Expansion of Plenary: Honoring Those Who Have Gone Before

Missions History in Brief

Ed Pousson

A rowdy sect that began in the 1st century among Jewish peasants in Galilee was destined to change the world. God had sworn a covenant with the Jewish Patriarchs to bless all the peoples of the earth through the sons and daughters of Abraham: I will bless you, and in you all the peoples of the earth will be blessed. The Jewish Messiah lived, died, and rose again to fulfill that promise. And since then, the Christian faith, more than any other, has shown a remarkable ability to penetrate and transform individuals and communities of any race, religion, language, and culture. By the middle of the 20th century followers of Jesus were gathered in every continent and virtually every country. And today, 2 billion people, a third of the world's population, have professed allegiance to Jesus.

1. Jewish Age: Glorifying God Among the Peoples 150 BC to AD 30

Judaism was the first great missionary movement to penetrate the Mediterranean world. By Jesus' day, over four million Jews lived in every part of the Roman Empire, making up 7% of the total population. They planted synagogues in over 150 cities. They were intense and effective in their zeal to attract and convert Gentiles. More than any other historical factor, the Jewish mission prepared the way for Paul and others to disciple God-fearing Gentiles throughout the major regions and cities of the contemporary world. Having learned from the Jewish error of imposing Judaism upon their converts, may we not fail to emulate the Jewish passion to glorify God among the peoples! Our tribute, therefore, is to the Jew first. To Abraham who first embraced God's covenant to make his race a blessing to all peoples, and most of all to Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life to extend Abraham's blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

2. Roman Age: Winning Peoples in the Empire and Beyond 30 to 500

Stephen speech in Acts 7 represent a contextualized theology from a Hellenistic perspective. It implicitly signaled a theological breakthrough for the Gentile mission: God is not a tribal deity for Jews, nor is he a territorial spirit in the Holy Land! This attracted stones. Philip, Stephen's fellow-Hellenist, then became our first cross-cultural missionary and the first to reach an unreached people group, the despised Samaritans. Orthodox Hebrews would have never visited a Samaritan home. But the power of the gospel from a Hellenistic perspective healed the ancient breach between Jews and Samaritans. This is a parable and a promise of blessing, healing, and reconciliation among all the peoples of the earth. The Stephen-Philip story reminds us that we have the ultimate answer to ethnic hatred conflict escalating around the globe today.

Next, anonymous Hellenists started the Greek church in Antioch where the Holy Spirit eventually launched the Gentile Mission. All this sparked a critical debate among the Jerusalem apostles: Do Gentiles need to become Jews in order to become full members of God's people? Thanks to the wisdom of Peter, Paul, and James, the answer was a liberating NO. All peoples have the right to hear and live the gospel from within their own culture. This is the legacy of Paul the Apostle and the Antioch community. They helped make it `officially' possible for Gentiles to follow Jesus without becoming Jews.

The secret was out. The gospel could take root and flourish in any cultural soil. Over the next few years Paul so founded and nurtured churches throughout the Empire that he could then plan a mission to Spain. Others, including women like Lydia, Pricilla, Chloe, and Phoebe also played a key role in this early expansion. In subsequent centuries the faith spread culturally and geographically throughout the known world. Ulfilas spent 40 years evangelizing the Goths, who in turn became missionaries to other unreached Germanic peoples that were invaded the Empire. Patrick planted the Irish Celtic church that later became a center for further evangelizing Britain and much of Western Europe. The Nestorian mission spread from Mesopotamia and Persia to India, Central Asia and China. Many peoples groups remained unreached. But by the year 500 the vast majority of the citizens of the Empire were calling themselves "Christian." Jesus now ruled the realm that sanctioned his execution.

3. Barbarian/Viking Age: Lighting Candles in the Dark Ages 500 to 1000

Christianity's triumph in the Roman Empire exposed the faithful to new hazards, including stagnation, syncretism, and the loss of missionary zeal. Renewal took several forms, but monasticism was the most effective and enduring. Like most genuine renewals, the monasticism eventually produced a missionary movement. Most missionaries from the 6th to the 18th centuries were men or women of monastic life.

Patrick, for example, had used the monastic pattern to Christianize the Irish Celts. Gripped by missionary zeal, Celtic, English, and Benedictine monks traversed Europe winning, major unreached peoples to Christ: Picts, Anglesand Saxons, Frisians, Slavs, Scandinavians, nominally Christian Franks, and many others. Their methods were simple and powerful-prayer, discipline, character, serious bible study, community service, and preaching, often accompanied by power-encounter. Boniface, for example, was a monk with strong convictions about reaching unreached peoples. He staged a power-encounter before a large crowd by cutting down the sacred oak of Thor the Thunder-god. German mythology fell with the oak. Boniface used the wood to build a chapel. And thousands of Germans turned from the god of thunder to the God of grace.

Monasticism, more than any other institution, revived the church and evangelized and Christianized the unreached peoples of Europe. Historian Mark Noll calls this powerful expression of renewal and missions "the monastic rescue of the church." Thanks to these men and women who took seriously Christ's conditions for discipleship and Christ's commission to make disciples of all peoples, there was always light in the dark ages.

But the end of the first millenium seemed like the end of the world. Exploding from the south, Islam had already spent three centuries conquering and converting much of the Mediterranean world. The raiding Magyars invaded from the east, settled Hungary, and then ravaged Western Europe, burning churches and plundering monasteries. Crashing down from the north, the Vikings devastated Western Europe, smashing churches and monasteries with a fury. Between all these invasions, Christendom was meat in the sandwich.

But like a phoenix, the Christian faith arose from the ashes of the civilization that had hosted it for a thousand years. A new wave of monastic renewal started at Cluny, France in 910. The darkest hour of the dark ages had passed. From the 10th to the 12th century, Christians gradually won the hearts of some of their fiercest conquerors, the Vikings and the Magyars. (But why not the Muslims?) Figuratively speaking, when the Vikings sank the Christian ship, the gospel boarded Vikings' ship and won them to Christ. The lesson is powerful. First, as we learned from Acts, the gospel can take root and flourish within any culture. Second, when a "Christian" civilization collapses, the seed of the gospel can revive it, and can also take root elsewhere. This two-fold vitality empirically confirms the universal character of the gospel that is forever and for every people to the end of the age.

4. Mixed Mess-Age: Preaching the Cross, Wielding the Sword 1000 to 1500

The church's response to loss and decline under Islam was mixed: the cross in one and the sword in the other. The early church had condemned war. But the western medieval church said, "God wills it!" Apparently baptism had not washed away certain vices of the now Christianized barbarians and Vikings, whose ancestors regarded war as an art. While the church can transform her surrounding culture, the culture also changes the church, for better or worse. A barbaric spirit entered the church. Viking descendants led all of the major Crusades. Muslims still remember the cruelty and revenge Christians inflicted on them in God's name. Hostility and persecution against the Jews in this period was equally atrocious. By the words, "compel them to come in," surely Jesus meant something different.

But when the institutional church shows its worst face, there are always men and women, usually on the fringes of the church, who hold fast the gospel and become instruments for revival and mission (Paul Pierson). From the 10th to the 14th century there were many lay-led renewals. But monastic movements again blazed the trail, multiplying and sweeping across Europe. Their overall and long-term effect was three-fold: One, purging corruption from the church. Two, conforming nominal Christianity to biblical ideals. And three, spreading the faith to the unreached peoples. By the year 1200 the gospel had reached nearly every major people group in Europe. Only one or two remained, the Lithuanians (reached in the14th century), and the Lapps (reached in the 16th century by Swedish Lutherans).

In contrast to the crusading spirit, Francis of Assisi pioneered a non-violent approach to winning Muslims. Francis started his ministry as an uneducated layman. This gentle Friar not only preached to the birds. He was intensely interested and practically involved in missions. One story has him on a hilltop stretching out his hands to the world and declaring, "There is our cloister." Francis and his followers determined to live the Christ-life in the world, and as missionaries to the cities. On the fifth Crusade he crossed battle lines and, after taking a beating, presented the gospel to the sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil. As the story goes, Francis offered to enter a fiery furnace with the sultan's priests to demonstrate the true faith, based on who would survive. The sultan refused both the challenge and the gospel. But he was deeply impressed with Francis and gave him a carved ivory horn.

Inspired by Francis' example, the Spaniard Raymond Lull, a lay Franciscan, proposed to win Muslims by prayers, love, tears, and martyrdom, rather than by force. A forerunner in mission strategy, Lull worked to mobilize the church in Muslim outreach through language and culture learning, apologetics, and aggressive evangelism. In his 60s, Lull made four trips to North Africa to engage Muslims. He won few converts. But on his final visit at the age of 80 he won the martyr's crown. Lull's strategic concern for language and culture learning makes his work is a giant step in missions in general, and to Muslims in particular. Incidentally, in the 1980s a mass movement to Christ started among the Kabyle Berbers in the place where Lull was stoned. Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Lull, we might say, was a slow-grow case.

Monks fell short of a total monopoly on medieval renewal and missions. Many lay movements sought to recover the ideals of early Christianity. They were often suppressed as heretical. Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, renounced property and gave his French folk the Word of God in their own tongue. He inspired an evangelical movement of traveling street preachers in the style of Matthew 10. This was a radical innovation in an age when only bishops could preach. Fiercely opposed by church and council, the "Waldensians" were (and still are) a light shining in darkness. Their movement introduces at least three breakthrough principles for renewal and missions: One, the right of the laity to study the Scriptures in their mother tongue. Two, the right of laymen and women to preach. And three, the duty to "obey God rather than man" -a principle they invoked when the church prohibited their preaching.

If you read your Bible in English, thank God for the life of John Wycliffe, whose first ever complete English translation of the Bible prepared the way for England's reformation a century later. Wycliffe's followers, the Lollards, believed that all people should have God's Word in their own language. Their main task was to preach God's Word in the vernacular. The institutional church drove the Lollards underground. But Wycliffe's writings directly inspired the Bohemian priest John Hus and the Hussite movement that formed the roots of the later Moravian Church, perhaps the greatest missionary church of all time.

Waldensians, Lollards, and Hussites typify an astonishingly large variety of lay renewal movements of the Middle Ages. Oppression by the church prevented many of these from achieving their explosive missionary potential. They were, however, forerunners to the modern missionary movement in significant ways. First, they pioneered the concept of contextualization by giving people the Word of God in their own language. Second, they confirm historian Paul Pierson's thesis that revival and mission movements almost always start with ordinary people on the periphery of the organized church, rather than with the ecclesiastical higher-ups. And third, the opposition they faced within the church shows that the great obstacles to renewal and missions are not always "the gates of hell," but sometimes the institutional and theological barriers within the church itself.

5. Reformation Age: Making Moses German, Making Matthew Malay. 1500 to 1800

Martin Luther's colossal contribution to missions comes to light when we recognize the Reformation as a grand-scale contextualization of the gospel, church, worship, and theology among certain European peoples who found Latin Christianity too constraining. What Paul did for the Gentiles, Luther did for the Germans, and the other reformers did for their own peoples. This remarkable "translation" of the faith from one language and culture to another maps out the entire history (and future) of Christianity. Of his translation of the Bible Luther said, "I make Moses so German, no one would suspect he was a Jew."

In 1629 the head of the Dutch East Indies Company translated Matthew into Malay, the first non-European language to be given God's Word for the purpose of evangelism. And John Eliot, one of the earliest Protestant missionaries, translated the entire Bible into in a dialect of the Algonquin Indians of Massachusetts in 1613. This was the first non-European language into which the entire Bible was translated for missionary purposes. Once Protestants fully awoke to their missionary responsibility, their emphasis on Scripture for the laity in their mother tongue produced aggressive programs of Bible translation into the languages of unreached peoples.

Renewal and missions go hand in hand. More than any other forces, the Puritan, Pietist, Moravian, and Methodist renewals launched the modern Protestant missionary movement. Puritanism nourished John Eliot and David Brainerd, early Protestant missionaries to Native North Americans (Indians). Halle University, that great center of Pietism, sent out Europe's first Protestant missionaries to India, Ziegenbalg and Pltschau. And Pietist renewal leader Nikolaus Zinzendorf revitalized the Morvaian community that prayed non-stop for a hundred years and sent 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth before William Carey sailed to India in 1793.

As a teenager Zinzendorf and five other students started "the Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed" at Halle University in 1715. Their creed was simple: "None of us lives for himself." Their purpose was prayer, fellowship, witness, and foreign missions. In 1719 Zinzendorf visited an art gallery and contemplated a painting of Christ in his sufferings with the inscription, "All this I did for you, what are you doing for me?" The youth loved Christ, but realized he was doing nothing for him. But from that moment he resolved to do whatever Jesus would ask of him.

These were the early beginnings of the Moravian movement, which clocked the longest prayer chain in history -unbroken for 100 years. They matched their passion for Christ with a compassion for the lost. Their first two missionaries, Dober, a potter, and Nitchman, a carpenter, were willing to sell themselves as slaves to reach the slaves of the West Indies. As their ship left harbor on 8 October 1732, they sounded the cry that became the watchword of their movement: "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering." The Moravians sent 226 missionaries to the unreached by 1760, the year Zinzendorf died. And 300 total by 1792, the 65th year of the prayer chain. Thousands more followed. The mustard seed became a great tree.

Early Moravian missionaries to Native North Americans strove to become like the Indians in order to win Indians for the Lamb that was slain. David Brainerd, on the other hand, expected the Indian converts to adopt the culture and manners of the white Christians. How did the Indians feel about the issue? They protested: "We are Indians, and don't wish to be transformed into white men. The English are our Brethren, but we never promised to become what they are."

David Brainerd deserves high tribute as devoted pioneer missionary. He loved, defended, and served the Indians until his labors brought him to an early death in 1747. His life testimony is overwhelmingly positive. But his attempt to impose White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism upon non-white Native Americans contradicts the essence of the Reformation, which was in itself a protest against Latin Christianity being imposed non-Latin peoples. On the other hand, the Moravians and the Indians, in this case, illustrate the legacy of the Reformation-that all peoples have the right to follow Jesus without adopting the cultural baggage of a foreign church.

The Reformation was one renewal that was slow to produce a full-scale missionary movement-about 275 years. But in clarifying the true meaning of the gospel as the power of God for salvation, and in `de-Romanizing' Christianity for northern European peoples who had not assimilated to Latin culture, the Reformation employed and nourished foundational, unchanging principles of cross-cultural mission.

6. Modern Age: Expanding Mission to the Ends of the Earth 1800 to 1975

Most people expect great revivals and missionary movements to start with the top leadership of the church. But, as we have already noted, they usually start with ordinary people on the fringes-the periphery-principle. Consider, for example, Jesus, Stephen, Philip, Saul, Francis, Lull, Waldo, and so many others. Another case in point: the poor cobbler whom history names the father of modern missions was under-educated, unsuccessful in business, and an unexciting preacher in a separatist movement, the Particular Baptists. When William Carey proposed a mission to the unreached, he was told to sit down mind his own business: "Young man, sit down, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me." Misapplied Calvinism had convinced many that the conversion of the heathen was nobody's business but God's. Carey refused to sit down, except to write his 87-page Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792). With pen and paper, the pauper on the periphery defied the major theological and practical barriers against missions in his day and sparked off the Baptist Missionary Society (its later name) that sent him to India. There he spent the last 40 years of his life attempting great things for God.

Carey's legacy is perseverance in adversity. He never took a furlough. He never gave up. He tackled the obstacles of hyper-Calvinism, family resistance, culture shock, new languages, social ills, poverty, disease, bereavement, and loneliness. Late in life he wrote: "I can plod, I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything."

Carey's breakthrough marks the beginning of what Kenneth Scott Latourette called "the Great Century" of Protestant missions. It was great for at least four reasons. First, newly formed denominational mission boards sent out thousands of missionaries from the Western world, including Robert Morrison, Adoniram and Ann Judson, David Livingstone, Hudson and Maria Taylor, Lottie Moon, and Amy Carmichael. Second, Carey's life and work catalyzed the English-speaking churches of Europe and North America into mass-scale missions. From Carey's day until the 1990s, the English-speaking world supplied 80% of the world's Protestant missionaries. Third, it was a great century because of the growth of the church outside the West. Missions gained a footing in every part of the known world and won converts from every religion. Between 1800 and 1900, the number of Protestants living in Asia, Africa, and Latin America jumped from 1% to 10%. And fourth, it was great because of the explosive growth of Protestant missionary societies on both sides of the Atlantic.

The 19th and 20th centuries exploded with missions and church growth in the non-Western world, removing the "stigma" of Christianity as a white man's religion.   The accelerated progress (1900) in reaching unreached peoples coincides with the beginning of Carey's career and the emergence of Protestant missionary societies.

Some still think that mission agencies emerged when the church was weak, and now that the church is strong we don't need them anymore. Think again. Mission agencies emerged when the church was strong. During the 18th century the powerful forces of renewal crossed continents and climaxed in the worldwide Evangelical Awakening. Virtually every denomination throughout the West had been renewed in some way. Mission agencies are not a sign of a weak church, but the fruit of a healthy, awakened church. Carey's Society in 1792 broke a 250-year old bottleneck in Protestant tradition and launched a perpetual proliferation of missionary societies throughout the church and the world.

Oxford Students John and Charles Wesley were only 20-something when they formed "the Holy Club" in 1729. George Whitefield joined the club and later made his mark on the world. Marked by discipline and devotion, this small and much scorned student group helped birth the Methodist revival and the Evangelical Awakening, which in turn provided spiritual foundations for the Great 19th Century of Protestant Missions. Both John and Charles became missionaries.

North America's entry into the worldwide missions movement was no exception to the periphery-principle. We trace its initial impulse to a haystack in 1806. Samuel Mills and four other college students were on their way to a prayer meeting when lightning struck and a storm broke loose. The young men took shelter under the overhanging edge of a haystack and there prayed and pledged themselves in writing to become America's first foreign missionaries. "We can do it if we want to," they said. That prayer meeting made history in a haystack. Mills formed a campus prayer group that helped launch a student mission movement. Later developments stemming from this initiative led to the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1812, and the American Baptist Mission Board in 1814. Both of these had a part in sending Adoniram Judson to India and Burma. Following the ABCFM and the American Baptist Mission Board, other American missionary boards and societies formed in rapid succession. Such were the humble beginnings of worldwide outreach of Protestants in the United States.

When England's Hudson Taylor took interest in missions he was only 5 years old. At age 17, after a personal conversion experience, he consecrated his life to God's mission. Then at the ripe old age of 21 he sailed for China. Taylor began learning Chinese and made trips to the interior, adopting Chinese dress, hairstyle, and culture. This was a radical departure from the conventional wisdom of Taylor's contemporaries who felt that Christianity was not "proper" until it clothed itself in Western culture. Other missionaries criticized and ridiculed Taylor for his approach. But he held his ground on what is now an established missiological principle-that missionaries and sending churches should not impose their foreign culture upon their mission context.

In Taylor's day, all mission agencies were confined to the islands and coastlands. Something new had to be done. Still 20-something, Taylor dreamed of a new kind of agency that would take missionaries to the unreached millions of China's interior. People questioned the wisdom of this young upstart: "Why start a new agency, when there are already so many? Why go to the interior if you haven't finished the job on the coast?" But Taylor persisted to break the mold. One Sunday he walked out of church because, in his own words, he was "unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge." He wrote, "I wandered out on the sands alone in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service" (China's Spiritual Needs and Claims). That was Taylor's Bethel. In 1865 he founded the China Inland Mission, which eventually sent thousands of men and women throughout China. In 1964 the organization changed its name to Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

In 1885 C.T. Studd and six other Cambridge men of distinction turned their backs on career and status to join the China Inland Mission (CIM). This caught worldwide attention and inspired the Student Volunteer Movement in the US. C.T. Studd once said, "If Jesus be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him." The CIM doubled in size within five years of the Cambridge Seven's arrival in China in 1885. Hundreds of new recruits streamed abroad through other agencies also. We know them best as a group. But each of the Seven had unique ministries in China. Dixon Hoste later became the second director of the China Inland Mission. And in 1913 Studd founded World Evangelization Crusade with the vision: "To reach the remaining unevangelized peoples on earth in the shortest possible time."

In July 1886, D.L. Moody directed a month-long student conference on his school grounds at Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts. The 250 university and seminary students attending found their hearts gripped the hearts of with a passion for world evangelisation. On the last day of the conference 100 of them signed the "Princeton Pledge," declaring that they "were willing and desirous, God permitting, to become foreign missionaries." This was at the heart of the beginnings of the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), which drove thousands of volunteers to the ends of the earth and placed missions squarely in the center of American church life at the close of the 19th century. The SVM formally organized in 1888 with John R. Mott as its chairman and leader for more than 30 years. They adopted the watchword, "The evangelization of the world in this generation." Over the next 50 years, the movement drew 100,000 students into missions. Of these, 20,500, mostly from North America, went overseas as missionaries -about 30% of them to China and 20% to India. The other 80,000 (or less) stayed home to build up the prayer and financial base for the movement.

The 20th century witnessed some of the most significant turning points in Christian history. First, the percentage of Protestants living outside the West mushroomed from 10% in 1900 to 67% in 2000. Christianity is no longer a western religion. Most Christians today live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands. This may be the single most significant development in the church since the Reformation. Second, the Pentecostal revival, including its charismatic expressions, has spanned the century and globe, launching thousands of missionaries worldwide. Third, contextualized theologies from different peoples are now merging to produce approaches to God, Scripture, and mission that are more sensitive to global humanity than traditional Western theology has been. And fourth, non-Western missionaries now outnumber Western missionaries. Missions is no longer "the white man's burden," but a multi-cultural, multi-national movement, with former receiving nations are now sending out their own missionaries to unreached peoples within or beyond their borders. Missionaries have always evangelized specific people groups. But the unreached people focus sharpened during the 20th century, especially after the church had spread to all nations. But even before that, in 1913, C.T. Studd launched the Heart of Africa Mission (now World Evangelization Crusade) for the stated purpose of reaching "the remaining unevangelized peoples on earth in the shortest possible time." In 1917 William Cameron Townsend was trying to sell Spanish Bibles in Guatemala when a Cakchiquel-speaking Indian challenged him, "If your God is so smart, why can't he speak our language?" Townsend had already realized that Spanish was inadequate for reaching Guatemala. Most people spoke Cakchiquel. Townsend took the Indian's question seriously. But others weren't so sympathetic. "Don't be a fool," friends told him. "Those Indians aren't worth what it would take to learn their outlandish language and translate the Bible for them. They can't read anyhow. Let the Indians learn Spanish," they said.

Townsend was no fool. He eventually answered that Indian's challenge with a Cakchiquel New Testament in 1931. Now that God spoke Cakchiquel, Townsend began dreaming about other tribes. He founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Wycliffe Bible Translators, which has since reduced hundreds of languages to writing for Scripture translation. Convinced that Bible translation was the highest call of all, Townsend once tried to persuade Billy Graham to drop his mass evangelism rallies and sign on as a translator. This was during one of Graham's largest rallies, with 134,000 attending in Los Angeles Coliseum. Townsend spent two hours trying to turn the greatest evangelist of the 20th century into a Bible translator.

Townsend's clear focus on linguistic barriers marks a turning point in the growth of awareness of unreached peoples. Scripture in the trade language is not enough. All peoples must have the privilege of reading God's word in their mother tongue. Another breakthrough came when Donald A. McGavran, a missionary in India, observed that mass movements to Christ occurred when churches formed and grew within specific people groups or homogenous units. Like ink in water, the gospel can spread throughout a given ethnic-language group. But ink cannot jump from one cup of water to the next. So the flow of the gospel halts when it encounters linguistic and cultural barriers. With this new perspective, McGavran resigned as executive secretary of his mission and spent 17 years making disciples and planting churches in India. The fruit of his ministry and the movement that outlived him vindicated the wisdom of his principle: most nations are mosaics of distinct people groups, and the great commission requires disciple-making in each piece of the mosaic-panta ta ethne. His landmark book, The Bridges of God, (1955, 1981) launched the Church Growth Movement and pioneered the modern missiological understanding of unreached peoples. A new chapter in mission history began with the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism meeting in Mexico in 1963. The delegates there recognized "the great new fact of our time" -that the church existed in every land. And by 1967, 90% of all North American missionaries were working with maturing national churches overseas, and the North American missionary force began to decline. The celebrated transfer of authority from the missionary agencies to the younger churches was nearing completion. From the early 1970s, Asia, African, Latin American leaders began calling for a moratorium on missions-"Missionary go home." The younger churches outside the West could now complete the task by simply evangelizing their own non-Christian neighbors in each nation. Many Western Christians assumed that their part in world evangelism was finished and they could now pull back their missionaries. The sun had set on the day of foreign missions. Or so they thought.

New light dawned at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. There, Ralph D. Winter argued that, since churches normally grow within the limits of a given ethnic-language group (as McGavran showed), normal evangelism and church growth could never reach the billions of non-Christians living in people groups that had no churches. On that principle, Winter presented calculations showing that 87% of the world's non-Christians still needed missionaries because they were living in cultures without churches. This meant that 2.4 billion people, half the world's population then, were locked away from the gospel by cultural barriers. And that normal church growth and evangelism, no matter how prolific, would still leave this 87% of the world's non-Christians virtually untouched by the gospel (in 1974). In other words, if every church in the world suddenly revived, and then evangelized every person in their culture and language, 87% of the world's non-Christians (then) would still be without hope or witness. On these grounds, Winter argued that the highest priority is cross-cultural evangelism aimed at establishing a "beachhead" (the foundations of a church planting movement) in every unreached people group. The vision of "a church for every people by the year 2000" was soon conceived. The so-called moratorium on missions gave way to what McGavran called "the sunrise of missions."

7. End of the Age: Hastening Messiah's Return, Making Disciples of all Peoples. 1975 to the End of History

After the 1974 Congress on World Evangelization, the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelization spent the next several years clarifying and drawing attention to the reality of unreached peoples. Since 1989, the AD2000 & Beyond Movement, chaired by Thomas Wang and directed by Luis Bush, has strategically networked and mobilized thousands of churches and ministries around the world with the vision of a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000. In 1996 the AD2000 & Beyond Movement launched Joshua Project 2000 with a list 1,739 (now about 1,500) unreached people groups that are 10,000 or more in population and less than 5% Christian. Counting unreached peoples that are smaller than 10,000 in population each, the number is, of course, much higher, perhaps ten to twelve thousand unreached peoples in all. But the progress has been astounding. According to Patrick Johnstone, 12,000 of the world's 13,000 major ethnic-language groups have already been reached.

The sign Jesus said would mark the end of this would be the witness of the good news of the kingdom within every ethnic-language group throughout the entire world (Mt. 24:14). After 2000 years of reaching most of the world's major peoples, the completion of this in our generation is really doable. But won't be easy. The greatest challenge is now upon us: the hundreds large people groups making up the three massive culture blocks of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, where many people reject the gospel because of its association with the West. This final frontier will require the power of the Holy Spirit and the strategic application of principles learned from previous missionaries and mission movements through history:

  1. Healing of the peoples. The gospel is the power of God for healing and reconciliation peace among all peoples. The same power that broke down hate barriers between 1st-century Jews and Samaritans can bring healing to the broken, warring peoples of our world today. Therefore, we must preserve and demonstrate the unity Spirit among ourselves as we partner together in proclaiming Jesus' message of repentance, forgiveness, and peace among all peoples.
  2. Gospel and culture. The gospel can take root and flourish within any culture. Evangelism, church development, and community transformation are most effective when carefully contextualized within a people's linguistic, social, and cultural environment. And God wants all persons to the opportunity to hear the gospel in their own language and live the gospel within their own culture. Therefore, we should,
    1. Direct mission efforts strategically and specifically unreached peoples.
    2. Find ways for them to encounter and follow Jesus without converting to the culture of the missionary or sending churches. And,
    3. With due caution against syncretism, encourage and support new and creative efforts to contextualize the evangelism, church life, and theology among newly made disciples in unreached peoples, especially among Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities.
  3. Pentecost also renews the church and sends her into the world just as the Father sent his Son into the world. Therefore, we who want to further God's mission in the world should pray diligently for revival, as we open our lives, churches, and training and mission organizations fully to the renewing and sending work of the Spirit of God.
  4. Churches and missions. Both local churches and mission agencies are equal partners in God's Church and jointly responsible agents for God's mission to all peoples. Therefore, as churches multiply and mature among the unreached peoples, we must also encourage them to create their own indigenous mission structures to reach the unreached peoples within and beyond their national borders.
  5. Power on the periphery (Paul Pierson). God's mission transcends all human structures. While he does use human structures, he often works powerfully through the free initiative of ordinary women and men without formal training or institutional authority. Therefore, we must observe and invest in what God is doing among the "little people" on the fringes of the institutionalized church. At the same time, new and creative movements on the periphery need to learn from and partner with established churches.

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