A Question I Was Asked:
Will God Go On Sending a Witness and a Warning to Our People Through the Gospel? Or Is There a Limit? Can He Close the Door?
Okay, here is the actual question and enquiry:
“I was reading an article on your site but I got disturbed, left it and then when I got back to your site later I could not find it. You seemed to be saying that God does not have to keep on sending the Gospel to a people who keep turning their backs on Him. I found this a fascinating line of thought which I have never heard before even though it is the way I myself have been increasingly thinking during the last few years. Most evangelists seem to think that the door is open and is always going to be open - but surely God can close it. Even worse: There are now an army of uncalled fake "evangelists" preaching a message of wealth, claiming to represent His Name. This must be a stench in God's nostrils. You really tweaked my interest and I would love you to write more about this.....”
Okay, the article you were reading seems to have been Has The Spirit of the Evangelizing Church Now Left the Western World?
Now, first of all, regarding finding articles you were reading, its always best to put them on your 'Favorites' list or even maybe put a link to that article on your desktop ready for getting back to it later: I often do this. Other than that, use the search facility on our homepage here: UK Apologetics.
Okay, now let me attempt to answer this bigger question about whether God will keep on sending a Spirit-empowered evangelistic witness to a society which is plainly rejecting Him.
Many see this matter in purely personal terms rather than in societal terms, that is, evangelism in general has assumed that we must keep on witnessing continually to everybody we can get hold of about the message of the Christ - and there is no doubt that we are commanded to preach to 'every creature' (Mark 16:15) – however, there is certainly a much bigger question here about when a city or an entire society has already heard the Gospel but substantially rejected it, and I would like to see some discussion of this matter among Bible-believing evangelicals, because at present there is none that I am aware of.
We may recall that in the Old Testament God sent a warning to various societies to repent (e.g., before the flood, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Nineveh, before the captivities of Israel and Judah etc.,) but the message did not go out continually, that is, the Lord put a time limit on those warnings. Today we sometimes seem to forget that the Gospel itself is not only a message for the individual to repent and to change and to accept Christ but it is also a warning to society in general! In other words, to get back to my earlier point, we must get back to seeing the message of the Gospel in societal terms as well as in personal terms! There is no doubt that the New Testament treats the message of the Gospel as a warning to society as well as an evangelistic plea to the individual. Numerous Scriptures reveal the wider, societal implications of the Gospel but perhaps few as clearly as the stark and almost blood-curdling message of John the Baptist – just consult Matthew 3:1-12.
Please notice that quite obviously many people – yes many people! - confessed their sins and were baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (verses 5-6); Yet John could not possibly have individually counselled with such a multitude all on his own; so here at once is a broader, societal – indeed national - application of the warning of the Gospel and the testing of a whole people's response to its dynamic message! Indeed, when John the Baptist spotted Pharisees and Saducees approaching, his warnings of judgment almost boiled over:
'...You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?' (verse 7b, NIV throughout)
So here is a broader, societal application of the implications of the warning of the Gospel which we almost seem to forget about today in our concern for individual conversion. We might also note Peter's Pentecost sermon which is replete with warnings for all in the light of the Gospel; in other words, Peter is going beyond any individual and personal plea for “God's own elect” to respond to the proclamation of the Christ, rather, Peter is talking about a society's need for a response (note Acts 2:36-41). We don't do wrong when we concentrate today purely on the individual's need to respond, but we must not forget these wider implications for any society which takes the presence of the Gospel in their midst too lightly. FACT IS: GOD WILL JUDGE ANY SOCIETY WHICH HAS HEARD THE DYNAMIC GOSPEL MESSAGE BUT REJECTS IT!
I continue by quoting from my article, Has the Spirit of the Evangelizing Church Now Left the Western World? (2004),
'Okay. Are there any Scriptures which might suggest that God will not continually send a Spirit-empowered gospel proclamation to a society which already knows the substance of that message but which is almost completely indifferent to it?
Actually there are a few. Let us consider one or two:
”But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, “The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.' But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.” (Luke 10:10-12).
Whatever might apply to a city would surely also apply to a whole society which has rejected God. Yes, individuals may still respond as God calls within a society, yet God can still withold many blessings from His Church's evangelistic activities within any society which God deems to have received sufficient witness but which has elected to reject that witness. The most serious thing which God could withdraw from His Church would be Spirit-empowerment. This Scripture also makes it plain that such a God-rejecting society can expect judgment! Now let us look at a widely ignored verse in Matthew 7:
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6).
This verse is interesting because it makes it clear that there is a time not to communicate the gospel, but to keep silent! When the message is being aggressively thrown back in our face, our Lord releases us from any feeling that we need to continue to communicate the gospel. But this also shows that God may decide to withold the message of the gospel from any society for any period of time; it is within God's sovereignty and jurisdiction. If God did decide to withold His blessing, we would, presumably, still be able to tell others about Jesus, but we would find that the Holy Spirit Himself would be absent from our evangelistic activities. Is this not what we now find?' (end of quote).
So Luke 10: 10-12 makes it plain that the time can arrive when our gracious God may consider that any particular society has already received the Gospel of Jesus Christ but taken it lightly. Christians can – quite legitimately (this is not 'sour grapes') - 'shake off the dust of their feet' against that society!
Then Matthew 7:6 shows us that where the opposition is truly powerful and where God is being blasphemed and the Gospel is being trampled upon, we ourselves should recognise this and withdraw. This is a teaching which is widely ignored in modern evangelism, but I would like to see some serious discussion of it.
So, we tend to think that God will fully bless all attempts at evangelism – no matter what – until Christ returns to this earth, and where He obviously does not bless then we feel that we ourselves must have been doing something wrong, but it is obvious from some of these Scriptures that God Himself is under no obligation to any particular society and He can close the door on that society receiving any more spiritual light since they are just trampling under their feet that which they have already received! Again and again the Bible warns that a responsibility to act comes with knowledge.
My original article quoted an Indian missionary telling me of a Spirit-empowered Gospel still effective in countries like China, Nepal and India which have no long record of Christian witness. He said this,
'You in the West have already experienced your age of Pentecost, now its our turn. God has given the great gifts to us, but maybe withdrawn them from you. You in Britain have turned your back on God in your secular land, but your people have heard the message. Its not that bad in America; most people still go to church, but they too are turning away from God in their thousands. God will reject those who have known Him but then cast Him aside; everything in the Bible tells me this. I believe that the spirit and soul of the evangelizing church has left you.'
I honestly believe that our western local Christian congregations are mostly no longer Spirit-empowered. Whenever somebody points out a congregation here in the western world and tells me that, “This one really is Spirit-empowered,” I find a reliance on pop music during services in order to bring in lots of youngsters, or I find a reliance on heretical teachings which can certainly produce a sort of following (such as the unbiblical 'prosperity teaching' or an approach to 'Gifts of the Spirit' which is virtually occultic, or I find an encouragement for noisy emotional-release which can be so attractive for impressionable people. I do not say that the Spirit of God is never involved in any of this, but I do continually worry that unbridled emotionalism is so often mistaken for genuine Spirituality). Yes – don't get me wrong – some congregations continue to faithfully preach the biblical Gospel and to refuse all gimmicks but even when a number of these authentic congregations join together for an evangelistic campaign they frequently find that something is missing:
'I heard this very revealing comment from a man who was involved in a recent British 'evangelistic celebration' in which it was hoped that the Spirit would powerfully move and guide many to Christ:
“Everything was in place, the colourful lights, the evangelistic sermon, the singers and with a friendly atmosphere pervading the large hall; yet, despite our greatest efforts, at the end of the evening it was obvious to me that the thing - the person - which we needed the most – The Holy Spirit – had witheld His blessing......”' (Has the Spirit of the Evangelizing Church Now Left the Western World?, 2004).
Now, of course, many reformed (Calvinistic) people would say that our situation in this Spiritless mess is because we need Revival and while we must continue to preach and teach where we can, we will truthfully accomplish very little unless the Lord sends a Spirit-empowered and society-impacting Revival. In their analysis of the current situation they are certainly correct but I fear that they are not recognising that the Scriptures seem to be clear that the time can come when our Lord simply withdraws a powerful society-wide proclamation of the Gospel. Even in their utmost sincerity they are not recognising that there is a society-wide responsibility involved in the warning of Gospel proclamation as well as a personal responsibility for those whom God is individually calling. If God does withdraw His dynamic message and warning that could then be permanent until the Second Coming of Christ. Again, we must remind ourselves that the Gospel is preached as a witness to all the world – not as a desperate attempt to get everyone saved before it is too late.
So to answer this question: Our God NEVER guaranteed that He will continually send a society-impacting, Spirit-empowered proclamation of His Holy Gospel to any society continuously right up to the Second Coming of Christ and there is New Testament evidence that a society at large can be considered unworthy of ongoing witness - the indications appear to be strong that He has currently withdrawn His fullest Spiritual blessings from a group of peoples/nations who have been repeatedly turning their backs on Him. I might suggest that Great Britain, which at one time could not get enough of the Christian Gospel (but now – with some justification – is often referred to as a 'Post-Christian society'), could be seen to be heading this list! Today Britain's 'movers and shakers' of society (the sort of people who embraced the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley in a previous era) have gone 'hook, line and sinker' for permissive “liberal values” and anti-theistic Secularism is effectively preached everywhere. Where religion is present at all, Britain's leaders are continually pushing for a multi-culturalist perspective (that is, all religions are of equal value) – indeed, right at this very moment in December, 2005, many local councils are attempting to re-name the traditional 'Christmas Lights' in British towns and cities as 'Celebration Lights' or 'Festival Lights' – in case we offend adherents of other religions!
When we witness such things in a society formerly steeped in Christianity, should we be surprised that sadly-compromised churches now find that their “evangelistic activities” are no longer blessed by the active involvement of the Holy Spirit?
Robin A. Brace, 2005.