In our last post, we shared why we feel burdened for unreached people groups. More specifically, we feel a burden for Japan, the largest unreached nation in the world. People are surprised to hear of the gospel needs in Japan. In some circles, the work of missions has become synonymous with humanitarian work. The popular picture of a missionary is someone who runs an orphanage, does community health, digs wells or comes into a country after a disaster strikes. Japan is a well developed country, so why would they need missionaries? That question is why we wrote our last post, and why we’ll continue writing this one.
We are not against humanitarian work. I (Jamison) am of the belief that–in a shrinking world–wisely and generously caring for the global poor is one way to fulfill the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I simply want to point out that many of the good humanitarian activities that Christian missionaries take part in are not the distinguishing activities of Christian missions. Non-Christians can do them and are doing them just as well, in some cases better.
The thing that makes Christian missions unique is Jesus Christ. The work of Christian missions is making him known in places and among people where he is not yet known; worshipped where he isn’t yet worshipped; obeyed where he isn’t yet obeyed; loved where he isn’t yet loved. In other words, missions is the work of “mak[ing] disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is nothing new. The people of God have affirmed it since the Great Commission was issued some 2,000 years ago. But, from time to time, history shows that we’re prone to forget, to lose sight of the work Jesus Christ has left to his people until the end of the age.
Let me be clear–we are not writing to lament the current state of missions. We have total confidence in God that he will accomplish his work in this world, among all the peoples of the earth, as I recently shared in a sermon. We have a secure promise that the Lord himself will gather worshippers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He will build his Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Lord has burdened himself with the work of rescuing sinners from the far corners of the earth. He will do it; he is doing it even now.
God himself is the One who reaches the unreached, making the logic of passages like Romans 10:13-15a striking, “‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
In his wisdom, the Lord has chosen to carry out the work of reaching the unreached and discipling the nations, through those who go to preach and those who send them to do so. The logic is inescapable. The Lord has commissioned the work, promised to complete the work himself and then said he will do it as the gospel is proclaimed from by weak and frail people like us, who are sent by people like you. That is how God has said he will reach the unreached.
He has also said much more. To quote from PT O’Brien’s Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul, “Proclaiming the gospel meant…not simply an initial preaching or with it the reaping of converts; it also included a whole range of nurturing and strengthening activities, which led to the firm establishment of congregations” (pg. 43). The activities of distinctly Christian missions are aimed toward the establishment of local congregations, not simply making converts. Coming to Christ means being incorporated into his Body and its local expressions.
To go back to what we’ve already asserted, the thing that makes Christian missions unique is Jesus Christ. And, Jesus Christ manifests himself to the world through his people. Therefore, we aim to reach the unreached by establishing local, visible expressions of Jesus Christ.
In this age, the Church is imperfect, to say the least. We are not blind to her shortcomings. Yet, we dare not downplay her beauty either. The Church is, after all, the Bride of Christ. Wisdom would tell us to think twice before insulting a man’s wife. The Lord did not consider himself above dying for the Church; he does not now count himself above dwelling in her midst and working through her. If you care about people knowing and experiencing Jesus Christ, you should care about the work of establishing churches among the nations.
And, if you care about the poor, needy and destitute of the world, you should care about church planting. Where else can people go to find Jesus Christ–the one who is full of mercy, who healed the sick, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind, drove out demons and defeated death? No one loves the poor like Jesus loves the poor; no one has the power to help them like Jesus does. He is the One both the rich and poor alike need more than anything else. And, Jesus Christ has chosen to dwell in the midst of his people in a unique way and to carry on his work for this world through them. Church planting, then, is a work of compassion–the ultimate humanitarian work–through which people come to be loved and cared for by their Savior.
We desire to see the country of Japan filled with healthy, outward-facing, Christ-exalting churches–manifestations of Jesus Christ, where the millions of Japanese people with depression can take refuge; where the one million young men who have locked themselves in their rooms can find freedom from shame; where the 30,000 who would commit suicide every year can instead find hope.