TO 'EVANGELIZE THE LOST'
WHY We Should Do It!
Is 'Race Against the Clock Evangelism' Biblical?
'People were often forcibly baptized in their thousands to 'protect them' from (so-called) "certain hell fire" - Roman Catholics believed that the unbaptized (including little children!) were bound for hell unless they could be reached in time! Indeed, Roman Catholic missions often accepted that it is better to torture people to the point of death in order to get them to "Accept Christ."'
esus spoke about those who do not know God as 'dead' (spiritually) (Matthew 8:22) and the Bible speaks of such people who have no relationship with the true God as effectively 'lost' (Luke 15:24, 2 Corinthians 4:3).
Jesus gave the instructions that Christians are to 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature' (see Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16 and Luke 24:47); so when we are called, and respond in faith to that call, we are immediately given a task to perform. We are to perform that task for the rest of our natural lives, we effectively become 'Ambassadors for Christ' (2 Corinthians 5:20), in other words, thereafter we are to uphold the principles and teachings of our (heavenly) government whilst maintaining a certain separation from the principles/motivations of earthly governments. We hold to this whatever paths our lives may take us on.
Of course, it is not quite correct to say that we must all become evangelists (except in the more loose sense) since many Scriptures reveal that we are all granted different gifts and different 'talents' (Matthew 25:14-30, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) - so while a few may indeed be able to travel the world as evangelists, the great majority must evaluate the gifts which the Lord has graciously granted them, as well as the station, or 'outpost', in life to which they have been sent. Some elderly widows may feel that they can do very little but Paul shows us clearly that all have vital roles to play no matter which part of Christ's Body they have been assigned! (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Zeal Led to Unscriptural Assumptions...
It is inevitable of course that in our great zeal to perform what Christ has requested of us, we occasionally - in our evangelistic claims - make well-meaning comments and statements which go beyond clear Scripture. This means that people like Jonathan Edwards, as well as some of the great missionaries, 'majored' rather strongly on the claim that all will go straight to hellfire at death.... unless we can get the gospel to them in time!!
This led to the school of 'race against the clock evangelism' - both Catholic and Protestant missionaries often adopted this approach. In the case of the Jesuits, of course, this was combined with the unscriptural doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration - the teaching was that baptism - in itself - can save! Therefore people were often forcibly baptized in their thousands to 'protect them' from (so-called) "certain hell fire" - Roman Catholics believed that the unbaptized (including little children!) were bound for hell unless they could be reached in time! Indeed Roman Catholic missions often accepted that it is better to torture people to the point of death in order to get them to 'receive Christ'! And if the torture went too far and such people occasionally died, well, at least the 'inquisitor' had done all he could!!
The fact that this often made the missioner more hideously cruel than the worst of the pagans, and that such inflicting of torture cannot possibly have any place within the Law of Christ, apparently did not greatly trouble some such misguided zealots!
In the 11th-12th centuries orders went out from the pope that the Protestants of the French alps were to be forcibly "converted" to Catholicism under pain of torture. Many of these so-called "heretics" who refused to recognise the authority of the bishop of Rome preferred to die and thousands of them did. Yet these "heretics" fulfilled the Law of Christ in their behaviour and fulfilled the Great Commission in their deeds. But the so-called "Church" had become as cruel as any heathen oppressor! And yet it is entirely possible that many thought that such barbarity and cruelty could be justified in order to 'protect' from the assumed certainty of hell!
And yet to look again at the 'Great Commission' Scriptures of Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16 and Luke 24:47, we must note that NONE of these Scriptures say anything like,
'Wherever you fail to get the message of the gospel to people, those people are bound for the fires of hell!'
So what reason do these Scriptures state for taking the message of Christ to all the world? Let us take a close look at this!
If we look at Matthew 28 first, it is essential to start the reading in verse 18, since this gives the reason that the gospel can now be taken to the world (NIV throughout):
'Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. THEREFORE go and make disciples of all nations..."'
(Matthew 28:18-19b, my emphasis).
What does 'therefore' mean? It means, 'for that or this reason; consequently' (Cambridge English Dictionary).
By the way, just in case anybody has noticed that this is an NIV quote and feels that this may be part of a hideous anti-KJV plot, please allow me to hasten to add that the KJV also uses the word 'therefore' in verse 19.
So here is the reason that the disciples could then go right out and preach the gospel. It is all about the authority granted to Jesus. Please just note that Jesus does not add, 'And you had better get on with this as soon as possible to prevent everybody from going to hell!'
So what is this 'authority'? We need to turn to Daniel 7:
'"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed"'
We can corroborate that this refers to the setting up of Christ's kingdom and the power of the gospel by looking at other Scriptures:
'All things have been committed to me by my Father....'
'The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him'
Satan is bound by the cross of Christ. There the serpent's head was crushed and the forces of evil routed. So certain was Christ of victory as He went to His cross that He could say emphatically,
'Now is the judgement of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out' (John 12: 31).
So the coming of Christ and the limitation thereafter imposed on the demonic realm (carefully note Luke 9:1-2 & Luke 10:17-20, for instance), indicate that the age of Christ and His gospel had arrived as foretold by all the prophets of the Old Testament!
The age of the New Covenant was about to be ushered in and the Old Covenant would soon be 'nailed to the cross of Calvary'! Here at last - in the authority granted to Jesus Christ - the Church Age was about to begin; nothing odd, nothing unusual, all the prophets had looked forward to this. This certainly was not just some temporal thing because the Jews had rejected Jesus and surprised God! (as J.N. Darby, the 'father of dispensationalism' so erroneously taught).
Only Those Purposely and Actively Rejecting Jesus and His Gospel To Be Condemned
But John 3:36 also makes clear that those who actively, purposely, and determindly reject the claims of Jesus (that is, where they have heard those claims), are in real danger of hell. However, the position of those who never hear the gospel is not even discussed here although inferences, mostly positive, can be found elsewhere.
It's time to look at the second of these Great Commission Scriptures, Mark 16:15-16. Of course, we should initially point out that there are claims that Mark 16:9-20 is not inspired Scripture since these verses do not appear in some ancient manuscripts. Yet, it remains the fact that these verses appear in almost all of our Bibles and the arguments against the inclusion of these verses are not strong or compelling enough to suggest that we should completely discount them:
'He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."'
Again, it is the rejection of Jesus Christ which is stated to be spiritually perilous, no comment is made about those who are never reached with this message! Some missionaries have died in guilt because they felt that - with just one more 'push' - they might have got the gospel a bit further than they did, and their failure means eternal death for many souls that they might have reached with just one more 'evangelistic thrust' - but this paints a picture of a God who is incapable of doing anything without human help and it is unbiblical.
Now let's face this matter head-on: The truth is, God does not even need human help. God is completely sovereign and has all power, that is, He is omnipotent. The Scripture says that - should it be His will - He could even raise up children from stones, or cause stones to sing out in praise! Is this really a picture of a God who is fretting in heaven, worried because His missionaries have never been able to accomplish quite as much as He had hoped? Has God truly put Himself in the position where, if people don't get the gospel out, He has no other ideas of how He might do it? Ludicrous!! That would be a picture of a half-hearted God who is none too concerned about saving people, while the Scriptures clearly portray a God who never ceases to reach out to the lost!
Let us be aware of all the countries which excluded missionaries (such as China), and how the gospel spread like wildfire in their absence!! God is in complete control: He knows who will eventually hear the gospel and who will not, in fact, He has ordained it! None need feel guilty about the 'unreached' and we can leave such people to God's mercy and wisdom.
And yet, nothing in Mark 16 says that the position of the unevangelised is hopeless. The only comment is the danger of rejecting Christ where one has clearly heard!
Luke 24:47 does not even make any comments about either rejection of the gospel or about those who never hear, and neither does Acts 1:8 where the Great Commission is also mentioned.
We cannot escape the fact that the Scriptures teach personal responsibility for one's knowledge. Those who know and don't act are held accountable, but those who stand in ignorance of the facts are far less accountable. This principle is upheld throughout the Bible (See Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 9:62 & Luke 12:47-48, for instance).
The Scriptures also reveal that God is quite capable of evaluating one's response to Jesus Christ even if such a person has never heard of Him! Before one quickly scoffs and repudiates this, let me say that none can deny it since the saved of the Old Testament are saved by the blood of the Christ who had not yet even come into the world! Romans 2 tells us more:
'All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares'
This shows that it is possible for the 'requirements' of the law , and it is the spiritual law which is plainly being discussed, to be 'written' on the hearts of 'Gentiles' (or, those not aware of the gospel), and states that this will be revealed on the Day of Judgment!
This plainly shows that - rather than those who never hear the gospel being already condemned to hell (as many so worryingly believe), it could be that many of these people will finally be saved.
But the objection could be raised that certain Scriptures (as we have already noted) appear to talk of unbelievers as (spiritually) dead, or 'without hope' (Ephesians 2:12, for instance) - is this speaking of those who are headed for hell? Absolutely not - it is commenting on the present condition of those who do not walk with God - the disciples were instructed to evangelize these people. Regarding being 'without hope,' we must recall that we ourselves are described as being 'without hope' in the world until we came to Christ and found regeneration in Him. (Ephesians 2:1-22). Therefore, the comment concerns those not walking with God at the present time; if true believers were 'without hope' until they came to Christ, the comment plainly does not refer to the so-called 'reprobates' who are doomed to hell.
Without doubt, over the centuries countless thousands of those 'without hope' have been evangelized. Yet it remains the case that probably the majority who have ever lived never heard the name of Christ. Yet nowhere does Jesus warn that such people are headed for hell. But He does warn about the consequences of the specific rejection of the gospel claim of Jesus' Messiahship.
The New Testament makes it clear that it is better to have a knowledge of Christ during the present era of the Church, and best of all to be truly converted, but serious spiritual warning is reserved for those who learn well of Christ but decide to reject Him. Truly we have to say that we do not know how things will finally turn out even for many people that we love. They have not yet accepted Christ, yet they might accept Him later in their lives, or even on their deathbeds. God does not show us these things, but neither is there any Scripture which states that the great mass of humanity are simply 'fashioned for hell' - Yet God's election will stand; if you and I are Christians now, God has ordained it so. In the same manner, He ordained that others would be included in the efficacy and scope of Christ's sacrificial blood even though they may never have heard His name (the Old Testament Patriarchs, for instance). This can reassure us that God is well able to include other people within the numbers finally saved - should it be His will (Romans 2:12-16).
In conclusion, Jesus did not reveal to the first apostles that they were involved in some kind of desparate race to get the name of Christ to as many people as possible before their death, otherwise those people are bound for hell. Without any question, this goes beyond what Jesus said. No such 'race' can possibly exist since God is completely in charge of everything which happens in this world. We should certainly warn all about the very real possibility of hell - and any listening to our words will presumably already have come into contact with the gospel, wherein lies responsibility!
'It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'
So why should we evangelize the 'lost'? Because our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ has instructed us to do so. This is the age of the Church and Christ's kingdom has reduced the scope of the demonic powers; Satan is unable to prevent people from being added to Christ's Body, so we should be 'about our Father's business'.
But the Church will not be able to evangelize the entire world and we can rest assured that God is aware of this.
But to come to a philosophical conclusion that the message of Christ will not reach the majority because God does not will it to happen because He has fashioned the huge majority simply for hell is simply Hyper-Calvinism - if not plain fatalism and cannot be backed up by Scripture.
Robin A. Brace.
© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2002. If you want it on your own website please do the honourable thing and come to us for permission first.
NOW HERE ARE SOME RETURN OPTIONS FOR YOU:
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS
WITNESS TO THE WORD