“All Nations”

My last post was about the Board’s current missiology; specifically, Jeff Lewis’ study posted on the imb.org website. I need to start by saying that I’m questioning the Board’s philosophy here. I don’t have anything against Jeff Lewis, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Again, I’m just looking for people who will discuss the questions I have.

Now, most missionaries and missiologists these days seem to be saying that God’s big plan is to “reach” (by this, I’m guessing they mean “save” or “redeem”?) all nations across the globe. Most of the books and websites I’ve read like these verses as insight into God’s “heart for the nations:”

Of course, there’s the Great Commission:
Matthew 28:19
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

So we know the term “all nations” is a Biblical one. We usually define nation as “peoples who group themselves according to geography, language, and culture.” There are other passages that talk about “all nations,” but it’s harder to see the direct application to missions. This one, for example, from Mark:

Mark 13:9-11
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

Does “must first be preached” here mean “primarily,” or “before any of the above happens?” And does it mean we should come up with a plan to preach to all nations? Is preaching to all nations the same as missions? Where might church planting come into play?

Anyway, the most often-cited verse is usually this one:
Matthew 24:14
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Everyone I’ve read on this one seems to take this verse as a prescriptive directive. That is: “You must preach to all nations before the end will come.” I’ll write about this in a separate post.

Finally, there’s the Revelation passage:
Revelation 7:9
“…after this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

Here, John says he sees people from every nation worshipping. Not to split hairs, but is he talking about all the ones that were around back then? Maybe he had the insight to recognize all the people groups that every existed and ever would in the future. Or maybe he just means “lots of people from lots of different places.”

One verse that also uses the “all nations/every nation” terminology is this one that tells about the Day of Pentecost:
Acts 2:5
“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.”

I find it odd that this one doesn’t figure into the discussion. Does it mean that there were literally Jews in all nations? Or is it saying “of the nations in which there were Jewish people…” If we’re going to base our missiology on a concordance search for “all nations,” we need to talk about this one, too.

And another “all nations” passage in Revelation that isn’t considered relevant:

Revelation 14:5-7
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earthÂ? to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t assume a destination when God gives us a direction. I believe that Jesus will come back whenever He wants to (later in Matthew 24, and 1 Thessalonians 5). It really doesn’t all depend on us. I find that Revelation 14 verse very assuring: “The Task,” if it is our task, can and will be “fulfilled” by God’s heavenly messenger in one fell swoop- a sort of evangacube in the sky, if you will. Hey, maybe that should be our new strategy (he said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek).
Evangecube

“God’s Heart for the Nations”

When I was in college, my friends that wanted to be missionaries were really into John Piper. He wrote a book called “Let the Nations Be Glad” in 1993 that really challenged popular thought concerning missions and God’s gloy. The basic premise was the God is mostly concerned with His glory. God is a jealous God, and His greatest desire, according to Piper, is that all the nations of the world worship Him. Piper makes the application to global missions by saying that the goal of the Church’s mission is that all nations worship God. I recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it.

About that same time, a guy named Jeff Lewis (the professor of missions at Cal Baptist, not sure what he’s up to these days) was making the rounds talking and teaching at Christian Universities about “God’s Heart for the Nations.” He built on Piper’s idea that the main reason for human existance is that we would worship God, and that our act of worship ought to be leading others to worship Him as well. Lewis was also really into people group research, and was therefore focused on the 10/40 window. His teachings had a profound influence; not only on my “Mission Friends” (get it?), but also on the IMB. In 1998, the Board adopted its “New Directions” campaign and strategy change, shifting it’s focus from countries to ethno-linguistic people groups. This “paradigm shift” echoed Jeff Lewis’ call for the Board to take the focus off of “reached” people groups and to concentrate it’s efforts and resources on the “unreached.” In fact, Jeff’s study on “God’s Heart for the Nations” can still be found here at the imb.org website.

Anyway, Jeff asks the reader again and again to consider:
“Start Pondering … What is God’s ultimate passion? Not His only passion, but what is His chief end? When everything is eliminated but one, what is His central motivation?”

I’d like to hear what you all think about this. I’ll post more thoughts in a couple of days.