For His Name’s Sake: Why the Church Must Do More Than Local Evangelism

worldThere is a popular argument that persists among American evangelicals that prioritizes domestic evangelism over against international missions. Often it is put in the form of a handful of questions:

  • “Why should we spend our time reaching the lost overseas when there are so many lost in our community?”
  • Or, “Why spend our money on foreign missions when there are millions nearby who need to hear the gospel?”
  • Or, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus on the lost here?”

On the surface such an argument may sound plausible, even effectively evangelistic. It certainly appeals to the pragmatic. But examined by the Scriptures, it will not hold. For Scripture does not simply speak of evangelism in commercial terms—finding the fastest way to sell the gospel to the most number of people. Regularly, it speaks of the advance of the kingdom crossing boundaries, reaching nations, and extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth. In fact, the glory of God depends not only on the vastness of redemption, but its variety. Therefore, for those who care about God’s glory should also care deeply about reaching the nations.

For the Sake of His Name

In the third edition of Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper quotes from the late, missions-minded, Bible commentator John Stott. Commenting on Romans 1, Stott observes,

The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God . . .), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.  (John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World, 53).

Stott is exactly right. Scripture teaches that God’s glory is God’s greatest desire—the chief end for which he created the world, as Jonathan Edwards once put it. God created the world for his glory (Isaiah 43:6–7); he longs for his glory to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Numbers 14:21; Habakkuk 2:14); sin is defined as falling short of his glory (Romans 3:23); and salvation is empowered by God’s unswerving commitment to his glory (Psalm 106:8; cf. Psalms 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 109:21; 143:11). In short, all that God does is for his glory.

With respect to missions, the Bible makes God’s glory and the fame of God’s name the chief motivating factor. For instance, Paul describes his ministry as “bring[ing] about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). And John the Apostle speaks of those “missionaries” who “went out for the sake of the name.” In full context, 3 John says:

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 1:5–8)

In the New Testament evangelism was propelled by an over-arching concern for the glory of God: “. . . so that as [saving] grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” This glorious passion was alsoforeshadowed and fueled by the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 67 recruits God’s blessing for the sake of the nations:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah (Psalm 67:1–4)

And Psalm 96 commands God’s people to bring their worship of God into view of the nations.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! (Psalm 96:3–7)

Long story short, God-centered glory stands at the center of missionary zeal. And thus, everything that increases the display of and delight in God’s glory, should be pursued with biblical fidelity and Spiritual zeal. But does that mean global missions is more “glory-producing” than local evangelism? I think so, and for at least three reasons.

How Does Global Missions Glorify God More Than Local Evangelism?

There are three ways global missions glorifies God in ways local missions does not.

First, cross-cultural missions diversifies God’s praise, thereby increasing the expansive beauty of his glory.

Like a prism creates a rainbow of colors when light shines through it, so the light of the gospel creates multi-colored praise as it goes into different parts of the world. Evangelism confined by geographic and ethnic boundaries fails to take seriously the heavenly hue of multi-national worship. Revelation 5 and 7 speak of the throne of God surrounded by worshipers of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. If we love God’s glory, we will labor to see the nations know him.

Indeed, to read carefully the Old Testament promises of international worship, the Prophets regularly use the language of “nations” (Isaiah 2:2, 4; 5:26; 11:10, 12; etc.) “peoples” (Isaiah 49:1, 22; 55:4; 56:7; 62:10; etc.) and “coastlands” (Isaiah 11:11; 24:15; 41:5; 42:10, 12, 15; 60:9). They envision a variety of nations receiving redemption, not just multitudes of individuals coming from wherever they may roam. In other words, the aim of God’s evangelistic program was not like modern-day marketing who make their money by gaining as much profit from a specific demographic. God’s plan was and is to display the power of the gospel by saving for himself people of every culture, every class, every caste, and every country.

The argument that “there are plenty of people to ‘get saved’ here, so why do we need to go there?” operates from a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel mission. God is not just trying to save as many people as possible. Rather, as Jesus says in John 10:16: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”

Yes, a significant part of God’s global mission is to redeem a countless number of sinners who will testify to his grace. But the other part of the program is to save sheep from different folds. If we embrace the first truth (a myriad of redeemed), while neglecting the second (a multiplicity of flocks), we miss a significant source of praise for our own worship. And even more, our evangelistic efforts will be distorted as a result. Therefore, if we care about the glory of God, we must pursue local evangelism and global, cross-cultural missions. The greatness of God’s glory depends upon the international praise of his redeemed.

Second, cross-cultural missions endangers the witness, thereby displaying the value of the glorious gospel.

In Revelation 6:9–11 we hear the martyrs cry out for their blood to be vindicated. Truly, to take the gospel into places where Islamic idolatry reigns is dangerous work. To proclaim in India that there is only one God and one way of salvation will be met with resistance from militant Hindus.

If we are honest with the Bible’s message, we soon realize the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus is only half-metaphorical. We may not literally carry a Roman cross on our shoulders, but all who will reign with Christ will suffer for Christ (Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12). And if we are imitating Paul, that suffering is related to salvation of the elect (2 Tim 2:9–10). In other words, suffering for Christ’s sake displays the worth of our king. And how much more, suffering so that others may know him as their king.

In truth, this kind of suffering can be done without crossing geographic boundaries. The nations hostile to Christ live all around us. But these nations will not be reached without the church stepping over oceans or into ethnic enclaves with for the sake of Christ.

What does it say when Christians intentionally refuse to cross boundaries and remain indifferent to the work of global missions? It exposes the value we really put on the kingdom of God. By contrast, those who willingly leave their country and their kindred and those who embrace a sacrificial lifestyle to support them, are demonstrating the value of Christ, the gospel, and the kingdom of God.

God’s glory is amplified when people expend themselves so that others (current enemies of God) may hear the message of Jesus and be saved. If we care about God’s glory, we will join the global mission of going or sending those who go out for the sake of the name (3 John 7). Indeed, supporting those who go will also cultivate in those who stay a heart to reach the nations transplanted here.

Last, cross-cultural missions demands strategic planning and sacrificial giving, hence displaying the centrality of his glory. 

Currently, in 2016 when everyone reading this post has instant access to “infinite” information and bountiful access to grow in Christ, there are more than 1.365 billion people who are “unreached” with the gospel. Dwell on that: 1,365,000,000. Well over a billion people with eternal souls who are not unconvinced of the gospel. They have never heard the gospel.

How are these people, made in God’s image for his glory, going to hear the gospel? How will they eternally bring glory to  their Maker, unless we the redeemed of the Lord go to them? This is why global, cross-cultural missions is necessary and why it brings glory to God.

Because it is hard to reach these lost people, the pursuit of these amplifies the heart of God who leaves the 99 to reach the 1. These peoples are unreached because languages, political laws, and geographic boundaries stand in the way. The only way God will be glorified in their midst is by Christians praying, dreaming, scheming, and suffering to get the gospel to them.

This is why global missions further glorifies God. It’s not just the end result of salvation that glorifies God; it’s also the process. When a man like Jacob works 14 years to gain his bride’s hand in marriage, it glorifies love more than the man who gets married after fourteen months. In both cases, love is manifest and magnified through marriage, but clearly the former story is more glorious.

God is doing the same thing in the world. The Author of Faith isn’t a commercial baron looking for the best place to buy. He is a story-teller who glorifies his Son’s death and resurrection by calling his children to lay down their lives in the pursuit of others. And some of those peoples are in hard-to-reach, “unimportant” places. Going to the least of these, may not get great press today, but brings God great glory.

When a believer gives his or her life to the establishment of a Christian hospital in Africa, or the translation of the Bible in India, or the conversion of the cannibals in Ecuador he is showing how the kingdom of Christ far exceeds all other kingdoms. The same is true for the man or woman who may never travel 50 miles from his or her home, but who lives for the glory of God by giving of his time and his resources to bring “about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” as Paul spoke of in Romans 1:5.

The Glory of God in Missions

John Piper famously said in Let the Nations be Glad

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

So worship is the fuel and goal of missions.

Truly, those who care most deeply about the glory of God will be equally passionate about global, cross-cultural missions. By no means does this imply that we neglect neighbor-love and local evangelism. It does mean that such gospel labors are insufficient to bring the glory that God deserves.

In our pragmatic culture, it is easy to believe all that matters is the number of baptisms. But that only gets half of the story. God is calling his sheep from every corner of the earth and he is looking for shepherds and sheep-herders who will leave the 99 to find the 1.

May God be pleased to raise up a generation of saints and an army of churches who are not only reaching their communities, but who are also making strategic plans to reach the nations for the sake of his name and the international praise of his glorious grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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