All Nations and Every Creature
(Originally published in the Rocky Mountain Christian - December 1977)
During the past fifteen years an increased emphasis has been placed on preparation and training for foreign evangelists. The most valuable result of this is that attention has been directed to certain biblical truths concerning world evangelism which were being ignored. Also, of some value have been certain extrabiblical, yet common sense, suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of evangelism. In some cases, however, because men have used denominational sources for study on evangelistic methods, practices have been advocated which are contrary to the word of God.
One such error is the suggestion that we should evangelize areas now where the field is 'ripe' and leave 'unripe' fields until later when conditions have improved. Churches which have been supporting evangelists in areas where the numerical response is not great have been encouraged to switch their support to other areas where the numerical response is greater. Congregations and preachers who continue to preach the gospel in 'unfruitful' fields are chided for wasting time and money.
One brother whom the Lord had been using to preach the word in Scandinavia was called back to the United States by the church which was supporting him. They said that they would no longer support him and they did not want him to return to Scandinavia because the response was so poor that it was a waste of money. They further warned him that should he attempt to get help elsewhere to return to Scandinavia they would do all within their power to keep him from getting it. But Jesus told us to teach ALL nations and to preach the gospel to EVERY creature (Matthew 28:18-20). These brethren, and all who promote such an attitude, are being used by the Adversary to keep the peoples of Scandinavia from hearing the message of Christ.
I know the arguments posed in favor of this theory. Paul and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they attempted to go into Bithynia the Spirit again did not allow them (Acts 16:6-8). So far we are still with the word. But then it is postulated that the reason the Spirit hindered them from preaching in Asia and Bithynia was that these were 'unripe' fields and that the Lord wanted them to go to Greece, a 'ripe' field. But now we have left the word of God and gone into human speculations. Indeed the Lord wanted Paul to go to Greece. But exactly WHY, we are not told. Certainly it is nowhere stated that it was because Asia and Bithynia were 'unripe' fields. This passage teaches us that the inspired apostle Paul was directly led by the Holy Spirit to go to Greece. It gives absolutely no support for the theory: "Go now where the fields are ripe and leave the unripe fields for later."
Also, when we read in Acts 22:17-21 that the Lord told Paul to go to the Gentiles because the Jews would not receive his testimony concerning Christ, we may rightfully conclude that God wants a man to go where he personally can preach most effectively. But the passage hardly teaches that the Christians were to stop preaching in Judea until the field became ripe!
The disciples were to shake off the dust from their feet against a house or village which refused to listen to them. But this does not indicate that we may neglect a certain area because the people are not receptive. Even when the disciples shook off the dust from their feet against someone, they were still to preach the gospel to them as they left (see Luke 10:10,11). When Paul and Barnabas were driven out of Antioch of Pisidia they shook the dust from their feet against those who drove them out (Acts 13:51). But this was only after "the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region" and after "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 15:48,49). And just a few months later we see Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch of Pisidia to strengthen the brethren (Acts 14:21,22). In no way do these texts indicate that we may refrain from preaching to a country because most of its people are 'unreceptive'. If anything they show that we are to preach to all people whether they are receptive or not.
Sometimes the parable of the sower is used to support this theory. It is stated: "It would be a little idiotic to keep throwing your seed on the hardened byway where you know that there is little chance it will take root and grow." The byway and good soil in this parable, however, do not represent nations or fields but individuals (see Matthew 13:19). Jesus does not reprimand the sower for letting seed fall on the path, among thorns, or on shallow ground. This parable shows that the seed will be sown in all kinds of soil and that we are not to expect the same results in every heart. If one wants to misapply this text to nations or fields one might just as well make a case for AVOIDING places where the immediate response was great because that would be shallow ground! But Jesus told us to teach ALL nations and ALL people. Some will listen, but most will not.
Another argument runs something like this: "We cannot evangelize the whole world at once anyway, so it is only reasonable to go first to the areas where the response is greatest."
The error of this argument is that the speaker is thinking in terms of 'either-or' instead of 'both-and'. Jesus did not place a P.S. on the great commission: "And if it seems too difficult to teach all nations and every creature, go to the fruitful areas first and leave the unfruitful areas until they become fruitful." He said 'all' and 'every' and that includes ALL fruitful areas and ALL unfruitful areas. You know, I have never yet seen a weed patch turn into a harvest field without someone getting in there and starting to pull weeds. These people want to leave the weeding, ground breaking, sowing and cultivating all to the Lord. They as much as say to God: "Lord, when You get everything all ready and just right, we'll move in and pull in the harvest."
There has been much talk of the need for an understanding of cultural motivations. And is not the true motive behind this theory the American mania for per dollar efficiency evaluation and statistical measurement of success? But God does not measure success the same way we do.
The evangelist who has the privilege of working in an area where the response is great, should get down on his knees and thank God for the joy he has been given and thank Him for all the work which others have done in toil and tears to prepare for that harvest (see John 4:35-38). And he certainly has no right to look down on his fellow worker who is weeding and sowing the seed of the kingdom where the response is not yet great and maybe never will be. When a man is preaching the word to the people around him, he is 'successful' in God's sight without regard to the numerical response. The job of a preacher is to sow and to water. The rate of increase is God's business (1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
Ezekiel had not learned this theory about going to the fruitful areas first and waiting until the weed patches turned into harvest fields. And the reason he had not learned it was that the Lord told him something quite different. Read Ezekiel, chapters two and three. Ezekiel was a great prophet, a man of God, even though NOBODY listened to him.
And I suppose one of the most successful preachers the Lord every had, NUMERICALLY speaking, was Jonah. The whole city of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes at his preaching. What a response! But the Lord had to use poor old Jonah in spite of himself. Now which prophet would your congregation rather support, Jonah or Ezekiel?
We need preachers in both kinds of areas, so let us support them both. Judge the work of the man you support not by the number of people who are responding but by the number of people TO WHOM HE IS PREACHING.
I am certainly in favor of cutting off the support of all preachers who are NOT PREACHING. And a good place to start is in the United States. How many non-Christians does the man you support teach during a month? Is he really proclaiming the gospel loud and clear in your community? Or is he just keeping the various church programs operating smoothly and warming the chair in his study and warming the carpet behind the pulpit while pleasing the ears of those who hear? Whether the field be fruitful or unfruitful, cut off the support of the man who is loafing on the job, or who is so entangled in the affairs of this world that nobody is hearing the message.
But encourage and support the man who is sounding forth the message of Life to those around him, warning them of judgment to come, telling them the good news of salvation through Christ. And let it be of no concern whatever whether his hearers respond in great numbers, or whether they ignore and scorn him.
Let us not in our worldly wisdom try to be smarter than God. We must sow the seed. We must teach ALL nations and EVERY creature as He has told us. He will take care of the increase in His own way at His own time.
And if because of your cultural background you still tend to be a little worried about the per dollar efficiency of the increase, consider carefully the significance of this simple truth which carries the whole matter completely beyond the realm of our ability to calculate. A child can count the seeds in an apple. But only God knows how many apples are in a seed.
Published in The Old Paths Archive