In December 1946, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowships of the United States and of Canada gathered in Toronto to rally a new generation of missionaries to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The devastation of world war was a fresh memory, and its aftershocks of Communist advance in Asia and in Europe were bringing about a new tragic world order. One of the keynote speakers at this historic gathering in Toronto was Samuel Zwemer, pioneer missionary to Arabia. The old warrior’s call to advance with the Cross-centered Gospel was as clear and strong as ever. Like the apostle Paul, the “apostle to Islam” was not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—knowing that apart from this Life-giving message, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). —Tim Keesee
All of Christendom and the best thinkers of the non-Christian world face the New Year with deep forebodings and a consciousness of crisis. It may be doubted whether there has ever been a time when the Christian Church was beset by so many and such powerful foes. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding athwart all our smug isolationism and cheap pacifism. Everywhere we read of persecution, closing of doors, bitter opposition, the patience of unanswered prayer, or the flaming sword of martyrdoms. The Christian Church is under fire in a hostile world—a world of disillusionment and hopelessness.
H. G. Wells, once the prophet of optimism, wrote in his valedictory entitled, Mind at the End of its Tether: “Man is played out. Our world is like a convoy lost in darkness on an unknown rocky coast, with quarrelling pirates in the chartroom and savages clambering up the sides of the ships to plunder and do evil as the whim may take them.”
A similar cry of despair comes to us from two of the intellectual and spiritual leaders in the vast world of Islam. Zaki Ali of Cairo and the Agha Khan of India unite in testifying in a recent booklet:
Since the Caliphate was abolished in 1923 the Moslem world has become a sort of rudderless ship on the wild seas of modern life. Left to itself such a ship must inevitably either sink or become seriously damaged. (Glimpse of Islam; Lahore, 1944)
Humanity faces angry tumult or all the seven seas; sails ripped, compass lost, hope abandoned. But we remember Christ.
Fierce was the wild billow;
Dark was the night;
Oars labored heavily;
Foam glimmered white;
Trembled the mariners;
Peril was high;
Then said the God of God,
“Peace, it is I.”
Have we such an evangel for storm-tossed humanity? Have we a word of peace for such an hour of peril? Have we authority to preach that word of life to a dying world?
The answer to these questions is the Great Commission given us by one who in the hour in which He was betrayed said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). It is the authority of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and arose from the dead, who ascended into heaven and now sits at God’s right hand that speaks to us today, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
We will not be persuaded by New Testament critics to make a smallprint footnote of those words in Mark’s Gospel, nor by Harnack and his followers to dispute the authenticity and genuineness of the Great Commission in Matthew. Harnack himself admits that all the manuscript evidence is in its favor, that it is the appropriate climax to the gospel of Jesus, King of the Jews, and “that no positive proof can be adduced for regarding it as an interpolation” (Mission and Expansion of Christianity, Vol. 1, P. 40, footnote).
The fact is, we have not one Great Commission but a sixfold commission from the lips of our Saviour—Thrice in the synoptic gospels, once in John, once in Acts and once to the Apostle Paul (Acts 26:13-18). The more familiar words in Mark and Matthew are interpreted by Christ Himself after His resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel He tells the disciples “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). This is repeated in the Acts with the divine promise of the Holy Spirit. And to Paul came the words from the ascended Christ:
“Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18).
Most of all in the Great Commission as John gives it we have the authority, the example, and the demands of Christ.
Then … the doors being shut … came Jesus … and … showed unto them His hands and His side. Then said Jesus … As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (John 20:19-21)
Do you see them tonight? Can we hear that greatest Commission here and now in this gathering of Christian students? Two simple statements sum up what we desire to say: The message of the Great Commission is the word of the cross—“He laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16b) and the Great Commission can only be carried out by crucified ambassadors—“We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). The two statements are knit together by the words, “Hereby we perceive the love of God” (1 John 3:16). His love for us, so unspeakably great, demands unconditional obedience and sacrifice. “Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Christ’s authoritative Commission is the primal and supreme argument for missions. And as Dr. Hendrick Kraemer points out, it is the only valid argument for the present hour.
“Back to fundamentals,” he exclaims. “The whole trend of development seems to confront the missionary movement with its missionary motive that is the certitude of the apostolic obligation of witnessing. …For all other subsidiary arguments or motives that have often usurped the place of the primary motive are smitten to pieces under the hammer of our times. Recommending Christianity as the bringer of enlightenment and freedom, as a capital national and social tonic to make powerful nations, as the infallible guide to progress has come to naught. …The spell of the erroneous identification of Christianity and the progressive West is broken, and, still deadlier, the prestige of Western culture has decreased enormously” (The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, pp. 59, 60).
If these words were sober truth in Madras in 1938, how much more do they apply to the present post-war situation. Western civilization with its atom bombs and mass murder can only hang its head in shame. America must remember not only Hitler and Pearl Harbor but Hiroshima! Yet this does not mean that the Great Commission is the sole basis and ground of the enterprise. We have the eternal purpose of God, as Paul calls it (Ephesians 3:11). God from eternity hath willed all flesh shall His salvation see, so be the Father’s love fulfilled; The Saviour’s sufferings crowned through thee.
We have the love of God (John 3:16). We have the promises of God, those beautiful blueprints of the coming kingdom, in the Old Testament. We have the presence of God in human history and the living hope of that “one far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves.” We have the manifest supernatural power of God working what Dr. A. T. Pierson called “miracles of missions” in our own day. But towering above all these motives in its pragmatic urgency and up-to-date significance we still have marching orders. Once we hear that voice as soldiers of Christ,
Ours not to make reply,
Ours not to reason why,
Ours but to do and die.
To obey that is to be baptized for the dead and to be in the apostolic succession. This is the spark that kindles passion for missions. Look at St. Paul! As Deissman puts it, “It was the lightning of Damascus that found plenty of inflammable material in the soul of the young persecutor. We see the flames shoot up, and we feel that the glow, then kindled, lost none of its force in Paul the aged.”
It is not enough to have an imperial mind and a passion for conquest. Napoleon and Hitler had both. Geopolitics is the new science for diplomats; it is not the science of missions. Globe-trotters are not missionaries unless they witness for Christ. His ambassadors are not politicians.
There is a real danger that the pastor and the church will identify the new term ecumenics with missions. They are not the same. The more familiar word has a deeper meaning. The former expresses world-wideness; the latter world need. The former is often of the mind; the latter of the heart. In the one case we emphasize world view and outlook; in the other compassion and outreach.
We may lift up our eyes and be ecumenical, but we must lift up our feet to be missionaries. Ecumenics stresses the condition of the world; missions the condition of the heart. The one is apt to strive first for church unity; the other seeks its vitality. Missions are, therefore, the base of true ecumenics; not ecumenics the basis of missions. It is true as Dr. Kenneth Latourette remarks that “missions has made the church ecumenic,” but will ecumenics make the church or an individual missionary? Does it produce prayer meetings?
It was Satan who gave our Saviour an ecumenic view of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, on the exceeding high mountain. Our Saviour spurned the vision and looked forward to that other mountain where He met the eleven by appointment and gave them their mission and message. Search the New Testament and you find that the primary message of evangelism was confined to a few basic facts. Paul calls it the word of the Cross. It was Christ and Him crucified. Not the wide periphery but the very heart of the Gospel message.
And what is the message of the evangel? It could not be stated more forcibly than by a professor of the University of Chicago in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. XIX, p. 240) “Evangelism stands for a certain interpretation of Christianity emphasizing the objective atonement of Christ, the necessity of new birth or conversion and salvation through faith.” This is a fair statement of the essentials of the evangel. Paul made this very message central and primary.
“Now, brothers, I would have you know the gospel in which you have your footing, the gospel by which you are saved—provided you adhere to my statement of it—unless indeed your faith was all haphazard, namely, that Christ died for our sins as the scriptures had said, that he was buried and that he rose on the third day” (Moffatt, 1 Corinthians 15:3).
There is no other evangel than those historic facts and their tremendous implications. Any kind of evangelism that is silent in this respect is no evangelism at all. If Christ died for our sins, His death was a reality and His resurrection confirms its necessity and validity as the only atonement for sin. The cross is the one central message and method and power of Christianity. If we do not have the word of the cross in our hearts and on our lips we lose everything that is essentially Christian. God forbid that any missionary or mission board should glory save in the cross of Jesus Christ.
There are voices which declare that the Gospel message of the apostles and of the early missionaries who laid the foundations of the national churches in Asia and Africa needs modification by way of addition, subtraction, compromise, or syncretism. Professor Hocking of Harvard advocates a New World Faith with elements of value taken from all the living religions of humanity.
Others plead for an entire change of missionary method and program. This newer form of “evangelism” wishes to spare the convert any violent break from his old environment. It speaks of “Christianizing Hinduism” and of “evangelizing Islam.” It glosses over what Ian Keith-Falconer called “the horrors of heathenism and Islam” and takes more delight in finding spiritual values in the non-Christian religions than in exploring and proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus.
Are we here at this Convention deeply conscious that we have an essential message, a message that means life to those who accept it or death to those who reject it? Can we state this message in language so plain that all can understand its import? It is time that a protest be made against the misuse of the word “evangelism.” It has only one etymological, New Testament, historical, and theological connotation; namely, to tell the good news of One who came to earth to die on the cross for us: who rose again and who ever lives to intercede for those who repent and believe the Gospel. To evangelize is to win disciples, to become fishers of men, to carry the Gospel message directly to all the nations.
Even prayer, private and public, is not evangelism and should not be its substitute. We may pray for our friends and relatives. But do we ever evangelize them? It is so much easier to talk about them to Christ than to talk to them about Christ. Even our lives cannot bear full witness to Christ without our lips. If we are ashamed of the Gospel message our lives will not be radiant. Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21a), but even such a life is not in itself evangelism. It is its fruit.
Professor C. H. Dodd of Cambridge has done the whole church service by pointing out that only one kind of preaching is evangelism. There were teachers, catechists and evangelists in the first century. “For the Early Church, then, to preach was by no means the same thing as to deliver moral instruction or exhortation. While the Church was concerned to hand on the teaching of the Lord, it was not by this that it made converts. It was by kerygma, says Paul (not by didache) that it pleased God to save men.” And Principal John Cairus at the close of his brilliant career asserted:
The best work is to preach Christ crucified, whether amidst calm or the sounds of controversy, assured that this alone makes a way for healing the wounded conscience and cleansing the saint from all remaining sin. And the victory is to be to that Church in the old world and the new, in the homes of our ripest Christianity and in the darkest out-fields, which shall most earnestly, unswervingly renew that ancient confession, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b).
The message of Christ to our age and every age is “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15b). Everywhere those who know the callousness of the human heart deplore the decay of the sense of sin. Conscience is dead. Men today are super-sensitive to pain but unconscious of guilt. It is the word of the cross, the message of God’s forgiveness in Christ that will produce conviction as it did at Pentecost from Peter’s lips—Peter, who stood before the cross and so could preach the word of the cross. Remember the words of James Denney in his greatest book, The Death of Christ:
If we do not begin with something which is essentially related to the Atonement, presupposing it or presupposed by it or involved in it, something which leads inevitably, though it may be by an indirect and unsuspected route, to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, we have not begun to preach the Gospel at all.
The whole of the New Testament message and of the Old Testament promise finds its center in the Atonement for sin by the death of our Saviour. “In the Cross of Christ I glory…” But who can preach such a Gospel, such a word of the cross unless they themselves have made the encounter and surrender at Calvary. “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Those who preach the word of the cross must themselves be crucified with Christ. “Peace be unto you. And when he had so said he showed them his hands and his side …As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:19b-21). The cross is not only truly and primarily and supremely expiatory but it is also exemplary. It whispers peace within but calls for struggle without. It has motive as well as message. Those who have once seen the scars of Jesus can never live the old life again. He never hid His scars to win disciples. He showed them. They proved His victory, and are the badge of His eternal authority.
Christ the Son of God hath sent me
To the midnight lands,
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the pierced hands.
No wonder that Paul uses a strange word when he speaks of his own apostolic ministry and of Christ’s suffering. It is used only once again in the New Testament. In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us of the poor widow who cast into the treasury all she had out of her penury. Paul grasps that same Greek word and exclaims: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and fill up on my part the penury of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
To Job and his friends, suffering was a problem to be solved. To Paul it became a joyful privilege to be shared. When Christ met him on the Damascus road He must have showed him the scars also for He spoke of suffering, His own and Paul’s. “Why persecutest thou me? …I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:4b, 16).
Far more significant than the stigmata on the hands of St. Francis were the print of the nails and the mark of the spear in his daily life. He obeyed Christ literally, sold all that he had, gave to the poor, and lived in a deserted lazar-house, preached everywhere in humility and with passionate love even for heretics and Moslems. The life stories of David Livingstone, Henry Martyn, James Gilmour, Mary Slessor and all the great missionary pioneers bear the print of the nails.
He who ne’er broke his bread with blinding tears,
Nor crushed upon his pillow in the night,
Wrung out his soul and fought his bitter fight,
He knows not truly joy that conquers fear.
The call for missionary volunteers is as urgent today as it was in the days of Robert P. Wilder. But the demand of the hour and for every mission field is quality rather than quantity. Only those who have suffered, who have iron in their blood, can serve a generation that has seen so much “blood and sweat and tears.” Neither Japan nor China today will hearken to any easy-going Gospel spoken by those who have never borne a cross after Jesus. We are living in an age of new martyrdoms.
The present world situation reflects that of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles. Will the Church ever experience a real revival without a return to a life of self-denial?
Soldiers of Christ, arise! There is no armistice for Christians until after Armageddon. In the Book of Revelation we read that there was war in heaven. It was a war of light against darkness, and the victor was won by testimony.
Only those who love truth more than life are really soldiers of the Cross. The New Testament is a book of heroism. We are told to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and everyone is drafted into the army of our Captain who is not ashamed of His cross.
Christ’s shortest of all parables is also the sharpest. It pierces through all our callous selfishness and self-indulgence. “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). And then the dreadful alternatives: “under a bushel,” a life for gain; “under a bed,” (Luke 8:16) a life of lazy ease, “on a candlestick,” a life of sacrificial service. Which is yours?
Japanese and Chinese art have plenty of rotund Buddhas gazing in fat complacency at vacuity. The saints of Hinduism are grotesque and ghastly; they do not present their bodies a living sacrifice for others, only for self-torture. The Christian ideal is expressed by Paul: “Endure hardness (with me) as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3). One of His disciples, a medical missionary in Kashmir wrote this prayer.
“Master, here for Thy service we render to Thee flesh, bone, and sinew, the physical frame Thou hast given. Teach us to use it aright for Thy glory; teach us to treat it for Thee as a good machine which we hold in trust to be tended and kept for Thy purpose. Teach us to use it remorselessly, sternly, yet never misuse; and as it slowly or swiftly wears out, grant us the joy of the knowledge that it wears out for Thee. Amen.”
In such sense our bodies are to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20a). And not only our bodies but our minds. The true herald of the Gospel must bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5b).
We are to discipline our minds by fearless thinking and dauntless pursuit of the truth without compromise. After solitude with Christ for three years in Arabia, Paul never indulged in superficial philosophies or vain deceits—what he calls “the cunning craftiness” of men (Ephesians 4:14). His philosophy of life was on fire with an irrevocable decision. He was blind to all but his Master. “I could not see for the glory of that light” (Acts 22:11). “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19b).
Because he was a soldier of the cross his mind was not entangled in human philosophy or words of wisdom. Christ was the centre, the fulcrum, the goal of his thinking—and he thought hard. No half-truths fascinated him. When he broke with Judaism, it was a clean-cut decision, and he was careless of all its possible implications—circumcision, days and festivals, temple service.
The trained mind, like the trained body, is the result of stern self-denial and strenuous exercise. What we read and what we think determines the texture, the caliber, but also the fibre of our minds. The conflict of truth with error demands such preparation for those who go to battle against the paganism of Asia or the Neo-Paganism of Europe; the Gold Coast of Africa or the Gold Coast of Chicago. Most of all, missions today call for those who can endure hardness in their souls. Robert Browning in one of his poems says, “How very hard it is to be a Christian.” It never was harder than today.
We wrestle against spiritual foes, and victory over self is the first condition for ultimate victory at the end. The saints overcame because of “the blood of the Lamb,” and “the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11 a). By prayer and self-denial and, most of all, by taking our part in the conflict, not by sitting in the balcony, we will have the victory.
Recalling the heroism of war, the terrific sacrifices possible to those who were fighting for their very existence, we cannot be betrayed into pacifism on the one hand nor into callous indifference on the other. How can a Christian face the present world situation unless he remembers the contrast between the sword and the cross.
The sword can only produce brutality, the cross, tenderness; the sword destroys human life, the cross gives it priceless value; the sword deadens conscience, the cross awakens it; the sword ends in hatred, the cross in love; he that takes up the sword perishes by it; he that takes up the cross inherits eternal life.
The sword or the cross; self-assertion or self-denial; might or meekness; carnal weapons or methods of self-crucifixion—the friends of God, the real friends of humanity, do not hesitate in their choice. Out of weakness they are made strong, baffled they still prevail. Because they share the humiliation of the cross, they too cannot be defeated.
Yet the Christian’s cross is also a sword, the sword of the Spirit. Surrounded as we are in this hall by a great cloud of invisible but living witnesses, I catch a vision of some lonely missionary-hero at his post of danger and endurance facing his task and longing for reinforcements from you here present.
Zwemer, Samuel. “The Cross in Christ’s Commission (1946): Message from Urbana 46.” Urbana. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA, n.d. Web. 20 July 2010. http://www.urbana.org/articles/the-cross-in-christs-commission-1946.