Steve Moore on Cities

It would be impossible to complete whatever portion of the Great Commission God has ordained for our generation without giving increasing priority to cities.

This statement comes from Steve Moore of Missio Nexus. I think he’s right on. It’s estimated that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in urban centers. That’s 70% of 11 billion people. Yet Christians aren’t flowing to cities as quickly as the rest of the world. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the problem. Missions must increasingly become city focused in order to be faithful to the Great Commission.

Historical Lessons from the Decline of the German Church

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In light of our pending transition to Berlin I’m trying to brush up on my German history, especially Germany’s ecclesiastical history. The paragraph below is from an entry in the Encyclopedia of Christianity (Eerdmans) entitled “Christianity in Germany.” 

Such practical achievements (the material prosperity of the German State Church following reunification) must be offset by the undoubted fact of the diminution of the churches’ influence in the general population. As in other western European countries, the spread of secular humanism has led to widespread abandonment of church attendance, especially in the cities, such as Berlin, where the percentage of the population attending church services was already notably low 100 years ago. Debate continues as to the extent to which this crisis of belief was caused by rejection of traditional Christian orthodox doctrines, or how far it was the result of external factors, such as the repressive actions of both the Nazi and Communist dictatorships. It is notable, however, that the overthrow of these repressive systems did not lead to a re-Christianization of German society, despite vigorous efforts by church authorities to achieve that end. A more durable explanation for the churches’ striking decline in prestige and credibility must be seen in the political behavior of the churches themselves, such as their overenthusiastic endorsement of extreme German nationalism and their misuse of theology to justify German war aims. So too the readiness of some church leaders to give approval to both the Nazi and Communist systems has induced a sense of disillusionment among a more skeptical population.

This paragraph caught my attention for a number of reasons. First, secular humanism figured prominently in the decline of the German Church. I think it figures prominently in the potential decline of the church here in the States. Secular humanism simply means thinking and pursuing a way of life without reference to God or religion. Based upon what I’m learning, Berlin is the world’s epicenter for secular humanism. The need for the Gospel in Germany, and especially Berlin, is great. I believe faithful and effective ministry in Berlin can serve as an example for churches that are struggling to deal with the ever-strengthening grip of secular humanism here in the States.

Second, the spread of secular humanism matters. You should care about it. The spread of secular humanism matters in the sense that the destruction of the rain forest matters or the possible extinction of honey bees matters. In other words, its spread is a big deal. The words in the article, “widespread abandonment of church attendance,” should haunt us. If this decline happened in Germany, the fountainhead of the Reformation, it can happen here in the States. Germany is a generation or two ahead of us in terms of the full flowering of a secular humanist way of life. Pastors and churches here who are unwilling to face the onslaught of this relentless impending storm, will end up overseeing churches in rapid decline. A ‘sandbagging’ mentality, where churches hunker down hoping to ride out this storm, won’t survive to pass on the faith to the next generation.

Third, the decline of the Church in Europe has been a catastrophic decline. Words alone fail to do it justice. Consider the following graphs highlighting the percent change in Evangelicals around the world during the past century (source: Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 4.)

In the past century Evangelicalism increased at an almost exponential rate in the Global South and in Asia. What has happened in Europe? The exact opposite. Shocking, isn’t it? There are 739 million people in Europe. The need for missionaries to serve Christ and His Kingdom in Europe is as great as any place in the world.

Obviously the reasons for this decline are vastly more complex than simply chalking the decline up to secular humanism alone. I realize that. However, as the article I quoted points out, the decline of the German Church began well before the catastrophic external events of the twentieth century (repressive Nazi and Communist regimes, church endorsement of extreme German nationalism, etc.) And the re-Christianization of Germany has largely failed even after Nazism and Communism were no longer threats. Some other force contributing to the decline was in play. This leads me to believe the greatest contributing factor to this decline was in fact the secular humanism spawned by the German Enlightenment. 

The good news is that God is at work in Berlin and in Germany. And the good news is that the rate of Church decline here in the States, if there is a decline-and that’s still debatable, won’t happen at the same rate as in Germany. The factors contributing to a decline here would be vastly different than those that caused the decline in Europe. But ‘vastly different’ is not ‘wholly different.’ Europe is our conjoined twin. We can’t ignore her. Instead, we must learn from Europe’s past. And we must keep a watchful eye on the progress of the Gospel in Europe’s future-especially in places like Berlin. 

Success in Missions is a Foregone Conclusion

The following is from a devotional by John Piper called “Then the End Will Come.” May it encourage you as much as it encouraged me. Live sent!
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This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

I don’t know any more inspiring missionary promise than this word from Jesus.

Not: This gospel should be preached. Not: This gospel might be preached.

But: This gospel will be preached.

This is not a great commission, nor a great commandment. It is a great certainty, a great confidence.

Who can dare talk like that? How does he know it will? How can he be sure the church will not fail in its missionary task?

Answer: The grace of missionary service is as irresistible as the grace of regeneration. Christ can promise universal proclamation because he is sovereign. He knows the future success of missions because he makes the future. All the nations will hear!

A “nation” is not a modern “country.” When the Old Testament spoke of nations, it referred to groups like Jebusites and Perizites and Hivites and Amorites and Moabites and Canaanites and Philistines. “Nations” are ethnic groups with their own peculiar culture. Psalm 117:1: “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!”

As the sovereign Son of God and Lord of the church, Jesus simply took up this divine purpose and stated as an absolute certainty: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations.”

The cause of world missions is absolutely assured of success. It cannot fail. Is it not reasonable, then, that we pray with great faith, that we invest with great confidence, and that we go with a sense of sure triumph?

Last Sunday more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.

My old history professor Mark Noll made this comment in the introduction to his book “The New Shape of World Christianity.”  (You can read the intro and an excerpt of the book here.) To think that Europe is Christianized and has no need of missionaries is flat out wrong.  Of all the places in the world, it may be the place of greatest need. Live sent!

It is possible to make the institution the end. But if it is dangerous to make souls of men our end, it is doubly dangerous to make an institution.

Source: Roland Allen, Essential Missionary Principles, p. 90-91. Allen’s warning is simple and clear. The end is Christ. Not soul winning. Not even the institution you serve. It’s Christ plus nothing. Christ plus something, even if it’s a good thing, is idolatry. If something other than Christ becomes the end for which we seek, rest assured, the missionary impulse of the individual or the institution will die or has already died. We lament not being missional enough and lament fossilized institutions. Instead, we should lament the fact that we’ve made the first and most important thing secondary or tertiary. That’s the only way to recover the missionary impulse. Live sent!

In Memory of Calvin Miller

I’m saddened to hear of Calvin Miller’s passing today.  On one occasion I had the privilege of hearing Miller address a group of pastors. He was a masterful preacher and storyteller second only to David Larsen.

Earlier today Ed Stetzer posted a blog containing some facts of Miller’s life. What intrigued me most about the Stetzer’s post was the inclusion of an essay Miller wrote in The Mission of God Study Bible.  It reads as follows:

A Letter to the Church by Calvin Miller from The Mission of God Study Bible

To every Christian who reads this book: you are a missionary. Missions is the joyous work of informing the world that it is loved. Missions is unrelenting in its desire, it pushes in flaming light against the dark walls of human ignorance. It is honest about all things eternal: we can be free only when we know the truth (Jn 8:32).

Missions is clear, cold water—a cup of grace, a draft of life in the desert. It is as free as air, yet as precious as a pearl buried deep in the brokenness of the human spirit (Mt 13:46). Missions is a message, as simple as two words Jesus Saves—one noun, one verb—and yet this simplicity is God’s broad banner posted just above the gates of eternity (Lk 19:10).

Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful slave (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called “missionary.”

Missions is a divine madness that hears the voice of God’s only begotten, crying from a mountaintop, into all the world (Mt 28:18-20). It takes this cry to bed and pillow every night. It wakes at every dawn, as Christ whispers in the heart, “I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rv 1:18). You must arise for I have come to seek and to save that which was lost. There is no time to waste, the world is loved and doesn’t know it. Hold out your hand and I fill it with gold, and you must go out to give the gold away, making rich all those who are poor in spirit (Mt 5:3). Tell all those who starve about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rv 19:9).

To every Christian who reads this book: you are a missionary.

No matter your credentials. All who name the name of Christ have been ordained by the urgency of God’s agenda in a fallen world. Missionaries are not just those special few who have accepted some certificate of some profession. They are not servants of a special calling. Missionaries are all those who have said “yes, Lord!” To say “I believe” is to understand that you have accepted the commission to go into all the world, starting right inside your home, your village, your nation, your world. You have been empowered. Christ has breathed upon you (Jn 20:22). When Christ moves in, you move out. Out where? Out there! Outside your narrow life. Anywhere is the place to start. So start. Seek! Knock! Any door will do (Mt 7:7). You need no grand beginning point.

There, it is done! You have spoken to someone the entreaty, “Come with us to Christ!” Congratulations! You are a missionary and missionaries are the merchants of hope. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring Good Tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God Reigns (Isaiah 52:7).

But be not proud! In redeeming the world all arrogance is precluded. There are no good, arrogant missionaries (2Co 12:5). Christ’s ambassadors (2Co 5:20) are men and women made humble by the immense size of the message given to them by Earth’s Lover. They feed on the bread they give away. They remember who they were when they met Christ, and just that little act of memory causes them to weep that that they once stumbled into grace, before they were ever called to dispense it. Now they are driven by the joy of God’s call, they are the cleansed unclean, the forgiven forgivers, the wounded healers. Nothing is more important than their preachment. They live for it, they die for it (1Co 9:16). They will not change their minds and they cannot change the subject. They are intentional about one truth, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (Jn 4:29). I can baptize you only with water, but He will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit (Lk 3:16). Thus holding forth the world in their left hand they reach for heaven with their right hand, and the gulf between time and eternity is pulled shut (Lk 16:22). The world at hand is made one with the world that is on the way.

All we who know Him are the heralds of God, missionaries blind to our own greatness because we have served a magnificent obsession, a glorious compulsion, “Jesus lives, Jesus saves.” There is no other significant, eternal truth (Ac 4:12).

The day we became missionaries we were no longer good at the sedentary life. The word “go” forbids us to settle into the plush present, for we know that the future is where we were meant to live, for only the future holds the possibility of us making our next disciple (1Co 9:19). Of course we love our last convert, but that believer has only fueled our fever to meet the next one.

Here in this volume you hold the grand marriage of the Word of God and the Commission of God. This is the book that holds the definition of forty holy men, the Bible writers, who have defined the heart of God. Missions plus the Word equals everything. You cannot serve just one of these, for to serve the Book is to serve the mission (Php 2:16). To fail to serve either of them is to choose to serve neither. Read herein what God has for you, then do all that you have read. Only then will you enter into life a whole person waiting on God, and knowing who you are. And knowing who you are you will find pleasure in your identity (Php 3:8,10).

Your life belongs to the world. Your zip code is the globe. You are a missionary.

Thanks Calvin Miller! I couldn’t have said it better myself. You will be missed.

To all who’ve read this, live sent!