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Hindrances
to World Evangelism

by Kim Harrington 


     Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

Mark 16:14

     Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere between 1500 and 3900 unreached "people groups" in the world today, and approximately two and a half billion people who are as yet totally unevangelized. "Unreached" is not the same as "unsaved." Unreached means that, at this time, there is no availability of the Gospel within a reasonable distance, within the framework of their own language and culture. Essentially, it means there is no way of them getting saved today, short of a sovereign visitation of God.

     In addition to this, there are many millions of people who are technically within "reached" or "evangelized" areas who have, nevertheless, never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Finally, there are multitudes of people who know something of the Christian religion, who may even belong to some church or another, but have never heard the saving Gospel, who don't know that Jesus died for them, and that they can have assurance of eternal life through faith in Him.

     Bottom line: a whole lot of people who have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

     The situation is far from hopeless, however. There are over five million Bible-believing congregations in the world today. If you divided the unreached people groups among the evangelical churches of the world, even using the inflated estimate of 3900 such peoples, you'd have 1282 fellowships of believers to every unreached people group. It shouldn't be too hard to handle when you think of it like that, right?

     But let's get even more reasonable. We know that not most of the Christians found in those congregations are not likely to become missionaries, so what if we tallied up just those who were of prime missionary age, say, 18-35 years old... If just one out of two hundred of these young people went on the mission field, that would still be eight full-time missionaries for every unreached people, tribe, and tongue in the entire world. Personally, I think we could do better than that, but we're trying to be as reasonable and conservative as we can.

     Why then are there still so many unreached people in the world? Why has it taken the church of Jesus Christ so long to get around to actually accomplishing the Great Commission--to go into all the world and preach the Gospel? This was exactly the question asked of one of Hudson Taylor's young missionaries to inland China in the last century. Upon being told the story of Jesus, a man asked, "When did this happen?" "Over eighteen hundred years ago," the missionary replied. "Why did it take you so long to get here--what of all my ancestors who have perished in the meantime?"

     Good question. And applicable to this very day. In spite of the intensive drives of many denominations and missions organizations in the last ten years to "reach the world by the year 2000" or evangelize the "Ten-forty Window," in spite of worldwide prayer efforts for "strategic cities" and specific people groups, the statistics remain much the same.

     Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Missions, recently confirmed something that I, from my own more limited perspective, had suspected for some time. He noted that, "The world Christian movement has largely stalled in relation to the Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist bloc of unreached peoples."  Well folks, those three religions comprise the lion's share of the unreached peoples--if we're stalled there, we're stalled! Not much progress is being made. We're talking and teaching and researching the lost peoples of the world, but no extra missionaries are being sent forth. It's a clear case of too much talk and not enough action.

     Why is this so? How can the American church, while claiming to be partaking in fresh fire from on high, a modern-day "great awakening," be so impervious to the dire need of the lost multitudes of the world? Where is our conscience? What has distracted us from the primary purpose, the number one issue on the heart of God--world evangelism? Read on, and find out. But be prepared to be convicted and challenged. And please don't read on, only to harden your heart by putting off the plight of the unreached peoples once again. That would be a sin for which you may be held accountable at the judgment seat of Christ.

 

Theological Hindrances

     Solid, Bible-believing Christians would hesitate to name faulty theology as one of the reasons they are not more burdened for world evangelism, but it is a major factor nonetheless. Many evangelicals and charismatics have quietly, thoughtlessly, bought into heretical doctrines by default.  Let me explain.

     Universalism is the heretical belief that everyone will ultimately be saved, or at least have some sort of chance to get right with God after this life. It has recurred throughout church history because even good Christian people often find eternal torment a little hard to accept. Surely God wouldn't allow so many innocent people to suffer such an extreme punishment as hell if they've never really heard a decent presentation of the Gospel? I once had to face off a class of outraged Bible college students for bringing up the subject of eternal punishment for those who've never heard the Gospel! These were Spirit-filled students preparing for the ministry who had not yet come to grips with the biblical doctrine of hell. Somehow, they seemed to believe that God would give an individual the benefit of the doubt, based on their sincerity, even though he or she was a sinner who didn't believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

     Annihilation is the belief that unsaved souls will be destroyed completely, will cease to exist entirely, rather than being subjected to eternal punishment. It is also unscriptural, yet many otherwise good Christians would rather believe in it than in hell and damnation. These doctrines aren't talked about, especially by name--our elders might get upset--but some believers secretly harbor them in the back of their minds.  They simply cannot reconcile a just and loving God with such a outrageous doctrine as eternal punishment in the flaming inferno of hell. The Lord must have some contingency plan; surely He doesn't intend to send all those innocent people to such a fate? I t's unthinkable.

     Furthermore, it makes us feel guilty for not having done more to save them, doesn't it? Surely the Lord is not going to hold us responsible for their souls! That watchman stuff was for Ezekiel, not for Christians in the age of grace. God certainly must understand how shy some of us are, or how little money we have to give to missions, or how ungifted we may be in evangelism... Let's face it, we'd be in serious trouble with the Lord if He was in earnest when He issued the Great Commission, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel."

     Unfortunately for us, He gave every indication of being dead serious about it. He expects us to get the job done, regardless of how many have or haven't responded up until now, regardless of what we feel our limitations or conflicts to be. Certainly God is able to enable us to do what He clearly commanded us to do, just as He enabled Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, in spite of that man's initial objections.

     Another common theological hindrance to world evangelism is Hyper-Calvinism. Again, we may not call it by name, but it goes along the lines of what a Baptist elder told William Carey when he first proposed a missions program for that denomination back in the 1790s. "Young man, sit down," the venerable officer said. "If God is pleased to save the heathen, He'll do it without your help or mine." We may acknowledge that God wants our help, but we have slippery ways of excusing ourselves when we fail. "I'm sorry, God, for not being obedient and witnessing to that individual, but I'm sure in Your foreknowledge You knew how I'd respond, and had already made other plans for reaching him..." Even if that were true, do you want to be the disobedient servant who never did his Master's will? We cannot hide behind God's sovereignty as an excuse for failing to do our own duty.

     All of these doctrines are simply ways to excuse ourselves for our lack of zeal and obedience. Let's get honest and quit hiding behind them.

 

Selfish Hindrances

    I'm going to throw a couple more fancy ten-dollar words at you again, but don't be put off by them.  They are mere descriptions for things that we all may be guilty of to some degree or another.

     The first is Hedonism, the preoccupation with pleasure and comfort. It has no doubt kept more people from the mission fields of the world than any other single factor. Most Americans wouldn't dream of giving up their present lifestyle with all its comforts and niceties--if anything they plan to go up in the world and be more comfortable still, not less so! I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, in reference to my own three-year stint in India, "How could you live in such primitive conditions?... did you have electricity, running water... why, I hear they don't even have normal toilets over there!" As a matter of fact, we did have electricity--well, most of the time--but there were many adjustments in lifestyle, nevertheless.

     Sacrifice is a concept almost unknown to the present generation. Just twenty years ago we were sending out many more missionaries than we are today. They were more idealistic than practical, and they had a few rude awakenings, but for the most part, they got over it and managed to do a work for Jesus Christ.

     The trend today seems to be towards short-term missionaries. It is very appealing because it involves a low level of commitment and a strictly limited sacrifice--the "missionary" always has the comfort of knowing he will be back home in a few weeks. Most don't even go through the challenge of learning the language of the host country with any degree of proficiency.

     Materialism has also hindered missionary activity in recent years. We love our money and the things that it can buy us. We need that new gadget, the latest computer, the most up-to-date microwave or cell-phone. Our love for more and more products and things keeps us strapped financially, so that we never have enough money to give substantially to the work of world evangelism. We're too busy spending money on ourselves to have much left over to help support a missionary and his family. We're much like the Southerners who hoarded gold and money during the Civil War while the troops on the front lines were lacking the basic necessities of life. They lost the war, and so will we if we do not change our ways. We will all feel the pain of defeat if the cause of world evangelism fails. We need to assess our priorities and do something about it.

     Pastors, why is it that the missionary budget is always the first to feel the crunch if the offerings fall-off a little? Aren't there other, less strategic, ministries that can be put aside for a few months? How can we justify supporting an American evangelist with a television budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, while ignoring the more simple, yet important, needs of missionaries on the front lines? The evangelist may be doing little more with his money than creating a super-star status for himself--the missionary is often on the very cutting edge of the battle for souls. I'm not against evangelists--I am simply arguing that we should put our money where it can do the most good for the kingdom of God, while supporting other worthwhile causes, as well.

 

Ignorance of the Task

     The American Christian is subjected to a continual barrage of conflicting half-truths when it comes to the state of world evangelism today. In an effort to raise funds and demonstrate how effective they are, many organizations habitually overstate the progress they have made. Oftentimes it is simple carelessness, or omission of certain details that are deemed unimportant; sometimes it's overt misrepresentation.   The city of Madras in southern India has been saved many times over, if the reports of all the various evangelists who have held successful crusades there can be believed.   Nevertheless, Christians remain a small minority in that Hindu city.  Others claim to have visited every home in India with the Gospel--more than once--but in fourteen years of ministering in that land I have yet to meet anyone who has been visited by one of these door-to-door evangelists.

     From what the average Christian hears on Christian radio and television today, it must certainly be assumed that the whole world is reached already, that the job is being done by much more able people than ourselves.  If there are still a few unreached people in India or China, then all those dynamic national evangelists and power-house preachers with their mass crusades will certainly have the job done within a few short years!  That's the impression created, but unfortunately, it's not accurate.

     If native workers were really getting the job done, the statistics wouldn't be as dismal as they are.  Regardless of the well-presented arguments of some ministries, there is still a tremendous need for foreign missionaries in most fields of the world today.

     Radio and television evangelism can be effective in sowing seeds of the Gospel, but there are severe limitations... (1) Few people own televisions or radios in developing countries. (2) The message is too often broadcast in English instead of the local languages. (3) Although many unchurched people listen to Christian radio, it is still a minute portion of the population as a whole--it stands to reason that Muslims are not gathering around to listen to a great deal of Christian programming. (4) The Bible says "Go ye therefore," not "send ye airwaves therefore." People do not get discipled and planted in the local church through radio and television ministries. These may be helpful in disseminating the knowledge of Christ in a general way, but someone still has to go in personally and consolidate any gains that are made.

 

You Can Make a Difference

     As we said in the opening paragraphs, the need is tremendous, but we do have the resources to get the job done--in our generation, perhaps in a few short years--if only we'd begin to allocate the resources, both human and financial, to the all-important area of world evangelism. You can make a difference yourself, a big difference as a matter of fact, by getting personally involved in the world missionary.

     You could go personally and really be on the front lines of the adventure. What more valuable and exciting way to spend your life than to be a part of winning unreached nations to Jesus Christ? Any sacrifice is worthwhile, considering the contribution you'd be making. An old friend of mine recently held a conference in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. He beamed with the satisfaction of a job well done as he looked out over a vast sea of faces that would never had known a personal relationship with Jesus had he not gone to minister in that war-torn district some twelve years ago. He made a difference and so can you.

     You can help the cause of world evangelism by giving sacrificially to missionaries who are getting the job done. Give discriminately, find out about the missionaries you support, for the great majority of the world's Christian workers are involved in support ministries among already reached people, and although there may be a place for such ministries, you'll get more for your dollar by giving to front-line evangelistic work, no matter how humble the particular ministry may be at this time. Remember, it takes some time to get a foot in the door, but once an evangelist starts making headway among a particular unreached people, it can quickly become very fruitful. Get behind the missionaries who are on the cutting edge of evangelism and church-planting, so they don't have to worry about finances. The late Danny Ost, missionary to Mexico City, used to guarantee a soul for every dollar given. Inflation may have changed that figure since his day, but there are still many workers who are really getting the job done. Get behind them and share in the rewards, as well as the responsibility, for their success.

     Third, you can pray. The Apostle Paul requested prayer all the time from the churches that he related to, so it must be effective. He wouldn't have just waste his breath, especially as those remarks are recorded in the Holy Scriptures! Prayer really can change things. Prayer was responsible for the fall of the Iron Curtain, and it can open other closed doors, as well. Pray for the workers you know, and pray for those blocs of people that are still so resistant: the Hindus, Muslim, and Buddhists mentioned earlier. Pray that more laborers may enter the field, full-time laborers who have taken the time to learn the language and the culture of the people they intend to minister to, well-supported laborers who don't have to spend half of their time trying to raise money to care for their families and underwrite their ministries.

     As you pray, you may very well feel led to take up options number one and two, as well--to give more, and to possibly even go yourself to the mission field. There are certainly a lot worse ways you could spend your life and money.

     We can reach this world. We just have to cast aside the hindrances and go for it.

 

In Conclusion, a Personal Note...

     Would you do me--and the Lord--a favor?  If you got something out of this, put it into practice and start making a difference right now.   This message is available in tract form, for a very reasonable price, so order a bunch of them from us.  Or you can download it off the internet and print out some copies for your friends.  One way or another, get the word out. Who knows, you may be responsible for lighting a fire under the next William Carey or Danny Ost!  And browse around our web site for more information about Masterbuilder Ministries, our work around the world, and a list of our other resources.   We'd love to help you get personally involved in reaching the world for Jesus!

 

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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