The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks should prompt us to reflection. It is a signpost of the times, and we must consider how it relates to the ongoing mission of the church in the world. Christians throughout the ages have had different ways of judging the state of the world and the progress of the Kingdom of God among men, but in these days it often seems that to be realistic about the work of God in the world is to be a bit pessimistic.
Europe, once the most vigorous stronghold and champion of Christianity, is now in many ways its chief adversary and one of the most challenging mission fields in the world. Many Muslims, who form the largest non-Christian religious block in the world, are more violently opposed to Christianity than ever before. Places like India and Japan, after hundreds of years of active mission work, remain vastly untouched by the Gospel. The Christianity which is blossoming all over Africa and Latin America often appears weak and shallow, a largely surface phenomenon. And all the while, our brothers and sisters are murdering each other with stunning efficiency in hundreds of killing-fields all around the world--Darfur, Israel, Iraq, and the Congo, to name a few.
I have a heart that cries out for the redemption of the world. God has put within me the capacity to dream large for the sake of the Kingdom, and it breaks my heart to see how far away we are from realizing those dreams. It is a crushing agony of the spirit to cry out with compassion for the lost and then to understand just how staggering is the task of reaching those lost. It brings me to the place of humility, of realizing that the mission before us is too enormous for me, too enormous for the church as we are today.
Nevertheless, I find my hope in the fiery delight and confidence of the promises of God. This is always his mission before it is ours, and he will be faithful to see it through. The Great Commission itself rings with this incredible anthem of the surety of victory: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me....therefore go." I don't know if the world will get much better in the years to come, as the postmillennialist tradition of Christians had hoped, but I do know what the end result will be: every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. No matter how dark the battle seems, we are on the winning side. Someday, and oh! how my heart longs to see it, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, just as the waters cover the sea.
I believe we do stand on the brink of a momentous surge of life in the church and her mission. The harvest is still ready, though the workers are few. The God we serve is already at work, even in the darkest corners of the earth. Muslims are coming to Christ in greater numbers than ever before. The church is exploding across the two-thirds world, and though it is still young, it has the promise of a blossoming and fiery maturity in the days to come. Our generation might well see the fulfillment of that ancient promise, that the Gospel will finally be brought to every tribe and tongue and people and nation in a way that allows them to understand and respond and embrace the beautiful hope of eternal life. This is what every missionary throughout the ages has longed to see--the church taking root in every corner of the world. And we, unworthy yet joyful, look now upon the flowering consummation of all their hopes and dreams and prayers.
Christian mission is an exercise in indefatigable optimism. All the power of heaven is behind us, and even one life surrendered to the power of God has the potential to change the world. Oh, that I would live to see it happen!
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.