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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

First Priority

By Randy Hurst
Feb. 5, 2012

Is it fair that some hear the saving message of Jesus again and again — when so many others haven’t heard it even once?

It has been said that no one should hear the gospel twice until everyone has heard it once. That simply isn’t true. Few people receive Christ after just one presentation of the gospel, so sharing Christ with the spiritually lost is a continual process.

However, for some to have access to the message of salvation and the hope of everlasting life while others are neglected is tragic beyond description.

When the Assemblies of God was formed as a missionary fellowship in 1914, our founders unanimously and vigorously passed the following resolution: “We commit ourselves and the Movement to Him for the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen.”

How could just 300 men and women make such a daring proclamation? Because they believed both the extent of our Lord’s command to go into all the world and the significance of His promise that the Spirit would empower them for the mission.

God’s Word determines not only what our mission is, but also how it can be accomplished. In 1921, seven years after the Assemblies of God began, the General Council resolved that our mission would be guided by “New Testament practices” and specified that the apostle Paul’s missionary methods would be followed. Ever since, AG World Missions has focused on indigenous principles — establishing churches that are self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing. Traditional missionary methods common at that time, such as financially supporting national workers, were intentionally rejected.

We do not transplant the Western church. Instead we work to establish indigenous churches that begin, grow and multiply in their own natural environment — without dependence on the church that sent the missionaries.

Another New Testament missionary practice defined in 1921 stated: “The Pauline example will be followed … by seeking out neglected regions where the gospel has not yet been preached.” To be true to the mission for which the Spirit raised up this missionary fellowship, we must keep seeking out those “neglected regions” to proclaim Christ’s gospel and establish His Church.

Paul’s priority, given in Romans 15:20, is also ours.

Romans is unique among Paul’s New Testament letters. In other writings he addressed specific problems in the churches he had founded. Because Paul had no part in founding the church at Rome, had never preached to the Roman believers, or even visited the city of Rome, he gave a more complete explanation of both the saving work of Christ and his own missionary purpose.

In Romans 1, Paul expressed his responsibility to proclaim the gospel to all lost people. He wrote, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”1

Paul was obligated. The Greek word Paul used in this passage commonly described a financial liability.  A debt is not an option; it is a firm contract that must either be paid or forgiven. Paul described his debt as “to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish,” which included everyone.

Paul was eager to preach the gospel in Rome. But knowing the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, and because the Romans believers had already received it, he was driven to keep taking the gospel to where it was unknown.

That same obligation to all spiritually lost people is ours.

In Romans 10, Paul used a logical sequence to make this poignant assertion: “‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”2

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is not easy, but it is simple: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The person who calls on Him must do so believing, and believing comes through hearing. Those who haven’t heard can’t believe and be saved.

If salvation is simple and Jesus is the only way, then everyone must be told. How can any of us who have experienced the blessed assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life be unmoved by the desperate need of those who have never heard?

Everyone deserves the opportunity to hear the gospel, believe in Jesus and call on His name to be saved.

At the end of his letter, Paul explained the highest priority of his life: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation. … For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you, whenever I go to Spain … I hope to see you in passing.”3

Paul had longed for many years to visit Rome. As he said in the beginning of his letter, he was “eager” to preach to them. But the compelling priority of the unreached areas that had not yet heard the gospel “prevented” him. Even when he would eventually reach Rome, his plan was to see the Romans just “in passing.” His goal was Spain — a region where Christ had not yet been named.

What did Paul mean when he said there was “no further place for him” in the regions where he had been working? Obviously everyone in those regions had not yet become believers or even received an adequate witness of the gospel. Almost certainly he meant that, while work still remained to be done, he had accomplished what the Lord sent him to do. The gospel was introduced, and local churches were established that could complete the task. The people in those regions now had access to the gospel.

Paul’s description of unreached areas as “where Christ has not been named” makes a powerful point: that they had not even heard His name. But merely hearing the name of Jesus is not an adequate witness of the gospel. Nearly every Muslim has heard the name of Jesus. Most even revere Him as a sinless prophet. But they only think of Him as a mere human being — not as God the Son.

More than 4 billion lost people wait in darkness — not for the mere mention of Jesus’ name, but for an adequate witness of the gospel to receive Him as their Savior and Lord.

Prioritizing those with no access

Our Fellowship is committed to reaching all people in all nations. So, we can’t bypass any region or group of people. However, like Paul, our first priority must be those who have never heard the gospel. Was he extreme or unbalanced? No. His missionary heart was a reflection of God’s heart — and an example of what ours should be.

The plight of those who have never heard demands our obedience to the Lord’s commands and the call and motivation of the Spirit.

Of the 7 billion people on earth, more than 4 billion have not yet had an adequate witness of Jesus Christ. And 3.6 billion of those are in countries that restrict access to Christian missionaries, so people in those circumstances have little or no chance to hear the gospel. It is imperative that we reach those who have no access to hope in Jesus.

 We have an unprecedented opportunity to do more than we ever have to reach people with the gospel of Christ by partnering strategically with developing churches around the world. In doing so, we can really make a difference in the world.

We see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a multifaceted dimension that is biblically anchored to Acts 2:17: “In the last days … I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (NIV). The consequence of that outpouring is a last-days revival — an eleventh-hour push to reach everyone who does not have access to the gospel.

What moves the heart — and the feet — of missionaries who relentlessly press on to take the message of Christ to those who have never heard? The call of the Spirit — and what the missionaries believe.

What we believe will determine our priorities.

If we believe the apostle Paul that one act of righteousness resulted in justification for all men,4 and “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,”5 then everyone must know.

If we believe Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,”6 that “there is no other name under heaven … by which we must be saved,”7 and our Lord’s command is to proclaim His salvation in all the world, then everyone should have the opportunity to hear, believe and call upon His name.

Having traveled to more than 80 countries in the last 10 years, I have seen places where the Church is flourishing and where it is non-existent. The difference is dramatic.

We should never forget how blessed we are to have Christ’s message so available. We live in a country with 2,400 Christian radio stations, more than 100 Christian television stations, and an association of 1,700 Christian bookstores. Most significantly, more than 130,000 evangelical churches are hopefully proclaiming the gospel. Even with such accessibility to the gospel in America, we are not absolved of our responsibility to keep sharing Christ with the spiritually lost all around us.

While in America, it is impossible to have a clear perspective of how inaccessible the gospel is to most people in the world. Ironically, some of the most spiritually needy places in the world once had a prominent Christian influence.

As I stood in Istanbul, Turkey, surveying the scene pictured here, I had a vivid realization. It was in this land, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon officially recognized the divinity of Jesus. But today fewer than one in 20,000 here know Him as their Savior.

Is getting the truth to those who haven’t heard only the priority of the few who have the heart of an apostle? Or, should it also be the priority of the church?

Again, is it fair that some hear the saving message of Jesus again and again — when so many others haven’t heard it even once?

1. Romans 1:14-16, ESV
2. Romans 10:13-17, NASB
3. Romans 15:20,22-24
4. Romans 5:18
5. Romans 6:23, ESV
6. John 14:6, KJV
7. Acts 4:12, NIV

Randy Hurst is communications director for Assemblies of God World Missions.

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