This week we are looking at the first challenge facing the church – Keeping Lostness in View. The challenge here is whether or not to keep ‘lostness’ in view or to fight against practical universalism.
As churches and congregations continue to be concerned about being a less threatening place for non-believers and about our image in the culture, we are careful how we use legalistic and harsh-sounding words like "evil," “lost,” “sin,” and “repentance.” These words are awkward for non-Christians and somewhat uncomfortable for many Christians who would avoid coming to terms with the stark possibility that people could be forever lost. At least 20 years ago, Roger Greenway, perhaps the premier missiologist for the Christian Reformed Church, said in a workshop that the exclusivity of Christ is the pivotal issue for evangelicals. A mobilizer from an evangelical denomination told me that he had conducted an informal survey in Sunday School classes he taught in his churches. More than half the people had admitted they couldn't really say that people without Christ were lost. A lady came up to me after a workshop and said her denomination had "taken evangelism out of missions." I’m afraid many Christians just wouldn’t be able to agree that those who haven’t heard or don’t know Christ are lost.
I have observed that Christians and non-Christians, the saved and the lost, look much alike. When I look out my window in the morning and see my neighbor going to work, he looks a lot like me. I may spontaneously think about the value or condition of his house, his family relationships, his job, the new things he has, or the make of car he drives, but I’m not very likely to be reminded that he is lost and in need of the Savior. I wonder if my life looks any different to him. It is not always easy to remind ourselves that people are in two very different camps, those that know Christ and are going to spend eternity with Him and those that don’t and aren’t. We just don’t tend to see people as “lost.”
As Stan Guthrie said in an editorial in Christianity Today (CT, January21, 2008), there is a hole in our holism. Personal evangelism is a much tougher sell than giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name. It is much easier to put together a short-term team to drill a well or build a church than to do door to door evangelism or to do radio distribution.
When we see pictures on television of people in troubled places in the world, we are likely to be reminded of hunger, the repressive effects of totalitarian governments, environmental destruction, and the needs for education, political stability, freedom, moral restraint, clean water, good food and medical care. We are much more likely to observe the physical needs of people than their invisible spiritual needs. Young adults seem to be increasingly responsive to such needs. I asked a missions class at a Christian University about their career plans. Most were anticipating ministry in urban areas and meeting social needs or working for social justice. No one mentioned evangelism or church planting ministries.
The missions movement has been criticized, and perhaps rightly so, for 'saving souls' and neglecting the conditions and systems that keep the bodies enslaved. What we are seeing in churches now is perhaps a correction to that omission. The danger is that the pendulum never stops at the bottom. I don’t seem to hear as much talk about the priority of reaching lost people, even in missionary reports. The reality of the spiritual world seems hazy. What we see in churches today, we will see in missions tomorrow. A lack of passion about sin, repentance, lostness, redemption, the necessity of salvation, and the transformation of both the private and public life, may be reflected in missions tomorrow. The theme that is taken for granted in this generation may be lost altogether in the next.
We must not lose sight of the fact that people are lost. People are eternal. They are going to spend eternity with God or outside His presence. They must be introduced to Jesus. This must be a major component of our missions plans and ministries. Our many humanitarian ministries must not neglect the evangelization and discipling of the lost among all nations. As Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, " These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
Personal evangelism is a much tougher sell than giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name"