The church exists as a place of nurture and worship; but also as a place of witness and outreach, which should have the whole world, as well as its own locality, in view.
The Lord Jesus Christ commissioned his followers to proclaim his name to the ends of the earth. Even now, surely, Christ has his people, across time and across the world, on his heart. So the closer we draw to Christ, the more mission-minded we will become. At the heart of this is the proclamation of the gospel and establishing of local churches.
There is always the danger that, when churches are struggling, they focus on their own circumstances and develop an introverted perspective that is damaging to their health, because it draws them away from the right biblical emphases.
It pleases the Lord when we are concerned for the glory of his name everywhere. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s empowering is specifically for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. ‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
God’s desire is to see the name of Christ exalted across the nations, and he empowers us to fulfil that mission, since his overarching purpose has always been to glorify himself among the nations.
The Bible is full of this. Examples include: ‘But truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord’ (Numbers 14:21; cf. Habakkuk 2:14); ‘Sing to the Lord, all the earth … declare his glory among the nations, his wonders among all peoples’ (Psalm 96:1-3); ‘I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6); ‘You … have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9). Here is the most glorious cause of all.
Other things in our lives may be important, but every follower of the King of kings and Lord of lords will find their truest purpose in seeing God glorified among all nations. We all need a passion for mission that will see men, women, boys and girls everywhere drawn to the Saviour and ascribing glory to the Lamb that was slain.
We must not be complacent about world evangelism. There are still over 6,500 unreached people groups around the world. The Holy Spirit’s desire is that Christ be exalted among them all. To lose concern for this is to lose a biblical perspective and, ultimately, set ourselves against the heart and purpose of God.
What is staggering is that, even though the Holy Spirit does not have to, he wills to use us — ‘You shall be witnesses to me … to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
This in no way undermines the sovereignty of God as was initially argued by Dr Ryland Sr. to halt William Carey’s missionary desire. He said to Carey, ‘Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, he will do it without your help or mine’. Rather, the Spirit of God deploys the Lord’s people to carry the message of Christ crucified and risen.
Dr Ryland Sr. would later be convicted through Carey’s preaching: ‘If all the people had lifted up their voice and wept as the children of Israel did at Bochim, I should not have wondered at the effect … so clearly did he prove the criminality of our supineness in the cause of God’.
William Carey was pastor at Moulton, North-amptonshire, and worked as a shoemaker since his church was very poor. Andrew Fuller visited his cobbler shop and described that he saw ‘hanging up against the wall a very large map, consisting of several sheets of paper pasted together by himself, on which he had drawn with a pen a place for every nation in the known world, and entered into it whatever he had met with in reading, relative to its population, religion, etc.’
To Carey that world map spoke of millions waiting for the tidings of salvation. In the Lord’s timing, Carey would be sent to India, and the Baptist Missionary Society formed. There would also be an outpouring of blessing on many of the British churches involved.
Even in difficult days, we must not lose sight of God’s purpose to glorify himself in this way. What priority do we give in our churches to mission? Do we preach messages that are full of vision and challenge to take the gospel throughout the world?
Do we pray specifically for missionary endeavours? Do we take a genuine interest in supporting missionaries, through the right channels, prayerfully, financially and with ongoing practical concern?
Are we praying that God would make our churches ‘sending churches’, even if it costs us people and resources? There is no greater cause than that Christ and his gospel be preached in every land. ‘Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you’ (Psalm 67:5).
Jonathan Stobbs is pastor of Penzance Baptist Church, Cornwall