Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Clarion Call of the Great Commission - Part I

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

These were the last words Jesus spoke to His disciples before He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. While it would eventually take the stoning of Stephen to actually force His followers to obey His commandment, many Christians would answer the clarion call of the great commission to leave home, friends, and family to spread the gospel to the gentiles of the world. It is no coincidence that the standard bearer that missionaries have used throughout the years has been Paul of Tarsus, who was present when Stephen was stoned. By being the example of what it means to follow the “Great Commission”, Paul would take the gospel to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire, and eventually share the gospel with Nero himself. For the next couple of centuries men like Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian would continue where Paul and the other disciples left off until 314 BC when Constantine would embrace Christianity and make it the favored religion of the empire.
While there were men like St. Patrick and Columba who would win Ireland and Scotland to Christianity through their missionary work, it would not be until the 14th and 15th centuries that the great commission would again be followed with such fervor. That is when the Franciscans and Dominicans, who had ministered to the poor and helped nurse a population ravaged by the Black Death, began spreading the Gospel to the barbarians of Brazil, Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean. Soon followers of Loyola like Xavier and Ricci would start Jesuit missions in the Asian countries like Japan, China, and the Philippines. When the Spanish Armada (Spanish account, and the English account), was defeated by Queen Elizabeth's smaller and faster ships in 1588, the Roman Catholic Church lost its ability to control the missionary movements to the new lands of the West and eventually to the East as well.

With the Brittish and Danish empires expanding their influence on the high seas, they would begin new colonies in the West that open the door for Protestant churches to fulfill their call to the “great commission”. By the late 1700 when the 13 colonies were being converted from English rule to Independent rule, a shoemaker was being converted to Christianity in England. William Carey always had a fondness for the voyages of James Cook, Columbus, and Vasco da Gama and the lands they discovered so he was a natural for God to use in his plan to spread the gospel to the uncivilized heathens of the world. Convinced by his friend, and fellow preacher Andrew Fuller, that man had a responsibility to spread the gospel, Carey began a group with him and some colleagues that they would call the Baptist Missionary Society.

Carey headed to India with a strong desire to reach souls and share the Lords gospel to fulfill his calling to the 'great commission”. By using the business model of the big trading companies like the East India Company, he set up a missionary movement that earned souls like a business earned profits. The Lord blesses us all with gifts, and one of William’s gifts was his ability to learn foreign languages. When he was younger he taught himself to read Latin and Greek, when he reached India he took that gift and taught himself to speak and write Bengali. He would eventually translate the Bible into 40 languages and dialects along with beginning several schools that helped many locals to become evangelizers to their own people. By the time he died in 1834, Carry had done in Calcutta from Serampore what Paul had done in Antioch and Ephesus from Corinth and Rome. As the news of his success reached England and America, Christians began taking note of their calling to the “great commission” and William Carey would became known as the father of the modern missionary movement.
Two American Christians to take notice of the calling were a young man and his bride of seven days, Adoniram and Ann Haseltine Judson. In 1812 these newlyweds traveled to Burma. Unfortunately numerous problems would lead to Ann’s death at the young age of 36 while Adoniram would endure imprisonment and bad health. In time Adoniram translated the Bible into Burmese. His Burmese English dictionary helped many in generations to come. His greatest accomplishment was with the Karen tribe that, thanks to his work, can claim over 100,000 professing Christians to this day. The Judsons opened the door for American missions that in time would be the largest contributor to missions around the world.
While it took men like Carey, Judson and even Hudson Taylor to open the orient to Protestant missions, an explorer by the name of David Livingstone went to the sore of the world and found the heart of Africa. Livingstone believed it was his duty as a Christian to free Africa from the need of selling their brethren into slavery. Livingstone believed that with the spread of Christianity and Western values the African people would see the evil of slavery. Along with better agriculture techniques and the discovery of precious resources and the use of other natural resources he hoped to help the continent move towards different types of commercial trade. For thirty years Livingstone opened up the heart of the Dark Continent and made it real and human to the world. Because of his work and exploration by others that followed every country in Europe would eventually send missionaries to spread the gospel to the "Dark Continent". By 1914 almost every town or colony had a Christian mission that nursed the sick, fed the poor, taught the gospel, and schooled the children. By 1950 the continent of Africa was the fastest growing Christian continent in the world, with 70% of all Africans claiming Christianity as their religion of faith.
During the Cold War and the division of Eastern and Western Europe, the Soviet Union began supporting rebels and setting up communist and other totalitarian type governments that left many parts of Africa devastated. In the process many once thriving missionaries have been either burned to the ground or confiscated by the local warlords who have replaced democratically elected leaders. In the place of Christian missionaries, Islam has filled the void as the children are not schooled, the sick die and the poor get poorer. Even the slave trade that such men as Livingston and Wilberforce, spent their lives trying to end, has again become a profitable business with Muslim Nations like Sudan selling Africans into slavery to Muslim countries. A continent that could boast of a higher Christian faith than some Western societies in the 1950’s is once again, the sore of the world. There are a still many missionaries in Africa, but not nearly like there were 50 years ago. As the economies around the world continue to suffer under the burden of Socialism, church caufers will continue to suffer huge losses in revenue. This loss will further hurt the Africa mission movement because America sends the vast majority of missionaries around the world. With less money and more interference from the unfriendly governments the obstacles will continue to seem overwhelming for missionaries already on shoestring budgets. The evil one may try to stop Christians from fulfilling the “Great Commission”, but the Lord is a Good Shepherd and His lambs will be found.

I pray that those who have ears to hear, will hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and call upon His name. Amen

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