The Local Church and Pioneer Missions (Part 3)

 Such a Time as This

            In 1 Corinthians 10:11 we are told that the history of the Old Testament was written as an example for us. When we compare the history of Israel with that of the Church we are given great insight into the times in which we live. We will come to understand that the coming of Christ is near, and that we have a role to play in speeding his return.

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            The people of Israel were in bondage to Pharaoh. They were slaves to Egypt, even as we were once slaves to sin. But even as Moses delivered them from bondage, our Savior delivered us from the yoke of corruption.

            After the ministry of Moses, Joshua carried the torch and took the people of Israel into the Promised Land. In the same way the Apostles carried on the work of Jesus Christ and caused the Gospel to spread throughout the known world. The Church was being established, and the earth was being filled with the knowledge of God, even as the waters cover the sea.

            But even as the people of Israel mixed with the customs of the nations in Canaan, in the period related in the book of Judges, so the Church joined itself to the values and pomp of the world during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. The Church that was poised to overtake the nations with the Gospel fell into worldliness. Ministry was no longer about service, but became a means of gaining the glory of the world. The goal was no longer to become like Christ through serving, but to become like Caesar, through being served. The Church of Jesus Christ became, the Church of Rome.

            Just as Israel was made captive in Babylon because it did not remain distinct from the surrounding nations, so the Church was enslaved under the superstition of a false form of Christianity during the “Dark Ages.” God kept for himself a remnant of true believers in this period, but the masses were deprived of the pure and saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            Though the people of Israel were in exile, and Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins, God had promised them that they would return to the land of Palestine. They were assured by God that the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and this is exactly what took place during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. In the same way, though the Church had only been left as a remnant among the nations, God had promised in Ephesians 2:19-22 that He was building the Body of Christ into a “holy temple in the Lord.” In Matthew 16 Jesus promised us that He himself would “build the Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” Instead He would continue His work until His Body came to “the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph 4:13) After many long years of spiritual exile, the Word of God was once again within reach. This led many to see that they had been deceived by the false shepherds of Rome, and many began to seek the Lord in purity. Christ did not leave the Church in ignorance and darkness, but sent his Word to set heal multitudes who had been in the valley of death.

            After the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, and the scattered nation reconstituted, the Messiah made his first appearance to the world. The return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple led up to the first coming of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 19:7 we are told that the second coming of Christ will occur sometime after the “Bride has made herself ready.” It is in this period of history that we find ourselves. In the last few hundred years the Gospel has spread around the world through faithful souls, churches and organizations. The Lord’s coming is near, but there is work to do! We should lift our eyes up knowing that our redemption draws near, but we must also keep our hands to the plow!

            So what does this have to do with us? From these wonderful facts we learn that we are close to the second coming of Christ. Since the time to the Word of God was made accessible to the common man in the 16th century the Gospel of Christ has spread from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas. Not only has the Gospel been spread abroad in many dark places, but in the last hundred years we have seen the restoration of the truth about the need for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that come with it. The last 50 years has given rise to a growing awareness of the plight of the remaining unreached nations and the Church’s responsibility to finish the Gospel task. We are living during the last great surge of the building of the Church of Jesus Christ.

            Not only are we alive in this glorious time in history, but local churches that are faithful to the simplicity of the Great Commission have been uniquely equipped to help take the remaining lands. The simplicity of our vision gives us the ability to impact nations that are still untouched by the Gospel. And the purity of our vision gives us the ability to influence and encourage the fellowships and organizations that are already sacrificing themselves for these regions of the world. Great Commission churches have been brought into the kingdom for such a time as this!

Conclusion

            We have been called to fulfill the Great Commission. That Commission has two distinct aspects. The first is what we are called to do. This task is best summed up in the vision win, build and send. After being clear about the “what” of the Lord’s Commission, there is also a “where” that we must embrace. Not only are we called to make disciples, but we are called to make disciples in “all nations.” This phrase encompasses every nation on earth, even the unreached and restricted nations of the globe. Many organizations have been laboring on these fields for several decades, but relatively little impact has been made. For this reason fellowships with such a simple vision can often feel intimidated when called to consider sending laborers into these regions. The thought is, “If such large, connected and resourceful groups have made little impact, what contribution can we possibly make?” But it is our weakness that makes us strong!

            We are not clever or rich enough to come up with, and implement, great strategies, so we stick to what we know. And what we know is win one, build one and send one, through church planting! Since this is the work that the One Who has all authority in heaven and on earth is busy fulfilling, we can be sure that he will be with us wherever we go. And if God is for us, who can be against us?!

            Not only are we tempted with intimidation when considering the call of God, but we also have to deal with the burden of our traditions that seek to weigh us down. We have done well to stick to the simple vision of “win, build and send” without getting sidetracked by all the spiritual fads that spread through the Body of Christ. But we must fight the tendency to define this vision by the few outward forms we are accustomed to. We must recognize that this vision is adaptable to any and every situation we will face as we take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If we bind up this vision with certain traditional forms, we will be tempted to say that we can’t practice our vision in the restricted nations of the world. We will end up believing that the Great Commission is an impossible task, and find ourselves obligated to throw out either the “what” or the “where” of the Commission. Our faithfulness to the work we have been given will become the excuse we use to avoid the field in which we are called to labor. Understanding that our vision is more than a few outward forms is necessary if we are to fulfill both aspects of the Great Commission.

            We live at the very end of history. The coming of Jesus Christ from heaven to raise up his people is very near. The Bride of Christ is getting herself ready for his return. But the Church, as the Lord’s Bride, is not called to sit and watch but is expected to be co-laborers with him. As he builds his Church and brings in the final remnants of the nations, faithful local congregations must also seek to reach into the unreached nations of the world. We have been raised up for such a time as this.

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