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Attention Ministers: Does your church have a biblical philosophy of missions?


By Paul McDorman

Question: Where do Christians come from?
Answer: From other denominations.

Sardonic as the above joke may be, it seems to be true much too often. If one looks at most churches in America, it seems like new church membership is a process of musical chairs from one denomination to another. It is a rare experience to have new members come from the "Gentile" world like you read about in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Many would say that this makes sense because "Gentiles" (or "pagans") typically live deep in the jungles of South American or Africa. We have a mental picture that it is only the missionaries in remote countries who have contact with people like this. But such is not the case anymore. Many people now believe that our country is well on its way to becoming a modern "pagan" nation consisting of people who live an entirely secular life and/or knowing little or nothing about Christianity and the Bible.
Today's Gentiles
According to a recent Gallup survey almost 38% of Americans seldom or never attend church. For all practical purposes, these people qualify for being called Gentiles in the biblical sense - unbelief in the Word of God. Unfortunately many evangelistic churches do not make much of an effort to try to save these people. Although we don't use the word "Gentile" anymore and the word "pagan" can carry different connotations, such people would fall into the analogous categories of "secularist", "unbeliever", or simply, "non-Christian". These people may or may not be religious. But as we shall see, even if churches were to suddenly reach out to this group of people, the typical method of evangelism that we use would not work very well.

Part of the reason for this is that historically, churches have not had much experience with converting "Gentiles" as the early Christians did when they were trekking through Asia, Greece, and Rome. Except for American Indians, early America was largely made up of immigrant Christians. We were a Christian nation in the similar sense that Israel was a Jewish nation. Consequently the majority of conversions that took place were from other denominations and wayward individuals from Christian families.

Another reason why churches do not do well with converting unbelievers is inherent in the location where most evangelic efforts take place - the church building. Obviously, unbelievers typically do not go to church, so churches have in effect unwittingly put an obstacle in the path of the conversion of today's gentiles. This was not the case with the early church when any opportunity was used to preach to the Gentiles.
The Gentile Method of Evangelism
The main reason for the failure to convert unbelievers is that churches do not typically use the correct biblical method. The New Testament approach to evangelizing gentiles was to first get them to believe in the God of Creation, and second, to get them to believe that Jesus is God's son come to earth.

In theology the first area of study is known as "Natural Theology". It deals with the knowledge of God that is revealed in nature. In seminaries and Bible colleges, this subject is usually given short shrift. Future preachers can take all kinds of courses on the Bible, but few classes are available (much less required) on how to use God's creation to convert what is the biggest people group in the world.
How Paul preached to the Gentiles
Acts 14:15-18 and Acts 17:22-32 records a summary of what the Apostle Paul preached about when he was in Lystra and Athens. This was Gentile country and what Paul says sheds light on how one should preach to Gentiles. These verses deserve serious study, which we can not cover in this short column. Their application, however, should be adopted by every church who has a missions program.

When one reads the history of the early church in the book of Acts, one finds two different methods of evangelism: One for the Jews and one for the Gentiles (Sometimes, the word "Greeks" is used for anyone who was non-Jewish). The method that was used with the Jews was to begin preaching Jesus as the promised Messiah. This makes sense since most Jews already believed the Bible and the prophecies contained therein. The logical first step in converting a Jew was for a Christian to show how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies.

However, this method would not work well with the majority of Gentiles because the biblical prophecies were unknown to most of them. Neither did they accept the Old Testament as something to be believed and followed. Furthermore, many of them never heard of Jesus or knew about his life. Therefore, to win over a Gentile, a Christian had to start at the beginning - with Creation - and convince the individual that an almighty God was the only being capable of making the universe.

In addition, the Jews knew full well that scripture is not the only place where God reveals himself. Romans 1:19-25 tells us that God's attributes can be seen in His Creation. The Apostle Paul utilizes this fact, as can be seen in his two sermons in the book of Acts.

Paul also pointed out to his audiences the ancient traditions that the Greeks had of a supreme and "unknown God". These and other past and present traditions are examined in Don Richardson's book Eternity In Their Hearts. Additionally, most Christians would agree that the Bible also talks about a certain amount of innate basic understanding of God that is known or felt by all people. If appropriate, both of these approaches should also be incorporated in witnessing to Gentiles today.
Speaking where the audience is
But it is not only churches that are not evangelizing the Gentiles correctly. Many of the Creation-Science ministries that have sprung up over the world are not doing it right either.

As polls show, most people are scientifically illiterate. Often Creation-Science organizations concentrate heavily on scientific facts and use technical jargon which turn most people off. While these organizations do attract a limited and specialized group of people (a ministry which is also needed), we also desire that everyone sees the importance of "Creation Evangelism". To do that requires a non-technical approach with the majority of people.

In fact, the words "Creation Science" probably should not even be used because the word "science" scares so many people away. If someone tried to avoid science in high school, then one can be fairly certain that they will also avoid a Creation Science Seminar! The biblical word "nature" is less threatening and might be incorporated so as to attract a wider audience.

Whenever Paul was teaching or preaching to the Jews or Gentiles, we can be sure that it was done at the level of the audience. We should do the same. If our ultimate goal is to win souls to Christ, then we need to watch who our audience is and how we talk to them.
Creation needed in other areas
How we should use the message of Creation to convert the unbeliever is yet another column for a future newsletter. Also needed is how the Creation message should be taught to our church youth, to seminary students, and to everyday Christians. All of these areas should follow the biblical model. If your church doesn't have a philosophy of missions and education that includes creation, then you need to get them to get one.




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