty.’

‘The Lord Jesus may at any time and under any circumstances grant us a fresh bestowment of his Spirit. And we can be certain that nothing will defeat God’s purpose whenever he chooses to renew a season of unusual richness. How can any opposition down here on earth restrain the outpouring of the Spirit from on high? At any time, in any measure, upon any church, the Sovereign Lord is able to send the showers of his Spirit, for his greater glory, our richer joy, and the salvation of the nations.’

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