On this Thanksgiving Day 2018, we have so much to be thankful for as redeemed children of God. As we consider how we should steward our blessings for God’s glory, we all have choices to make in how we will use our freedom, our talents, our treasures, and our time. As we consider the work of missions and the Great Commission, we must decide how we can engage as individual followers of Jesus and corporately as members of a local church.
During this time of year, we often hear of opportunities to invest money for the work of gospel missions. I believe this is a wonderful thing to do and it comes at a great time—the end of the year and during a season of thanks. However, before writing the check and sending it off to missions through your local church or through a parachurch ministry, we must evaluate what we’re doing and at the same time—what we aren’t doing by our financial gift.
The Great Commission Is Not an Offering
The Great Commission is not an offering. It’s the calling of Christians to engage the world and make disciples through the gospel. Some people give generously and engage in the work of missions by funding missionary work around the world. They have been blessed financially and given the gift of giving. It’s through their generosity that many missionaries are paid and cared for on a yearly basis. However, there are also people who give financially and never consider what it means to make disciples locally or internationally.
Money is needed in the work of missions obviously, however, we must not turn the Great Commission into a missions offering. There are some people who need to go out from their local church and work to evangelize unbelievers and train leaders in foreign contexts in the work of church planting. Not everyone is called to leave home and go to a foreign country to engage in the work of missions, but we are all called to engage in the Great Commission. If a person isn’t called to leave their homeland, they should engage in disciple making at home and consider sacrificing financially to fund the work of missions among the nations.
The Local Church and a Missions Investment
Far too often the work of foreign missions is turned over to missions agencies. Parachurch ministries have taken the lead in the work of missions which could be a sign that the local church has taken a backseat on purpose due to laziness or it could be that these specialized agencies are very good at what they do while the local church moves a bit slower. At any rate, the local church is called to be on the front lines of the Great Commission—including foreign missions.
When it comes time to pray about giving money to fund missions (church planting, missionary salaries, etc.) it would be a great idea to consider starting your investment through your local church. If your church has a fund for such work, don’t go outside the local church before you work within the family of faith that God has called you to. I’ve watched teenagers get excited about missions during college and decided to go on a missions trip through another organization during the summer rather than seeking to go through their own local church’s mission work and church planting project. Don’t look beyond the local church as you desire to invest in the work of missions financially.
If your church doesn’t have a known outlet for supporting missions—consider meeting with your pastors and letting them know of your desire to invest money and see if they can assist you in a good investment option or potentially begin a work corporately that would be an encouragement to your entire church family. We need more local churches to engage in the work of missions by praying, organizing missions offerings, and by sending people to the field (short term and long term work).
When the local church is led by pastors in the work of missions, it prevents wasting money on financial scams that are so common in the world of foreign missions. Many websites and “mission organizations” exist to steal money from people by putting pictures of their work online and asking for help. Follow the lead of your pastors and engage in the work of missions through your local church. John Piper writes:
So, you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient. The Bible does not assume that everyone goes. But it does assume that the ones who do not go care about goers and support goers and pray for goers and hold the rope of the goers. 
- John Piper, “Holding the Rope,” Tabletalk, November, 2008, p. 65.
When we consider the Great Commission found in Mathew 28:18-20, it’s apparent that God has a plan to save his people from among the nations of the world. The picture of Revelation 5 further validates this reality of a global people gathered from among the nations of the world praising God. However, 42% of the world is unreached with the good news of Jesus. How do we get there? Consider what Alexander Strauch once said:
Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, believed that if money could motivate the merchants of England to cross life-threatening oceans and enter the interior of China at great personal risk of loss of life, could not the love of Christ motivate missionaries to do the same for the sake of the gospel? 
The answer is that God is sovereign and he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), but our God has also called us to pray for the nations and go to the nations with the message of the cross. We must be resolved to pray earnestly for the nations and look for opportunities to engage through our local churches and connected mission agencies.
Each week we as a church gather for worship, and just prior to the call to worship by the public reading of the Scriptures, we have what we call a “Missions Moment” with our church family. This is organized and led by David Crowe—our pastor for missions. He chooses a nation from around the world and provides the statistics pertaining to the Church of Jesus Christ in that particular location and other challenges to the spread of the gospel among that particular nation. We then join in praying for God to strengthen his Church there and to raise up more pastors and local churches who will labor faithfully with the gospel of King Jesus.
What is our aim in this type of weekly prayer gathering? Our aim is to see our church engage in praying specifically for the Lord’s Church in various lands across this vast planet. It is our goal to engage in faithful prayer with our local church and to think honestly about how to go beyond prayer. Can we partner with HeartCry or another group of churches who are laboring in that region? Could it be the Lord’s will for someone in our church to go to that area with the gospel—leaving behind comforts, friends, and family to spread a passion for God’s glory among those people or people groups?
If we don’t learn to pray and weep for souls—it will be highly unlikely that our children and grandchildren will give themselves for the work of missions. We can’t expect to see God raise up men and women like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and Amy Carmichael from a church who places very little emphasis on praying and laboring in the work of gospel missions among the nations. May the nations be glad!
Consider praying in the following way:
- God remove fears of losing my children and grandchildren to the work of gospel missions.
- God remove my dependency upon money and the fear of losing it.
- God help me see the investment of gospel missions as a worthy cause that will far exceed temporal investments.
- God help me understand the needs of my fellow Christians who are serving in harsh landscapes.
- God break my heart for those who are in dark regions without the light of the gospel.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 29.
Many people claim that John Calvin was against missions and that those who call themselves Calvinists or ascribe to the 5-points of Calvinism are anti-missional in their thinking. Is that true? Does the belief in a robust God who saves spiritually dead sinners create cold hearts who resist any work of gospel missions among the neighborhoods and the nations?
Over the past several years, the population of men and women who embrace the doctrines often called Calvinism has drastically increased within the evangelical church—notably so within the Southern Baptist Convention. This has caused many to question their beliefs, examine their positions, and in some cases, to take up the sword and fight. The common charge is that anyone who’s a Calvinist is also a hyper-Calvinist—someone who opposes the spread of the gospel. First of all, there must be a distinction between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism (just as there must be a distinction between the First Baptist Church in your local community and Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas). Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism and before we label someone a heretic, we must understand that vocabulary choices matter.
John Calvin’s Missionary Zeal
Did John Calvin teach people to hide the gospel under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16)? The very moment that you stop listening to horrible sermons, inaccurate lectures in Bible college and seminary settings, and stop reading historically and intellectually dishonest blogs in the Internet, you will actually discover something rather refreshing about this often hated figure from church history. John Calvin was not only a man with a passion for preaching the Bible, he was also a zealous hearted, missions focused preacher.
As Calvin’s preaching thundered from his pulpit in Geneva, he was preparing men to go and lead churches in France. He organized, trained, developed, and sent out hundreds of these zealous hearted missionaries who proclaimed the good news of the gospel. These missionaries stood upon the firm foundation of a robust sovereign grace. As these men were convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, such knowledge became the fuel in the furnace of their hearts as they went out to plant churches and preach the gospel. By 1562, Calvin (with the aid of other surrounding cities) had planted over 2,000 churches in France. Some of the missionaries who were sent out from Calvin’s church died as martyrs. Does this sound like a hyper-Calvinist to you?
The hyper-Calvinist rejects any effort to proclaim the gospel to the non-elect. Rather than preaching the gospel indiscriminately and allowing God to bring sinners to faith, the hyper-Calvinist resists any attempt to offer the gospel to those who aren’t the elect of God. Does this sound like the ministry of John Calvin? Edward Panosian writes the following:
From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel. Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin. 
Harry R. Leader points out that “Calvin’s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries.”  Why would someone who rejected the idea that we need to send out missionaries to preach the gospel actually send out hundreds of trained missionaries to preach the gospel?
I’ve read about (never met an actual hyper-Calvinist other than the Westboro group) people who were hyper-Calvinistic in their theology, and they would never send missionaries out to spread the good news of Christ. They would consider it a waste of time and effort. One such figure from church history was named John Ryland, and he rebuked William Carey for inquiring about “using means” to reach unbelievers (it should be noted that it was William Carey, the Calvinist, who was trying to organize a missions effort).
The Missions Preaching of John Calvin
No hyper-Calvinist would preach with a missionary zeal as was consistently evident in the preaching ministry of Calvin. In a sermon titled, “The Call to Witness” Calvin preached from 2 Timothy 1:8-9. He made this powerful statement:
If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine. . . . Let us here observe that St. Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unfaithful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it.
The preaching ministry of a hyper-Calvinist is cold, lifeless, and without passion for the lost world. That doesn’t describe the preaching of John Calvin. For instance, in a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, he said the following:
[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
John Calvin was not only a faithful expositor of God’s Word and a defender of the true faith, he was also a zealous proclaimer of the faith. He preached with trumpet zeal and passionately pointed people to Jesus Christ. In a letter to five missionaries who had been arrested and were facing death, John Calvin wrote a letter to them on May 15th, 1553. Here is what he said:
Since it pleases him [i.e. God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as he hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long-continued imprisonment might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom be has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar. 
Hyper-Calvinists are heretics who oppose the open preaching of the gospel and never engage in missions. Whatever your opinion of John Calvin is, let’s be sure to make this clear point—he was no hyper-Calvinist. The towering figure of Geneva who labored in his expository preaching, trained missionaries, and prepared them to die well—was no heretic. We must be careful to learn church history from accurate records and to use vocabulary carefully.
If the missionary preaching of John Calvin’s ministry is what it means to be a Calvinist, may the Lord raise up many more.
- Edward Panosian, “John Calvin: The Theologian” in Faith of Our Fathers, ed. James Cardinal Gibbons, (New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), 109.
- Harry R. Leader, “The Churchman of the Reformation” in John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 68.
- Letter 318 [in Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, tr. Mr. Constable (1858 ed.; repr. New York: Lenox Hill Pub. & Dist. Co., 1972), II, 406].
I‘m currently reading Kevin DeYoung’s book A Hole in our Holiness with a group of men. We meet every other week to discuss the chapters over coffee. In the first chapter, Kevin DeYoung (besides showing his disapproval for camping) points to an often overlooked relationship between our pursuit of holiness and the Great Commission. If we are majoring on making disciples within our church without a goal of holiness, it’s not really the Great Commission – right?
The Commission of Jesus
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). What a vast charge to God’s people. We are to go and reach the world with the gospel.
While we live in a sophisticated culture in 2016, we must not overlook that a great number of people on planet Earth still live in extremely poor conditions without running water, without Internet, without smart phones, without many of the luxuries that we enjoy. One critical thing that a vast number of the world’s population lives without is the good news of Jesus Christ. We are commanded to go and tell and disciple these people in the gospel. That is the heartbeat of the church and it should be the heartbeat of God’s people. But, as we consider what it means to be a Great Commission church or a Great Commission Christian, we should look well beyond the waters of the baptistry and see the whole picture of a redeemed sinners serving, worshipping, and living for Christ.
The Goal of Holiness
The ultimate goal of Jesus’ command to His disciples was far more than just sparing His elect from the eternal flames of hell. It had a purpose and that purpose is centered in holiness. Far from baptism statistics, Jesus was focused on His people and how they reflect the glory of God to all peoples across the world. When we as believers become competitive and focused on getting high baptism statistics, we miss the point of the Great Commission.
From the very beginning, God has purposed to select His people from the population of humanity and His desire has been for them to be a set apart people – distinct – and holy unto Him. That doesn’t mean that God expects His people to be peculiar in the sense of odd or strange. God expects His people to be sanctified. What does this sanctified life look like? The entire book of 1 John explains that God’s people love God rather than the world. Great Commission Christians go and reach people with a goal that extends far beyond the baptistry. It has a goal of holiness. J. C. Ryle provides a helpful reminder:
We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. . . . Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, he does more—he breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10). 
- J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Moscow, ID: Charles Nolan, 2011), 49.
|Guest Article: Lita Cosner. Lita is a specialist in New Testament studies and obtained a B.A. (summa cum laude) in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2008. She received an M.A. (cum laude) in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2012. Her thesis is titled Jesus the Honorable Broker: A Social-Scientific Exegesis of Matthew 15:21–28. She joined CMI as Information Officer in 2010, and is a prolific contributor to the website, Creation magazine, and the Journal of Creation. You can find more information and articles by Lita at Creation.com.
In modern times, many people try to present the Gospel in ways that will make it seem more attractive to their ‘target audience’. Whether it is the ‘seeker-sensitive’ movement in churches, contextualization in Muslim-dominated countries, or reinterpreting the Bible’s teachings on marriage or creation, people often seem to want to make the Gospel as inoffensive as possible.
Paul’s address to the Areopagus is often cited as a model of ‘contextualization’ of the Gospel—presenting it in a way that is especially crafted to the sensibilities of his audience. In a way, this is correct—Paul did consider the sensibilities of his audience. But his specially crafted message challenged their core beliefs, and aimed to correct the critical errors in their thinking. In the process, he succeeded in offending and alienating most of his audience. This is quite a different approach from that of many people today!
The account of Paul’s time in Athens begins with a statement that “his spirit was provoked him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). In Paul’s day, the beautiful statues that many people now admire in museums were actually worshipped in temples as gods and goddesses.
Paul’s response was to go to the local synagogue to teach the Jews and Gentile God-fearers about Jesus the Messiah, as was his normal practice. But he also conversed in the open marketplace, where Greeks would traditionally gather for philosophical conversations and debate. Paul’s letters would show that he was skilled in the sort of structured arguments and rhetorical styles that would be expected in such a place.
But if the structure of Paul’s arguments was familiar to the Athenians, the content certainly wasn’t. Acts says that he was preaching “Jesus and the resurrection” (17:18). The Athenians called him a “preacher of foreign divinities”.
They took him from the informal setting of the marketplace to the formal setting of the Aeropagus—the appropriate place for serious debate where they could judge Paul’s claims. The reason everyone was gathered to hear Paul, Luke tells us, is because “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (17:21). This regional generalization, like “all Cretans are liars” (Titus 1:12), reflects the broader cultural opinion about them. Thucydides said of the Athenians:
No men are better dupes, sooner deceived by novel notions, or slower to follow approved advice. You despise what is familiar, while you are worshippers of every new extravagance. … In a word, you are at the mercy of your own ears, and sit like spectators attending a performance of sophists, but very unlike counselors of a state. 
And commentator F.F. Bruce notes: “The Athenians themselves admitted that their passion for anything new could be carried to excess”. 
That Paul was addressing Epicureans and Stoics is important for understanding why Paul phrased his arguments the way he did. They represented two rival philosophies in Athens in that day. Epicureans were materialists who did not believe in any sort of afterlife. Rather, their highest ideal was found in the combination of tranquility and the absence of pain. They believed that the gods themselves were beings who lived in the empty spaces between the planets, and that their existence was characterized by the Epicurean ideals.
The Stoics, on the other hand, taught self control and determinism—one could not change one’s fate, so the best one could do is refuse to be emotionally influenced by things one has no control over. They believed in a sort of pantheism, and would have denied any meaningful distinction between God and the universe.
Paul was clearly aware of these philosophies, or he would not have been able to formulate such a direct attack on them in his address. It is important to remember that Acts gives us Luke’s summary of Paul’s speech—his actual address to the Areopagus would have been much longer. But Luke gives us the highlights and general structure, and the turns of phrase may be genuinely from Paul.
The unknown god
Paul’s first phrase is generally translated, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious”. But the word translated ‘religious’, δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn), could just as easily have a connotation of ‘superstitious’. And as we will see, this translation fits the overall tenor of his address. “By the end of the speech, the Athenians themselves would have little doubt about Paul’s real opinion of their religiosity.” 
Exhibit A of the Athenians’ superstition was their idol worship. The Athenians had gods for every area of life imaginable, but they were completely ignorant of the true God, who could not be represented by an idol and who did not need their temples and sacrifices.
There are several possible explanations for what the altar ‘to the unknown god’ might have been. Some scholars dispute the existence of such an altar, but F.F. Bruce presents a scenario in which it would be likely for such an altar to exist: “When a derelict altar was repaired and the original dedication could not be ascertained, the inscription, “To the (an) unknown god” would have been quite appropriate.”  Another is that the Athenians were covering all their bases with a generic altar to cover any gods they might otherwise inadvertently neglect. Some claim that Paul is saying that they are worshipping the true God in ignorance through this altar, but nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is driving home the point that they are superstitious and ignorant of the true God.
Paul makes his speech even more offensive when he says, “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you”. He is speaking to the religious, cultural, and intellectual elite, and claiming to know better than they do! This would be particularly galling to the Stoics, who considered it their duty to examine nature because they believed all nature had a ‘divine spark’ in it. Ignorance was something like a ‘cardinal sin’ for them, and that is precisely what Paul is accusing them of. 
Paul establishes that both the Epicureans and the Stoics are wrong. God is neither the universe nor part of the universe; rather, “God … made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). This would have been hard for the Greeks to grasp. As Polhill explains:
Paul began with the basic premise that runs throughout his speech: God is Creator. He referred to God as the maker of the “world” (kosmos), a term that would be familiar to every Greek. The concept of God as absolute Creator, however, would not be so easy for them to grasp. For them divinity was to be found in the heavens, in nature, in humanity. The idea of a single supreme being who stood over the world, who created all that exists, was totally foreign to them. 
Furthermore, the Epicureans were also wrong about God’s non-intervention in the world. In fact, our existence is dependent on God’s continual provision. Paul’s God is not a deistic god who simply created the universe and left it to its own devices: “God is a personal God who not only creates but also sustains everything he has made. This self-sufficient God daily cares for man and for his great creation in the minutest details. God is the source of life, for he gives breath to all living creatures.”  Paul establishes the immanence and transcendence of the Creator God in a sweeping statement that contradicts as much of the Greeks’ beliefs as possible.
Man and his relationship to God
Having countered their core errors about God, he moves on to their errors about man. Historically, the Athenians belonged to the earliest migration into Greece, and they were also the only Greeks on the mainland who had no tradition of their ancestors’ migration. They prided themselves “on being autochthonous—sprung from the soil of their native Attica”.  Paul counters this unfounded exceptionalism with the biblical message that all humanity is descended from one man, Adam. It is speculative, but Paul may have filled out this part of the discourse with details about how God created mankind and how the nations spread out from Babel. It was important for Paul’s argument for the Athenians to know where they came from.
This also has implications for how he wants the Athenians to understand God. “The God whom Paul proclaimed was no local Jewish cult God, He was the one sovereign Lord of all humankind.” 
Paul goes on to explain God’s reasons for providing for humanity: “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us …” (Acts 17:27). The reason God ordered everything as He did was to enable one to seek God. The Stoics would have agreed with this in principle, but their philosophy said that God could be understood through observation of nature. But we know from Romans 1 that Paul believed that all such general revelation was only sufficient to condemn people, not to save them. And the grammar here expresses strong doubt that this actually happens. As Polhill notes: “There is no question about God’s providence; there is about humanity’s ability to make the proper response.” 
Witness from Greek poets
Luke told us that the Athenians loved discussing new ideas, but Paul now quotes some very old ideas to support his argument. First, he quotes Epimenides who lived in the 7th–6th century BC, long before either the Epicurean or Stoic philosophy was created: “In him we live and move and have our being”. Epimenides was allegedly referring to the Cretans’ claim that Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon, was mortal. He countered that Zeus was immortal and even the source of their own life. The only record we have of the context of this quote is from the 9th century commentary on Acts by Isho’dad of Merv:
They fashioned a tomb for you, high and holy one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. 
But you are not dead; you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being. 
The second quotation is from a Stoic poet named Aratus, who was also referring to Zeus. However, in Stoicism, Zeus is not a personal god, rather, Zeus is the supreme ordering principle of the universe:
Let us begin with Zeus. Never, O men, let us leave him unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus, and all the market-places of human beings. The sea is full of him, and so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus—for we are truly his offspring. 
Paul is not equating Zeus with the true God by quoting these poets. Neither is he saying that one can gain a true understanding of God from the pagan philosophers. He is, however, appropriating their ideas to make his own point.
If we are God’s children, God must be greater than us, not something we can mold with stone or metal. This polemic against idols is very much like what is found in Isaiah when he protests the utter senselessness of worshipping molded things as if they were gods.
A command to repent
Everything Paul has said to this point has been a foundation that was necessary to establish Paul’s position. He had to cut through the Greeks’ false ideas about God and man to get to the point where the Gospel would make sense to them. And he did not pull any punches, but got straight to the point. He said that God formerly overlooked the ‘times of ignorance’—keeping in mind how offensive it would be for Paul to call his audience ignorant. This is similar to Paul’s statement in Lystra that God formerly “allowed all the nations to go their own way” (Acts 14:16). Bruce claims, “It is implied in these places that the coming of Christ marks a fresh start in God’s dealings with the human race.” 
Paul just argued that God was the Creator and Father of all people. Now he warns that God is also the judge of all people. And He will judge the world through a man—Jesus—whose chosen status was confirmed via the Resurrection. At the end of the discourse, he finally gets back to the key topics that so intrigued the Athenians to begin with—Jesus and the Resurrection.
A message most rejected
There were a variety of reactions to Paul’s message. To most Greeks, the ‘ideal state’ was thought to be a disembodied spiritual existence. They perceived the idea of physical resurrection as impossible, ridiculous, and grotesque. Yet it is a central doctrine, which is why Paul took such a long time to explain and defend it in 1 Corinthians 15. However, this doctrine caused most of his audience to immediately dismiss his claims.
Others said that they would like to hear Paul speak again. Some people would interpret this as positive interest, but we have to remember Luke’s mockery of the Athenians as people who simply wanted to hear new ideas. Christianity is not some lofty philosophy that one can just listen to over and over again—it demands a response.
Only a few people responded in genuine faith. If Paul was contextualizing, he did not do a very good job, because only a few people were interested in hearing more after his first address! Rather, the lesson to learn from Paul’s addresses at Lystra and Athens is that evangelism must start with a correct understanding of the God to whom we must be reconciled.
The reason Paul’s message was so offensive was because it was far removed from and completely opposed to key Greek beliefs about reality. Paul’s offensiveness was necessary and came from undermining the false foundational beliefs the Athenians had about the nature of both God and themselves.
It is easy to see a parallel between Paul’s message and creation evangelism today. It’s often difficult to evangelize people today without telling them some very controversial, even offensive, things about God’s actions in history and their own need to repent from false beliefs, and even false worship. When we share the Gospel, we should expect to be ridiculed by the mainstream culture, because what we are saying runs deeply counter to many things that the culture holds dear.
Therefore, rather than trying to ‘contextualize’ a watered-down message in order to avoid persecution or ridicule, as many do today, one needs to determine what false beliefs people have, and to try to overcome them “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War 2.38.5, tr. Jowett, B., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881.
- Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 332.
- Polhill, J.B., Acts, NAC (Broadman & Holman: Nashville, TN, 2001), p. 371.
- Bruce, The Book of the Acts, pp. 335–336.
- Ibid., 336.
- Polhill, Acts, p. 372.
- Kistemaker, S.J. and Hendriksen, W., Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, BNTC (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), p. 634.
- Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 337.
- Polhill, Acts, p. 374.
- Ibid., 375.
- Paul cited this in Titus 1:12.
- Cited in Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 339.
- Aratus, cited in Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 339.
- Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 340.
As one of the elders of our church who oversees and works directly with our mission projects, I have come to the blunt conclusion that many short-term mission trips are a bad idea. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. In fact, I have come to believe that many short-term mission trips are a complete waste of time, money, and energy. Why would I suggest that many churches should consider canceling their summer mission trip?
Beware of Scams
Yes, scams and scandals come in every shape, color, and size. The world of mission trip scams is alive and well. There are reported cases of fake church buildings that have been erected, never used, and only occupied as a false image when the Americans visit in order to get additional “mission” money for their efforts. Additionally, some groups have been known to exploit their children as a means of receiving relief funds as a result of the big hearted Americans who see their “needs” during their visit. Unless the work on the field can be properly documented with trustworthy eyes and boots on the ground, beware of sending money and teams to random areas without a plan.
Not only are there scams on the field in third world countries waiting to take money in Jesus’ name, but there are scam artists in many churches too. These people are unwilling to walk across the street and share Christ with their neighbor, but they are willing to board an airplane and fly thousands of miles from home in order to “win the lost” to Christ in the jungles of Peru. Beware of the sightseeing tourist who wants to go see lions, tigers, and bears on the dime of faithful saints who sacrifice of their money to get the true gospel of Christ to other nations.
Unless your team from your church is properly trained and accustomed to the cultural practices and lifestyle of the people group that they will be ministering to, it’s quite possible that this team will bring a false report back home to the church. When was the last time you heard of a mission team reporting 75 to 100 salvations in one village during one week of evangelism in Africa? These false conversions happen because of two primary causes:
1. Improper Preparation: Without the proper knowledge, it’s possible to lead many people to pray to receive Jesus Christ as Lord in a village in Zimbabwe without knowing that they are polytheistic in their religious practices. Although they worship their ancestors, they want to be sure to have all of their bases covered. Therefore, they’re happy to accept any deity figure presented, no matter if you present Jesus as God or the Easter Bunny – they will pray to either one. Unless you know this up front through proper preparation, you will not know how to present the gospel so as to strip them from their false god worship practices and reveal to them the exclusive Savior – Jesus Christ.
2. Flawed Methods: I’ve been on the mission field and watched groups walking around door-to-door with little gospel cubes. After they twist it around and tell a little story about Jesus, they quickly invite people to bow and pray to invite Jesus into their heart. Not only should you stop telling people to invite Jesus into their heart, you should be careful when dealing with someone’s soul. More times than not, people are willing to pray a prayer when directed, resulting in a false conversion that appears on a report and perhaps confuses the person into a false sense of security that may entrap them for the remainder of their life.
It’s a very common thing to have laborers on the field for years before they see a hand full of genuine conversions. So, the authenticity of these inflated reports that often appear in nice PowerPoint slides during mission reports at the end of the summer should be questioned and scrutinized. Additionally, if the mission teams are in it for the notches in their belt, they would do the church of Jesus Christ a great service by staying home.
Church Planting Is a Superior Model
Stop wasting time and resources through short-term mission trips. Too often these trips turn into sightseeing adventures rather than actual gospel missions. Rather than simply visiting a new country, talking to a few random people about Jesus, snapping some nice photos and then heading home – the church planting model provides a lasting source of gospel light long after the American team returns home.
This model is best served through an American church assisting while an indigenous pastor leads the church in the specified country. Yes, American missionaries can be of assistance in the area of support, training, and equipping, but the most fruitful mission projects are those where the indigenous pastor is raised up by the Lord to pastor and lead the people. As the mission teams visit, they have a point of contact, a plan to follow, and a reoccurring effort for years to come.
In closing, I want to be clear, I support mission trips and believe that God wants the church of Jesus Christ actively engaged in the work of local and foreign missions. However, I do believe that many short-term mission projects are a massive waste of time, resources, and potentially dangerous for the people. A biblical model of church planting and a perpetual support strategy from a local church is a good model to follow. We must be careful not to confuse people with the gospel, empower scam artists in Jesus’ name, and return with an inflated report of false conversions. Proper planning, strategy making, and church planting efforts will bypass much of the waste that occurs in the name of Jesus each year “on mission.” Before you plan that summer short-term mission trip, make sure it will be well planned and thought through prior to jumping on the airplane with an eager group of Americans.