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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2001-02-11

Text: Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 2:2

There is one thing that is needful in the subject of missions: And that is to see missions within its present-day context. We are not living in the first century but in the twenty-first century. Nearly two thousand years have elapsed since the time that our Lord gave His disciples the great commission. The world has gone through great changes within that time. Therefore it is profitable for us to study how that commission should be fully and effectively implemented in our present-day context.

I. Things that Have Not Changed 

Now, it must be stated at the very outset, that there are some things that have not changed and still remain the same till now: Man is still as sinful as he was before and in great need of salvation. Despite the many advances that have been made in science and technology, and the enlightenment that education and information technology has brought to this world, the same sins of selfish greed, hatred, lust, dishonesty and deceit are still very much alive. A quick look at the news in the media is enough to show that despite the high level of sophistication that modern man has attained, and that may make him feel far advanced beyond his ancient predecessors, he still remains a depraved creature, and his most basic need has not changed: Man still needs to be reconciled into a right relationship with God, through the forgiveness of his sins.

Another thing that has not changed is the power of the Gospel of Christ. It is still the answer to man's need today. The Gospel of Christ is not only still relevant for man today, but it still remains as the only viable solution to man's perpetual problem of sin.

So, if I may adapt what the Apostle Paul said about the Gospel in Romans 1:16 'It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to those who lived in the ancient world, and also to those who live in the present modern world.' 

A third thing that has not changed at all is the urgency for missions. We cannot say that there is a lesser need for missions now than before. Although the church of Jesus Christ has grown tremendously, and the gospel has spread far and wide, even to the uttermost parts of the earth, the harvest is still as plenteous today as in the time of Christ, and the labourers are still as few. This is because world population growth has outstripped the rate of evangelism and missions. Besides that, every new generation that is born becomes a new mission field. Areas that have been evangelized before, need to be evangelized all over again. There are countries that were once thriving spiritually and that even used to send many missionaries to other lands, but today they are the ones needing missionaries to be sent to them with the Gospel!

So these then are three things that are still the same in the present world, and will remain the same even in the future world, until Christ comes. Man's sin, the power of the Gospel, and the urgency for missions. With this basic understanding we can now properly consider the things that have changed in our present-day context. These changes can be categorized under those that are for the better, and those that are for the worse.

II. Things That Have Changed For the Better 

There are many ways in which present-day conditions have greatly facilitated Christian missions. Look for instance, at the literacy level in the world: about 80% of all people in the world are now able to read and write. Never before has it ever been as high as it is today. This means that more people would be able to read and understand the Scriptures than ever before. Furthermore, with all the Bible translation work that has been done, the Bible is now available in more than 2000 languages, so that more than 96 % of the world's population now have access to the Scriptures in a language that they can understand. And with the advent of jetp travel, modern telecommunications, and the Internet, the whole world seems to have shrunk. People can get to any part of the world now in just a matter of hours. People can now communicate with someone in any part of the world now in just a matter of seconds.

This can greatly reduce the sense of loneliness and isolation that missionaries oftentimes have on the mission field. Our church is able to keep in constant touch with our missionaries by e-mail. If they have a need or urgent request for prayer, they can communicate it to us by e-mail and have the assurance that the whole church will soon know about it and be praying for them. If they have an urgent need for funds to do the Lord's work, they can receive the needed funds within a few days by telegraphic transfer. Our church's missionary fellowship is currently looking into the hardware needs of our missionaries and how those needs can be met.

How different this is from the time of the Apostle Paul, when it took weeks or months for the epistles he wrote to reach their destinations, because they had to be delivered by hand! In 2 Corinthians 11:26 Paul talked about being 'In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea' We must really thank God that we need not have to contend any more with these difficulties in our present time. Christian missions has become so much easier, faster and safer than ever before, because of the technological developments of the modern age that we live in.

And now it is even possible to do the work of missions through the Internet. Do you know that the Web is a mission field that is wide open for outreach? Thousands of people around the world today are surfing the net everyday. Som eof them are searching for answers to life's questions. Some may stumble into a Christian web site and receive the gospel message. Our Life church web site has been a particularly useful tool in disseminating the Word of God. Those who log on to it will be able see a clear presentation of the Gospel, and enroll in an evangelistic Bible Correspondence Course. A number of people who visited our web site have asked to be contacted, or have come into our church.

Thus far what we have seen in this message about the impact of the present-day context on missions has been good and favourable. But in order to have a balanced view, we must also consider:

III. Things That Have Changed For the Worse 

There are certain trends in the world today that actually hinder or oppose the work of missions. The first trend is:

A. An Increasing Occupation with Self and Materialism 

This trend is partly due to the decreasing need for personal transactions today. Personal communication is being replaced with impersonal modes of communication. Instead of meeting with people face to face for a discussion, we now make conference phone calls or use videoconferencing. Sometimes people within the same office prefer to use e-mail to communicate with one another even though they are only a few metres away from each other! Instead of dealing with the bank teller for financial matters, we now deal with an ATM machine. This past week, one local bank just announced that it was increasing its number of ATMs and decreasing its number of tellers.

Instead of buying things from a salesperson, we now buy things on-line through a computer by e-commerce. Education can now be received in a virtual classroom in a virtual campus. Don't be surprised that one day, people may even request to have on-line worship services in a virtual church, if this trend of spending less time with people and more time with gadgets and sophisticated equipment.

Some writers today have observed that this loss of the personal touch, in favour of impersonal automation is already affecting society. This trend is bringing about a decreasing personal commitment toward people, and an increasing occupation with self and with material things. This can be seen in the multitude of self-help programmes now available on the market, and also in the desire to suit every individual's tastes and preferences. The emphasis now is on personalizing the things you have to express your own image. You can now personalize your own computer desktop, your telephone or your handphone to project your personality.

This is carried over into the realm of science medicine. With plastic surgery a person can reinvent his own physical features to his own tastes and preferences. And now, it may soon be possible for a person to reinvent even his own being. Experiments with genetic engineering and human cloning are the natural outcome of a society where man is trying to reinvent everything, even himself!

How does this trend affect missions today? It does so by giving people such a great but false sense of self-sufficiency and power, that they do not realize how much they need God in their lives. The ground for missions is sometimes harder in technologically-rich nations, because of this. Besides this there is another trend that is affecting missions today. It is:

B. The Consumption of Time 

Technology often promises to save us much time and labour, so that we can then have more time for activities that really matter. But sometimes it seems to be consuming more time than it saves! And most people seem to be much busier today than ever before and are struggling to keep up with the hectic pace of modern life. This is a really strange phenomenon, but it can be explained like this: The increased speed and efficiency from technology have extended our limits. Formerly, when people leave the office they could not do any more work or business. That puts a natural time limit on their work. 

But now with computers, e-mail and videoconferencing, it becomes possible for people to continue doing work or business at home after office hours, and even throughout the whole night, if they want to. And so with the common notion that the full potential of whatever is possible should be fully exploited, it is easy for people now to go way beyond their previous limits of work. Before we realize it, we are taking on many more additional responsibilities and activities than we can handle. 

This illustration is only of one out of the many new possibilities that modern living has opened up for man. That is one reason why most professionals, especially those in service industries are working long hours day and night, doing overtime work, working on weekends, and doing work even during vacations through their mobile office. How is this affecting missions today? As the lives of more and more people are filled with the rushing flood of modern-day living, they may soon become too busy to hear the gospel, or to even pay any attention at all to their great spiritual needs. 

C. The Denial of Absolutes

Thus we have considered two negative trends of modern life that will affect missions in the days to come: the increasing occupation that society has with self and materialism, and the consumption of time. Now these fast-moving trends may have an adverse effect not just on our generation but even more on the next generation after us, in some ways making them a little harder to reach with the Gospel, because they tend to look at life differently from previous generations. Sociologists have categorized today's children as belonging to the 'Net-Generation' because they are growing up with the Internet. They are different from the 'X-Generation' before them, that grew up with computers, and the older 'Baby Boom' Generation that grew up with the television. 

What are some of the characteristics of this 'Net Generation'? According to some books written about them, they are a more mobile generation. They are also more independent and self-centred because of the ease and facility with which they use the Internet. They are open to input and help from their parents, but always on their own terms. They are conscious of brand identification and are addicted to the media. Many of them believe that there are no absolutes. This is because they have instant access to such a the tremendous amount of information on the Internet, that they imbibe many different ideas, views and attitudes from the whole world and not just from the community in which they grow up. 

For this reason, some sociologists call this present age of the Internet, the 'Post-Modern' world. This is described as a world where the assumptions that have guided history for the past two thousand years no longer apply. Hence those in the post-modern world do not believe that absolutes exist any more.

IV. The Challenge of Missions in the Post-Modern World 

The question that we face in missions today is, How do we reach out to this post-modern world? How can we effectively bring the gospel to the Net-Generation?

A. To Win People From the Post-Modern World, Build Them, and Send Them Back

I believe that there is one useful principle from scripture that can help us. This is the one that is given by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 'And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.' In practical terms this principle means that we should first go all out to win some of them who belong to that generation. When a few of them have been saved, the next step is to thoroughly disciple those who are faithful among them, by building up their faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. When the discipleship process has been done well, the next step is to send them back as 'missionaries' to teach their own peers. No one can be better at reaching out to the Net-generation than those who are from the Net-generation themselves.

This principle of 2 Timothy 2:2 has worked very well in centuries of cross-cultural missions. E.g. When a missionary came from the West, he found it very difficult to reach out to a some groups of unreached people because of the cultural barriers that stood in the way. The people found it hard to receive the gospel from someone who was so different from them. But the Lord provided the missionary with some converts who were faithful men, and the missionary spent most of his time training them well to reach out to their own people. From then on, an indigenous church developed under the ministry of these faithful men, and the missionary's mission was accomplished.

This was what the apostle Paul did at Ephesus, the port city of the province of Asia. He spent two years there, teaching and training disciples. Through this however, the whole of the province of Asia heard the Gospel and churches were planted inland, in places like Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis. These were apparently planted not by Paul, but by the disciples he had trained at Ephesus. He had won them, built them and sent them back to their own people.

And so missions in the post-modern world can be done in the same way, using the same principle of discipleship of 2 Timothy 2:2 that has proven to be very useful in the history of cross-cultural missions. All it takes is the willingness and effort to involve yourself fully in winning them, building them and then sending them back to win their own generation. I trust that the Lord will give us a burden to do this work.

B. To Maintain a Bible-Centred Ministry Without Compromise

However, we must also be aware that there is one danger that we must avoid in this situation. In the history of cross-cultural missions, there was always the danger of compromising the message to make it acceptable to the people being reached. For example, some missionaries in the past allowed the assimilation of certain pagan practices into the new believers' faith. Instead of speaking from God's Word against these practices, they chose to incorporate them. The result was an indigenous church that is not very much different from the pagan background of the people.

This can also happen easily in missions to the post-modern world. There are certain things from the cultural background of the post-modern world which are acceptable, and there are also certain things that are not acceptable. There are some who teach that the church must go through some radical changes in its ministry in order to reach out to the post-modern world. For instance, they say that instead of relying on the established teaching of the church in order to know the right way to do things, we should not be afraid adopt the post-modern trend of bringing together various traditions, styles, and strategies that seem potentially contradictory. In other words, to reach out to the post-modern world, we need to be more accommodating and tolerant to different points of view, because the spirit of the post-modern era is accommodating and tolerant.

Unfortunately this change is already affecting the church at large. In the name of becoming more relevant to the needs of a changing world, many churches now opt for shorter sermons and less Bible study. Inaccurate doctrine is tolerated; but a long sermon is not. At one time, a church's existence was based on its doctrinal statement. Today, many churches are based on methodology, not doctrine. The watchword now is innovation. Pastors are looking into marketing strategies to find new innovative methods that can make their congregations grow faster in the post-modern world.

Because of this, the training curriculum in many seminaries today no longer emphasises Biblical studies and theology, but counseling techniques and church growth theory. Things like drama, recreation, entertainment, self?help programmes, and similar enterprises are flooding into churches in the name of making the church more relevant to the post-modern world. The preaching of the whole counsel of God on the other hand, is being pushed aside, because it is regarded as boring, offensive, and not user-friendly enough.

Many churches believe that they can get better results in reaching out to this new generation, by giving them whatever they want. One church in the housing estate where I live wanted to gain publicity in the estate by regularly distributing free gifts to every house, e.g. bread, or cakes during Chinese New Year, Christmas, etc. You can imagine the tremendous amount of time and expense this involved. But they considered it as a means of reaching out to the community by projecting the image that the church is in tune with the needs of the community.

Once people have been settled into a church, they are given biblical truth but only in small, diluted doses. And then there are only certain things from the Bible they should be taught. According to church growth experts, the rest must never be mentioned, e.g. It would be a great mistake to tell people that they are sinners - because that would lower their self esteem. Don't ever mention the wrath and judgment of God to them because it creates fear in people. Don't talk about hellfire and brimstone. Negative things like these will drive people away. If you want to see your church growing, don't preach everything that is given in the Bible - Preach only those portions that are upbeat, positive and inspirational - Chicken Soup for the soul.

Dearly beloved, the danger that we face, is that when we see the results produced by these churches and compare that with our own growth, we might be tempted to think like this:- Perhaps they are right after all, and we should follow them. Maybe we should change with the times that we live in and not cling so tenaciously to our conservative ministry. Maybe the Word of God does not need to have such a prominent place for the church in the post-modern world.

It would be a very sad day, if this scenario were to happen here in our church! It would sound the death knell of our witness as a church of Jesus Christ. Dearly beloved, let it be our fervent prayer that this will not happen. The way to reach out to the post-modern world is to be faithful in preaching, and in preaching the whole counsel of God. And this is because of the things that remain unchanged from age to age, that we saw at the beginning of this message: The Sins of Man, the Power of the Gospel, and the Urgency for Missions.

No matter what age or world we belong to, we will always need the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sin. Let us never forsake nor forget this message. The death of our Lord upon the cross at Calvary is therefore what we must proclaim this day, and continue to proclaim until He comes.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11