Tell it as it is
In this month’s Missionary Spotlight an experienced Australian missionary working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) says: ‘Large numbers of church-going Papua New Guineans remain in false belief and, therefore, unbelief. “Churches” are brimming with people, but many of them do not know what the gospel of Christ is about’.
This is a devastating statement, yet we can be sure of two things. First, the author is not being judgemental — rather, he is ‘telling it as it is’. He wants churches to be burdened for the spread of the true gospel in PNG, and be in it for the long haul.
Second, what the missionary says about one country is what various ET writers have often had cause to say about the Christian world generally.
We all need to be aware of the serious international church situation — a state of affairs on which we seek to inform and comment month by month. The ‘Evangelical’ world (forgetting for a moment, churches explicitly committed to ecumenism and multifaith) is in a mess.
No room for complacency
Of course there are bright spots and encouragements in a number of churches, and we often focus on these. The Lord is building his church and ultimately the gates of hell will not withstand it (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, we want to highlight the work of faithful missionaries and churches to this end. But there is no room for complacency.
Many churches in countries once extensively evangelised (with a multiplicity of denominations to show for it) have today forgotten even the language of the gospel — let alone its concepts. Such things as ‘justification by faith’, ‘regeneration’ and ‘propitiation’, to name but three, are little understood and seldom experienced even by numbers of those who profess to be ‘Evangelical Christians’.
Western Christians understandably draw comfort from reports of ‘revivals’ in far off lands like China. Yet we would urge caution (though not cynicism), for these reports are often unsubstantiated.
And do these far-off Christians know about ‘justification by faith’, ‘regeneration’ and ‘propitiation’? And do they present those truths clearly in their preaching?
Are they really born again?
Some readers may remember that 30-40 years ago we frequently heard about brave and spectacular things happening in churches in Indonesia and Russia. But what about now? Whatever happened in the past, the biblical message is little known in those lands today.
Sadly, churchgoers are not necessarily the same thing as regenerate believers, even if numbered in thousands in a particular locality. After the collapse of the Roman Empire most of Germanic Europe embraced ‘Christianity’, but it was Arianism they espoused — a heresy that denied the deity of Christ and did its adherents no lasting spiritual good.
What about the Christianity many Evangelicals profess today? The Barna Research Group has reported that in the United States 10 million self-proclaimed ‘born-again’ Christians have not been to church in the last six months, apart from Christmas.
If genuine revivals do occur in far-off places, we will very likely know about them sooner or later — these things are never done in a corner. Does a reported revival uplift a biblical, Christ-centred gospel? Does it bring glory to the Son of God as the only dispenser of grace to guilty sinners — and the only way to God?
If we are honest we will admit that this ‘certain sound’ is missing from most of the international church today. Ask the missionaries who visit your church over the next few months about the various Evangelical churches in their mission fields.
Do not only enquire, ‘What are the churches doing?’ but ‘What are they preaching?’ You may get a shock.
Let us, like our Missionary Spotlight contributor, learn to ‘tell it like it is’. This is better than grieving the Spirit by pretending that Jesus Christ is being honoured when in fact a man-centred religion is being promoted.
And when we have faced up to the truth, we know where to go for ‘grace to help’ — for it remains true that ‘with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26).