Middle East Resources

Biblical Reflections on Christian Missions

Biblical Reflections on Christian Missions

Bassam Michael Madany

Introduction

There is a pressing need nowadays to remind the Church about the true nature of “Christian Missions,” as taught in the New Testament. In his Gospel, John tells us of God’s love for the world, manifested in sending His Only-begotten Son to save whoever would believe in Him. When Christ had accomplished His redemptive work, He gave the disciples “The Great Commission.” As one missions expert put it, while it was given in the “imperative;” in the early church, it functioned in the “indicative.” In other words, Christians spontaneously shared the Good News with their neighbours. This explains how the number of Christians climbed from 3,000 on Pentecost, to 6 million by 300 AD, and to 30 million by 350 AD.*

The Third Millennium has ushered in the Age of Globalization. Millions of people from Asia and Africa have settled in the West, the majority from non-Christian background. The “Mission Field” is now next door. Christians have unprecedented opportunities to spread their faith, by word and deed, through personal contact, and the Internet.

It is my hope and prayer, that these reflections will re-acquaint us with Biblical principles of missions; immunizing us against certain questionable approaches that promise numerical success, at the expense of sound doctrine. The goal of Christian missions should be the organization of churches that confess Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior.

*Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion. (HarperCollins Publishers Inc. 10 East 53rd Street New York, NY 10022


THE GREAT COMMISSION


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. Matthew 28: 19 (ESV)

The Lord Jesus Christ prefaced the Great Commission with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  These words assure the Church that, notwithstanding the obstacles that would arise in the way of the Gospel, Christ’s omnipotence guarantees the success of the missionary enterprise. The goal is to “make disciples of all nations;” which implies instructing converts with the basics of the Christian faith.


During the First Century, the Apostles and their assistants, expounded the Messianic passages of the Old Testament that were fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. This tradition is of great importance today; since not all Christian missionary work reflects a faithful adherence to the Great Commission.  Some teach that baptism, followed by membership in the church, are not necessary. Others add a political dimension to the Gospel, such as the realization of “Social Justice” in the here-and-now. However, a careful reading of the Book of Acts reveals that the Gospel proclaimed, “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21b) The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia,” i.e. a change of mind, resulting in total submission to the authority of the Bible.


The Internet has become a wonderful tool to spread the Gospel worldwide. This is especially important for Muslims who live in lands that prohibit missionaries. We praise the Lord for this new avenue of service.                                                                                                                                             


THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT


But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  Acts 1:8 (ESV)

Following our Lord’s resurrection, he appeared to his disciples to teach them the proper way of interpreting the Old Testament. “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” Luke 24:45–47. (ESV) However, they were not to begin their mission, until they were endowed with power from the Holy Spirit. This was to instruct the Church that missionary endeavor depends on the blessing of the Holy Spirit.  This teaching is explained in the Heidelberg Catechism, a confessional standard dating from the Protestant Reformation.

“What do you believe concerning ‘the holy catholic church’”?  I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.’” Q & A 54, of the Heidelberg Catechism.


The Belgic Confession, another confessional standard, emphasizes the universality of the Church in Article 27: “This holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same spirit.”


REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED


For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Acts 2:39 (ESV)

Peter’s sermon quoted Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and culminated with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, to inaugurate the New Testament Age. The hearers “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’  And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christian missions include the command to “repent,” a basic condition for entry into the Church. Since those who heard Peter’s message were adults, their baptism followed their confession.  But Peter didn’t stop, he declared that the “Promise” (the Gospel) was for them, their children, and for all people who were included in God’s eternal plan of salvation.


This fact encourages and sustains missionaries in their work, realizing that their labors will not be in vain! Reading Acts and the Epistles, we discover the way God works in missions. One missionary plants the seed of the Word, and another one builds upon it. Finally, God gives the increase as he sovereignly determines. The phenomenal growth of the New Testament Church is the witness to His mighty acts at the very beginning of the church’s life.

Early in the fourth century, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire had become substantial. Paganism was declining, while the followers of Jesus Christ showed by word and deed, the renewing power of the faith.


ANANIAS AND THE PERSECUTER


And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. Acts 9:18 (ESV)

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is one of the most dramatic stories of the New Testament. This zealous young man couldn’t tolerate followers of the Messiah. He consented to the murder of Stephen. When he met the glorified Messiah on the Damascus Road, he is ordered to go to a Christian disciple in Damascus, the very one he had planned to harm! Luke has supplied us with vivid details of the encounter.

I would like to draw attention to a phenomenon that played a major role in the rapid growth of the Christian Church: the existence of Christian communities with no information in Acts, about how the Gospel had reached them.

Damascus was one example. Paul went to Ananias home, his sight was restored, and he was baptized. This implies the prior existence of the Church. Some of the 3000 who were converted in Jerusalem on Pentecost, belonged to the Jewish community in Damascus. Their conversion experience enabled them to go back home and tell the marvelous account of the fulfillment of OT prophecies in the life and person of Jesus Christ.  Their testimony was spontaneous and joyful; it led to the conversion of Ananias and several others.

In our reflections on similar accounts in Acts, the existence of Christian communities like the one in Damascus, will be noted. We must consider two major facts that facilitated the spread of the Christian faith: the Jewish Dispersion and the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek.


WORLD MISSIONS


The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2b,3)

On Pentecost, the converts to Christianity were mostly Jews from the Dispersion. They returned home and announced the Good News among their communities. In Antioch, a major cosmopolitan center for more than 300 years, it was natural for Christians to share the Gospel with their Gentile neighbors.  Both Barnabas and Saul, were familiar with Greek and Hebrew, and the Old Testament Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit instructed the Church to commission them “for the work to which He had called them.”


The call comes from God; the Church confirmed the call by ordaining and sending Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries. Leaders at the church in Antioch, after fasting and praying, “laid their hands on them and sent them off.” That marked the beginning of the First Missionary Journey, recorded in Chapters 13 and 14 of Acts. Saul and Barnabas labored first on the island of Cyprus, and continued their mission in the mainland of Asia Minor. “From Attalia, they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27 (ESV)


In Paul’s days, the mission field was mostly situated within the Roman Empire; Roman roads, and Roman Peace, facilitated travel. Nowadays, the entire world has become our mission field! Where freedom is curtailed, we transcend the obstacle, using the Internet.


THE MACEDONIAN CALL


And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us. Acts 16:9 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas had reported how God had opened “a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Now it became necessary for the Church to decide whether Gentile converts must observe the Mosaic Law. The matter was settled at the Council of Jerusalem. The following letter was sent to the Church in Antioch: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts: 15:28,29) (ESV)


Now Paul was ready to begin his Second Missionary Journey. For a time, Paul and his companions worked in Western Asia; but the Holy Spirit led them to Troas, where Paul had the vision of a Macedonian appealing for help. “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:10 (ESV)


Paul, Silas, and Timothy, crossed over to Macedonia, stopping at Philippi. The missionary team met with a group of women gathered for worship on the Sabbath. Paul presented the message, resulting in the conversion of Lydia, a merchant from Thyatira. She prevailed on Paul and his friends to stay at her home. Both she and her household were baptized, thus becoming the nucleus of the Christian Church in Philippi!


HE WAS BAPTISED AND HIS FAMILY


Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. Acts16:31(ESV)

Most Reformed Christians confess the Biblical doctrine of the Covenant, which includes parents and their children. Reformed Baptists and other Evangelicals have different views of the covenant, claiming that only adults who confess their faith in Jesus Christ, may be baptized. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles witness to the fact that when adults confessed their faith, they were baptized, as well as members of their household.

In I Corinthians 1: 14-17, Paul wrote: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (ESV)

The phrase, ‘Household of Stephanas’ meant, and still means in the Middle East, ‘the Family of Stephanas.’ Baptism of the children of converts took place in Philipp.

We read in Acts 16: 29-33: “ And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.  Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’  And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (ESV)

 

TIMES OF IGNORANCE


The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  Acts 17: 30 (ESV)

Paul arrived at Athens, the Capital of the intellectuals that had produced famous philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And yet, Athens was filled with idols, one erected “To the unknown god.” Paul proclaimed the Gospel to the cultural elite by stressing the fact that the Creator was the author of life.


Paul explained that in the past God had allowed Greeks and other nations to live in “the times of ignorance,” since He had not given them His special revelation that was given to the Jewish people. But in this New Testament Age, Paul added, [God] “commands all people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30,31 (ESV)

The audience was shocked upon hearing of the resurrection of the dead. That contradicted their philosophy; immortality of the soul was acceptable; but not the resurrection of the body! Paul left the assembly, “some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” Acts 17:34 (ESV)


MANY ARE MY PEOPLE


For I have many in this city who are my people. Acts 18: 10b (ESV)

Leaving Athens, Paul came to the port city of Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla, and joined them in the business of tent-making.  He first went to the synagogue of the Jews and proclaimed the Gospel. The majority did not welcome his message; but the ruler of the synagogue believed, and his entire household. Many of the Gentile population believed and were baptized. The Lord encouraged Paul in a vision, telling him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9,10 (ESV)

The Lord’s comforting words remind us of the doctrine of election which is taught by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 6, and by Paul, in the first fourteen verses of Ephesians 1. The doctrine is summarized in Q & A 54, of the Heidelberg Catechism:

“What do you believe concerning ‘the holy catholic church?’ I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.”

My belief in election, enabled me to persevere during thirty-six years of broadcasting the Gospel to the Arabic-speaking world.  Most of the audience were Muslims, “immunized” by their sacred texts, against the reception of the Christian message. Some believed, as they had been among the elect, known to God from eternity!


THE GOSPEL OF GOD


Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.  Romans 1: 1 (ESV)

We began our reflections on Christian Missions with texts from the Gospel according to Matthew and the Book of Acts. Now, we turn to Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Hel addressed this Letter to a church he had yet to visit. Most likely, it was organized by people who had visited Jerusalem and witnessed the events on Pentecost. Upon returning home, they shared with their respective communities, their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, having been baptized in Jerusalem, as members of His Church.

Unlike his other letters which addressed certain doctrinal and ethical problems, this Letter can best be described as “The Catechism of the Christian Church.” It sets forth in a systematic way, an exposition of the Gospel. This was Paul’s theme throughout the Letter, as we notice from his salutation: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 1:1-4 (ESV)

Romans has played a special role in the life of the Church. Augustine, a North African Church Father, was converted by reading this Letter. It functions as a key to the understanding of the Bible. The rediscovery of its teachings contributed to the revival of the Christian faith. It was through his study of Romans, that Martin Luther found peace with God, and launched the Reformation, five hundred years ago!


UNASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL


For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek. Romans 1:16 (ESV)

When Paul was in Athens, he presented the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord to everyone he encountered. Some, who were followers of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, looked down on him, claiming he was uttering nonsense!

As he began expounding the Gospel to the Church in Rome, he was fully aware of the negative attitude of many Jewish and Gentile people in the city. So, he set forth in the clearest manner, his absolute confidence in the message entrusted to him by God.


Unlike the vain speculations of Athens’s philosophers, Paul pointed to the fact that the Gospel he proclaimed, served as a means for the salvation of everyone who believed, both Jews and Greeks. This was manifested in a changed life that centered on the love of God and of fellow-human beings.  Even though the Jews had received the Promise of the coming Messiah, and could read about it in their Scriptures, yet, they were disappointed in Him, because He didn’t liberate them from Rome. As to the Gentiles, often called Greeks, since the educated ones knew Greek; they considered the Gospel message as “foolishness,” as it contradicted their views of man’s basic needs.

The Gospel provides the diagnosis, and the cure for mankind’s sinfulness. It explains how to obtain a right relationship with God. As Paul put it, “For in it [the Gospel],] a righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:17 (ESV)


THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD


But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Romans 3: 21, 22a (ESV)

Unlike the rest of world religions, Christianity is a redemptive faith. This means that in Adam’s Fall, all of humanity became incapable of rescuing itself from the bondage of sin.


It’s important to remember that the Judaism of Paul’s days did not reflect the faith of the Old Testament Prophets. During the 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist, a legalistic form of Judaism developed. A person could be put right with God, by doing the demands of the Law. Over against this “Rabbinical Judaism,” Paul explained, “but now, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. … For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God…. And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24 (ESV)


The legalism of Judaism is like the belief of Muslims. Having confessed their faith in Allah, and in Muhammad as his prophet, Muslims must accomplish various duties to gain a place in Paradise. They cannot be certain about their standing with the Creator. Fear encompasses their life journey!

Now that Muslims have moved in great numbers to the West, Christians have a responsibility to share the Biblical Gospel with their Muslim neighbors. While Islamic doctrine rejects the basic teachings of Scriptures, yet, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes; this includes Muslims and Jews as well!


THE CHRISTIAN HOPE


For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24,25 (ESV)

Recently, I translated the story of a young Egyptian Muslim who was converted to the Christian faith, through the testimony of a Christian girlfriend at school. She found peace with God, that she could not possess in the Allah of Islam. As soon as her parents discovered her conversion, her ordeal began. She was dragged to the police authorities where she was interrogated and beaten. As she refused to return to Islam, she was thrown out of her home! Eventually, she managed to leave Egypt, and lead a new life in the West.


Her experience has been duplicated throughout history. It illustrates what Paul teaches, as he reached the end of his exposition of the Gospel. He referred to the sufferings of this age, balancing them with the glories that will be revealed at the return of Jesus Christ. It is in this sense that we understand “For in this hope we were saved.” The full benefits of our salvation will be realized in the future; in the meantime, we must wait patiently for that Day. Any attempt to deny that the fullness of the Kingdom of God awaits the Second Advent, leads to the secularization of the Gospel.


During the 20th century, several Protestant denominations succumbed to this temptation by adopting the “Social Gospel.” It caused divisions among these churches as well as disastrous results in the mission fields, as I experienced in Syria. Some mission schools promoted a secularized “gospel” which led to the weakening of the young Protestant Churches in the Middle East!


PAUL’S GREAT ANGUISH


Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10: 9,10 (ESV)

In Chapter One, Paul wrote “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” In his missionary journeys, Paul first went to the synagogues, to proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Messiah.  Some Jews welcomed the message, but many opposed it vehemently.


Having finished the exposition of the Gospel in Chapter 8, Paul devoted Chapters 9 to 11, to a discussion of the failure of Israel, and their ultimate salvation. First, he expressed his anguish over their hardheartedness. In Chapter ten, he explained the reason for their negative attitude. “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.”  10: 2,3. Thus, anyone attempting to win God’s favor, by his own efforts, is rejecting the Gospel of grace.


Quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-24, where Moses had emphasized that God had not kept His plan of salvation hidden, Paul applied those verses to the situation at hand, by stating: “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10: 9 functions as a concise Confession of Faith. It implies a public profession of faith, coupled with a hearty belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


FAITH COMES FROM HEARING


For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10: 16b, 17 (ESV)

Confessing Jesus as Lord, and believing in His resurrection, are both necessary for salvation. But how does one obtain the faith that leads to this confession? The Holy Spirit is the Author of faith; and He uses the preaching of the Word of Christ, to create that faith.


During the early years of the Church, the believers possessed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and its Greek translation, the Septuagint. By the middle of the second century, the Canon (official list) of the New Testament was fixed. Now the books of the OT and the NT formed the Bible. For centuries, it was in manuscript form. Thanks to Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, and the Reformation’s emphasis on the translation of the Bible, the laity could now read Scripture in their native languages.


A great gift of the Modern Missionary Enterprise to the peoples of Asia and Africa, has been the translation of the Bible into their local languages. In some instances, missionaries first had to provide an alphabet for many nations, before they could engage in their translation work.


Having the printed copy of the Word of God, does not dispense with the preaching of the Gospel.  The greatest periods in Church history, were marked by powerful Biblical preaching. For example, the Patriarch of Constantinople (349 – 407), John Chrysostom, was known as the Golden-mouth, for his eloquent and bold preaching. Among noteworthy preachers of the 18th Century, George Whitefield (1714 - 1770) greatly influenced the Church in both Britain and America.


THE FUTURE SALVATION OF ISRAEL


I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved. Romans 11:  25b – 26a (ESV)

During the last 2000 years, there have been few Jewish conversions to the Gospel. The 19th century had two noteworthy exceptions; Alfred Edersheim, the author of “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” and the family of Felix Mendelssohn who has enriched us with his Oratorios “Elijah,” “St. Paul,” and the “Reformation Symphony.”

I should add the names of two German Lutheran theologians, Franz Delitzsch and Carl Friedrich Keil, who together wrote a commentary on the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Delitzsch translated the New Testament into Hebrew as well.            

Paul warned us not to forecast the future of Israel, by simply focusing on the past. “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved.”

Some Bible commentators interpret “all Israel will be saved” as referring to the “elect” in general. But we should not forget that Paul was dealing at this point, with the Fall and Ultimate Salvation of the Jews. His teaching about of election is found in Romans 8, and in Ephesians 1. Would the Apostle have burst into this doxology, if he were not thinking about Israel’s conversion?

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” 11: 33–36 (ESV)


A LIVING SACRIFICE


I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12: 1 (ESV)

Paul followed this pattern in his Letters to the Churches. After expounding the Gospel, he turned to its application in the life of the believers. While justification by faith in Jesus Christ is a once-for-all event, sanctification, that is the practice of the faith and the working out of a God-centered living, is a life-long process.

Paul followed the order of the Great Commission, as given by the risen Christ prior to His Ascension: “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.” Mattdhew 28:19, 20 (ESV)

It wasn’t only Paul that mentioned the importance of the Christian’s walk during his earthly pilgrimage. The same emphasis exists in the New Testament Letters of Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, I, II and III John, and Jude.

Followers of world religions have objections to Christian beliefs; but are impressed by the Christian life. Having grown-up in the Middle East where Muslims regarded Christians as unbelievers, still they admired the life of their Christian neighbours. One of their sayings was, “a Christian doesn’t lie.” My father shared this anecdote about Muslims who planned to travel, used to “deposit” their gold and silver for safe-keeping, at the home of missionaries, whose conduct in life, exemplified genuine honesty and integrity!


THE WORD OF THE CROSS


For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  I Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

The 19th century is known as the Great Century of Missions. My family was impacted by the Presbyterian missionaries from Britain and the USA, when they began their work around Antioch, Syria. My father was the grandson of the local Orthodox priest in Seleucia. Thanks to the presence and teaching of the missionaries, he converted to Protestantism. After serving in the Ottoman Army during WWI, he was tutored by the missionaries, and served as pastor in two cities of the area.

Growing up in a Protestant home, I became aware of the ways the early missionaries accomplished their work. My father’s library was lined with Bible Commentaries, books on Systematic Theology, and Church History. All had been translated into Arabic by the pioneer missionaries whose greatest accomplishment and gift to us, was the translation of the Bible into Arabic. To this day, this translation is known as the “Smith-Van Dyck” version of 1860!

National pastors were equipped to proclaim the “Word of the Cross.” Notwithstanding the obstacles they encountered in their work, their message brought men and women, to a saving faith in the Lord; as it was accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. The phrase, “the word of the Cross” summarized the essence of Christianity, as a faith based on the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, in His death on the Cross, His victory over death, His Resurrection and Ascension into glory. Seated at the right hand of God, Christ makes intercession for His people. They look forward to His return and the beginning of the Eternal Kingdom of God.


THE WISDOM OF GOD


For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe.   1 Corinthians 1: 21 (ESV)

Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth preaching the Gospel and organizing the Church. He wrote his First Letter to deal with several problems that had been disturbing the health and unity of the congregation.

The Corinthians were not as sophisticated as the Athenians; still they were attracted by “form” rather than “substance.” They had not grown spiritually, since they levelled several criticisms at Paul and his preaching. Paul had to remind them that God, in His sovereignty, had ordained the preaching of the Gospel as the means of salvation. The phrase “what we preach” is a translation of the Greek, “Kerugmatos,” a specific word that refers to the content of Paul’s preaching. In other words, every message proclaimed from a pulpit, must conform to the Biblical Gospel.

Paul took notice of the Greek’s love of wisdom. But Greek wisdom was the very antithesis of God’s wisdom; Greeks regarded the message of a crucified and risen savior, as utter foolishness. But Paul did not accommodate his message to make it acceptable to his audience. Throughout his missionary career, Paul was convinced that the Gospel of Christ, “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (NKJ)

The Church hasn’t always proclaimed and defended this Biblical faith. In our days, several denominations have surrendered to the “wisdom” of man. We need another Reformation that would reassert the Supreme and Final authority of the Word of God, and the Uniqueness and Superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ.


THE MESSAGE, NOT THE METHOD


For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2: 2

The Corinthian Church needed to learn this fundamental truth: the integrity of the message is extremely important. Some members of the church wanted the message to be constructed in accordance with the standards of Greek culture. Paul, however, reminded them that the Gospel should be proclaimed without embellishment or alteration. “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1-5 (ESV)

Paul’s emphasis on the message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is crucial today. Believing in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, as an atonement for our sins, reveals the power and wisdom of God, in planning our redemption, and by enabling us to believe the Good News.

This Biblical truth must be maintained at all costs, as we are surrounded by theories which are radically opposed to the authority of the Word of God, and to sound doctrine as summarized in the Nicene Creed. To succumb to such views, would nullify the power and effectiveness of Christian missions. This happens often when men teach unbiblical theories in missions.


HOLDING FAST TO THE WORD


Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15: 1, 2 (ESV)

Near the end of Paul’s speech in Athens, he referred to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were shocked upon hearing of the resurrection of the dead. That contradicted their philosophy; immortality of the soul was acceptable; but not the resurrection of the body!

There were members of the Corinthian Church who entertained doubts about this Christian belief. So, Paul had to remind them of the basic tenets of the Christian faith that he had proclaimed upon his arrival at their city, and of the necessity of holding fast to these truths.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15: 3,4

As a theologian once put it, “The Gospel is not simply that Christ died, but that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” He meant to emphasize that the historical fact about the death of Christ, as interpreted by God, formed the very essence of the Christian message.

It’s necessary to hold fast to this truth, since the uniqueness of the Christian faith is questioned by some Western theologians, who propagate the notion of the equal validity of all religious faiths. They deny the need for the redemptive work of Christ, as expounded in the Bible.


REMOVING THE VEIL


Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  2 Corinthians 3: 15, 16 (ESV)

The Bible has played an important role in the mission of the Church. When Paul began his missionary work, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, had been in existence for at least two hundred years. It was used in the synagogues of the Jews, in the Dispersion. In Palestine, the Hebrew text was employed; while the preaching was done in Aramaic, the language of the Jews, after their return from the Babylonian Captivity.

Paul’s preached to the Jews that the promises of God in the Old Testament, about the Messiah, had been fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some believed Paul’s preaching, and became the nucleus of the Church in the Mediterranean world. Others refused to receive the Good News, and became persecutors of Christians.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church, he wrote about the veil that lay over the hearts of the Jews who had refused the offer of salvation. He mentioned this principle, “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” God in His mercy ordained the exposition of the Gospel, as a means for lifting that veil. Even though Jews looked at the cross as a stumbling block, and the Gentiles as nonsense, yet, as Paul wrote in his First Letter, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe.” (ESV)


NO OTHER GOSPEL

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. Galatians 1: 8 (ESV)

Paul had gone to the region of Galatia, located now in northwestern Turkey, to preach the Gospel. The Lord blessed his ministry, and a Church was born, based on the proclamation of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.

After Paul’s departure, false teachers came to the Galatian churches claiming that Paul’s work was unfinished, and that church members still needed to observe the requirements of the Mosaic Law. When the news of these “Judaizers” reached Paul, he was greatly displeased, since the very heart of the Gospel, was denied. This led him to write a very strong condemnation of the heretical teachers. There is only one Gospel, and it cannot be amended or revised, not even by an angel from heaven! The teachings of the Old Testament and of the Lord Jesus Christ, clearly testified that the justification of the sinner was a gift of God; it cannot be earned, or merited by man’s so-called “good works.”

Unfortunately, throughout the history of the Church, the pure Gospel of Christ was distorted. God raised Reformers like Savonarola, John Huss, and Wycliff, who called the Church, to reaffirm the Biblical Gospel.

October 31, 2017, marked the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation that was launched by Martin Luther. As we contemplate the state of the Church, we see the need for another Reformation that would reaffirm the supreme and final authority of the Bible, and God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of sinful men and women.

 

CHOSEN BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD

 

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. Ephesians 1: 4b, 5 (ESV)

Luke informs us in Acts 19: 10, that Paul came to Ephesus and spent two years preaching the Gospel, “so that all the residents of Asia heard the world of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” “Asia,” in this text, referred to Asia Minor where Ephesus was situated near the Mediterranean Sea. The city was a large commercial and political center; the Temple of the goddess Artemis, attracted many people from the area to her worship.

Paul sent this letter to Ephesus, and to the churches around it. We learn about them in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. This letter has important lessons for the church, especially in areas of the world where believers suffer persecution.

The opening words are a doxology praising God the Father for choosing believers before the foundation of the world. It’s a very powerful teaching that assures Christians that they were the objects of God’s electing love, before their birth! What a comforting thought! Christians are adopted through Jesus Christ who redeemed them by shedding His blood for the forgiveness of their sins.

To become aware of God’s plan and receive this unbelievable gift, requires the preaching of the Gospel. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. “1: 13, 14

 

THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM

 

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him. Ephesians 1: 17 (ESV)

Paul assured the believers in Ephesus that they had been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world. He prayed that God would give them the Spirit of wisdom. The Christian life is not one of passive existence, but of an active exercising of God’s gifts, becoming aware of Christ’s Lordship of history, and His headship of the Church.

The Ephesian Christians lived under difficult conditions. Their witness against the idolatry and immorality of the worship of Artemis, was not appreciated. They faced the Roman authorities’ hostility to the Gospel. They needed wisdom in the conduct of their life. In face of opposition, they had to hold fast to their faith, and not lose heart, keeping in mind that Jesus Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father, in firm control of history’s march, and the welfare of the Church.

Christ rules His Church, “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” In chapter 4, Paul listed various gifts that Christ apportions to church members. He delegates specific roles to different members of the Church. Unfortunately, the growth of hierarchy in the Church, became a hindrance to its life and mission. While the Reformation restored the Biblical teaching about the Church, the battle against hierarchical structures must continue!

 

THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT BOUND

 

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 2 Timothy 2: 8, 9 (ESV)

Second Timothy is Paul’s last Letter. He was in prison awaiting his execution. These words are his “Will and Testament” sent to his spiritual son Timothy, pastor of the Church in Ephesus.

He reminded him of the essence of the Gospel message; and exhorted him to train men who will hand down the faith, to the following generations. To be a servant of Jesus Christ, required readiness to suffer, and perhaps to die as a martyr, the Greek term for witness.

While the Lord’s servants have often been chained throughout history, the Word of God has not, and cannot be chained. No power on earth can thwart God’s eternal purposes. This is the verdict of the history of missions.

A colleague who had once served as a missionary in China, told me that his work came to an end with the victory of the Communists in 1949. At that time, it was estimated that the number of Christians in China, was around one million. During the Cultural Revolution (1960 – 1970,) thousands of Christians were imprisoned, and many were martyred.

Regardless of the severity of persecution, Christianity was not wiped out. Lately, the situation has changed drastically. House churches had sprung up in many parts of the country, theological schools have opened, the number of believers is estimated to be in the millions. What a testimony to Paul’s words: But the word of God is not bound! Western Christians are providing the Chinese Church with theological instruction, to help believers grow in faith.

 

FOR THE SAKE OF THE ELECT

 

Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10 (ESV)

Having assured Timothy that the proclamation of the Word of God could not be stopped, Paul mentioned his readiness to endure every hardship, so that the elect would become partakers of the salvation accomplished by Christ.

Here is an important lesson in mission work. The elect will be saved, but they will be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. In our reflection on First Corinthians, we learned that God ordained that people are saved, through the preaching of the Gospel.  Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 10:17, states “So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Preaching the Good News plays a vital role in reaching the elect.  It enabled me to embark on a radio, and literature ministry, to the Arab world for 36 years. Most Arabic-speaking people are Muslims. Their sacred texts, the Qur’an, Hadith, and Life of Muhammad, deny every fundamental truth of the Bible. Belief in the Holy Trinity is considered as idolatry; the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, His resurrection and ascension, are denied. Sinfulness of man is regarded as a mere ignorance, that can be overcome, by obedience to the commands of Allah.

It would have been impossible for me to persist in this work, had I not believed in the doctrine of election. At the same time, I was convinced of the necessity of proclaiming the Word of God, in order to bring in the elect, from every part of the vast Arab world.

 

MAKING PURIFICATION FOR SINS

 

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high Hebrews 1: 3b (ESV)

The author of Hebrews first stated a doctrinal truth; then followed by the term “Therefore,” in order to apply that truth in the life of the Church.  In Chapter 1, he taught that Old Testament revelation was partial and preparatory, and accomplished through the prophets; God’s final revelation was complete and accomplished by His Son.  

The focus of the Introduction is on Redemption, stated in these significant words: “After making purification for sins.”  The Prophets handed down the messages delivered by God’s Spirit; the core of their message was God’s promise in Genesis 3: 15, when He said to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (ESV)

 Man’s sinfulness could be overcome by a redemptive act of God. The Old Testament sacrificial system portrayed that redemption, but could not accomplish it. Only the Incarnate Son of God did that, by His vicarious death on the cross.

During Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, He revealed God in His preaching and in His actions. Israel’s leaders rather than welcoming the Messiah, rejected the only One who was to make “purifications for sins.”  As John put it in his Gospel, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1: 29b (ESV)

 

PAY MUCH CLOSER ATTENTION

 

Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  Hebrews 2: 1 (ESV)

There are ten “Therefores” in Hebrews, the first one is in Chapter Two. It warns against “drifting” from the Gospel.

We should remember that the recipients of this Letter, possessed only the Old Testament, as the New Testament was still in the process of formation. For about a century, the Gospel message was transmitted orally by men like Paul, Peter, John, and their assistants; as well as by the testimony of converts. During His earthly ministry, Christ had begun the proclamation of His “great salvation.”

Nowadays, we have the Bible available in print, on the Internet, and on our smart phones; for English-speaking people, they can read it in several versions. We possess the heritage of the Church, as summarized in Creeds, Confessions of Faith, and in Catechisms.  It’s beautifully expressed in hymns, oratorios, and cantatas.  There is no excuse for drifting away from the faith.

Why is this strong warning about apostasy in this Letter? Doesn’t the Bible teach the “Perseverance of the Saints?” Yes, but these warnings are the means the Lord uses, to enable us to persevere in the faith! Neglecting the “means of grace” is to court spiritual disaster.

One of my saddest recollections is the story of a young man I once knew, who was preparing for the ministry. After ordination, he became a foreign missionary, and first did very well.  Years later, I learned that he had fallen into grievous sins, wrecked his family life, and was drifting aimlessly!  Scriptural warnings are very necessary to keep us from drifting and falling!

 

THE WORD OF LIFE

 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. 1 John 1: 1 (ESV)

During Paul’s missionary work, he warned the churches of the danger from legalism. Having preached that salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ; he discovered some converts had reverted to legalism, due to the influence of false teachers who proclaimed another “gospel.”

John was the only living apostle, after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. He had settled in Ephesus during the last thirty years of the first century. He was not spared persecution, since part of those years, he lived as an exile, on the Isle of Patmos. He authored the Gospel known by his name, three Letters, and the Book of Revelation.

The Church was now threatened by a heresy, known as Gnosticism. The basic teaching of this cult was that evil resided in the material world, and that freedom came through a special gnosis, a Greek word for a specific knowledge or enlightenment. In response to the threat of Gnosticism, John emphasized the reality of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Savior possessed a real human body; He could be seen, heard, and touched.

Christ’s mission was redemptive; it was to be accomplished by His vicarious sufferings and death on the Cross, as an expiation for the sins of the world. That was necessary, since there was no other way to deal with man’s sinfulness.  

Nowadays, Christians encounter various heresies; it’s extremely necessary for the Church to proclaim the clear and unchanging message taught by the Apostle John.

 

CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH

 

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 3b (ESV)

As mentioned before, 2017 was the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It wasn’t easy for Martin Luther to make his stand for the doctrine of Justification by faith, as taught in Holy Scripture. In fact, he had to hide for his life, since both Church and State, had sought his death. He was aware that before him, others had sought to reform the Church, and were martyred in “contending for the faith.” One was Savonarola, a Dominican monk in Florence; the other John Huss, a Czech reformer, who had been greatly influenced by Wycliffe. Both were burned at the stake!

The basic reforms were about the doctrines of Salvation, and Church offices. The basis for the reformers’ stand, was the Supreme and Final Authority of the Bible.

The task we face today is more daunting, as every article of the Christian faith, is under attack.  Biblical authority, the Uniqueness and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, are being contested by doctrinal pluralism that advocates the equal validity of all religions; universalism that preaches all people will be saved, regardless of their beliefs; and strong attacks on Christian ethical standards, that seek to overthrow the Biblical view of marriage.

Luther responded to the opposition of Church and State, by the spiritual arms of the Bible, and his publications, made possible through the invention of the printing press. We possess the press and the Internet, for the defense of the Faith, and its spread in many languages, all over the world!

Soli Deo Gloria; to God alone be the Glory. Amen!