Aspect 3(a): A Mission Focused on the Nations (An Awkward Tension)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

The SBC has always had international missions at the center of its concern. This is no secret. The Triennial Convention met for the express purpose of organizing international missions activities in general and the work of Luther Rice and the Judsons in particular.[1] The SBC, after having been established in 1845, soon formed the Foreign Mission board, through which churches have supported thousands of missionaries. Today, the number of SBC missionaries hovers at more than approximately 5,600 while the budget of the International Mission Board is approximately $300 million.[2] Because of a serious shortfall in funding, the IMB plans to reduce the number of personnel to 5,000 by 2010. If we are not careful, our “focus on” the nations might become a “passing glance toward” them. The goal of the GCR is to reverse this trend and to do so as quickly as possible.

An Awkward Tension

Reflection upon the biblical narrative makes it clear that our efforts fall short. Revelation 5 serves to illustrate the point. This chapter portrays perhaps the most breathtaking and glorious vision in all of Scripture. In it, God gives a vision to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was being held captive in his old age on the island of Patmos. In the midst of the vision, John sees the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders prostrate before the Lord, singing a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (5:9-10). And again, together with all of heaven, they were singing with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).

In this passage, which reveals to us the consummation of God’s redemptive purposes, we note two truths in particular. First, we note that there is something so profoundly true, and so deeply good, and so strikingly beautiful about our God that he finds for himself worshipers among every type of person on the face of the earth. He brings his salvation not just to every continent, and not merely to every nation-state, but also to every “tribe and tongue and people and nation”- to every people across the span of history and to the farthest reaches of the globe. In doing so, he makes clear that he is superior to all other “gods” and that he is intent upon winning the nations to himself. This is no footnote to redemptive history. It stands front and center. God killed his Son in order to redeem the nations. In the words of our Lord, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14).

Second, we learn that this salvation comes through Christ alone. John tells us that the creatures and elders sing to the Lamb: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood.” Salvation is wrought by the shed blood of the Lamb of God. For this reason, Luke describes him as the chief cornerstone of the church and writes: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In this vein, Paul writes “through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Rom 1:5) And it is for this reason that we sing: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

But we must not allow these two points to stand alone. We must place beside them two glaring realities. The first reality is that there are several billion people who have little or no access to the gospel. They could search for days and months and years and never find a Bible or a Christian or a church. The second reality is that there has been perhaps no network of churches at any time in history which is as well placed as ours to take the gospel to the nations. There are those who have never heard the gospel, to whom we could easily take the gospel, and yet we do not. The question we all must ask is, “Why?”

Here is the bottom line: If we believe that salvation comes through Christ alone, and if we know that two billion people have little or no access to the gospel, then we are faced with a dilemma. Either we build Great Commission churches and accomplish the task that God has given us, or we force the Lord to plow around us to accomplish his will. Indeed, the Lord will accomplish his will. The question before us is, “Will we be found in his will or watching from the sidelines in disobedience?” We are hopeful it will be the former.

[1] Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, 38.

[2] In 1997, the SBC’s study, “Covenant for a New Century,” recommended that the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) change its name to the International Mission Board (IMB).