We’d Just Witnessed the Book of Acts

Recently, I had the privilege of helping lead a missions team from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to a country in South Asia. We spent ten days in a nation with a population four times larger than that of California, but where far less than 1% of the population professes faith in Christ. It is one of the poorest places in the world.

Almost 90% of the population claims the Muslim faith, though the average citizen adheres to what might be called “Folk Islam,” which is a mixture of traditional Islam and animistic superstition. Most of the rest of the population is Hindu.

During our time in South Asia, our team of eight students and two professors were able to minister in a number of ways. First and foremost, we shared the gospel, both through personal evangelism and evangelistic teaching. We also conducted discipleship training with recent converts from Hinduism, most of whom had recently been baptized or were preparing for baptism. We were able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with some of these brothers who had already become baptized church members.

My faculty colleague and I had the chance to engage in some theological training with our translators, all of whom are native evangelists who work closely with our International Mission Board personnel. I doubt I’ll ever have a seminary classroom experience as difficult as trying to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, through a translator, to a group of former Hindus and Muslims.

The highlight of our time in South Asia was seeing six Muslim men come to saving faith in Christ and publicly testify to their newfound faith through believer’s baptism. We had heard there were some Muslims interested in talking about Christianity in a particular village, but when we arrived there, an imam disrupted our attempts to share the gospel. We left their village, but not before secretly passing word to the inquirers that we would meet in another location.

About a half hour later, we reassembled under a bridge, which was out of public view. About a dozen Muslim men came to hear us teach about Jesus. Two students and I shared the gospel with the group, while our IMB missionary and one of our translators answered questions raised by our Muslim friends. Over the course of the morning, several of the men indicated they had trusted Christ as their Savior and they requested baptism.

To be honest, we were surprised by their desire to be baptized. One of the Muslims warned the new Christians that it would not go well for them if they went under the water. This was no idle word.

About a month before our arrival, one of our translators had been savagely beaten for “blaspheming the prophet”-he had shared the gospel. He was thrown out of his village and told not to return to his home unless he had recanted Christianity. He had only seen his wife once in the past month. Though she remains a Muslim, no one in the village will provide for her needs because her husband is an infidel. Our friend is grieving these losses, even as he continues to boldly proclaim Christ. The cost of discipleship is high in this nation for Muslim converts to Christianity.

The realities of persecution were on everyone’s minds as we walked down to the river for the baptisms. One by one, our new brothers in Christ walked out into the water, where they were met by our translator. He asked them some basic questions to make sure they understood the gospel. But then he also asked them if they were prepared to lose their livelihoods, their families-even their very lives. Their response? “Jesus is Lord.” And with that, they went down into the watery grave, only to be raised as new creatures in Jesus Christ. The week after we left, these brothers worshiped together for the first time. Lord willing, they represent the genesis of a new local church.

As we departed from the river, no one had dry eyes. How could we? One of the students asked me what I thought about the events of the morning. I told him we’d just witnessed the Book of Acts.

God’s desire is for the nations. The Lord of the Harvest has redeemed a vast multitude from every people group through the person and work of Christ. He has commanded his people, the church, to advance his kingdom to every corner of the globe. May we obediently join him in the drama of redemption by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing disciples, and planting new churches here, there, and everywhere.

Aspect 2: A Mission Based Upon God’s Mission

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Scripture and mission go hand in hand. Baptists have missional convictions because they are a people of the Book.[1] Our network of churches possesses a missional DNA. History informs us that the majority of the early Baptist networks arose from a need for interchurch cooperation in missional endeavors and that the SBC is no exception since cooperation in missions has been her raison d’etre from the very beginning.

In the following blogposts, the reader will notice three golden threads. The first thread is the mission of God, revealed in the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The biblical narrative reveals that the uncreated Triune God created this world from nothing. God created and fills a good world with his image bearers from whom he will make a kingdom of priests. This world reflects God’s glory and points continually to him. God’s first image-bearers, however, sinned against him, setting themselves up as autonomous, and in so doing, they alienated themselves from God, each other, and the rest of the created order. As a result, we are dead in our trespasses, and the good world God created is marred by the ugliness of sin, the consequences of which are far more pervasive than we might typically imagine.

In the aftermath of man’s rebellion, God immediately promised to send a Savior, one born of a woman, one who would redeem the nations and restore God’s good world. Indeed, from the third chapter of Genesis onwards, the Scriptures bear witness to the triumphant march of God who accomplishes the redemption he promised through the Savior He sends. The Savior came, was crucified to cancel the debt that we could not pay, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Further, he will return again, bringing with him a new heavens and earth, where the redeemed of the nations will worship him forever and ever.

The second thread is the church’s mission, which is set firmly in the context of God’s mission. The church finds itself between the third and fourth plot movements in redemptive history, between the time when he sent his Son to purchase redemption and the time when he will have gathered the redeemed of the nations and created the heavens and earth anew. We bear witness to the Sent One, to glorify him in both word and deed. Just as he will return one day to receive the worship of the redeemed and to restore his good creation, so the church’s mission includes both redemptive and creational aspects.[2] In its redemptive aspect, the church bears witness to the gospel in word and deed so that she may be an agent of grace to a lost and dying world. In its creational aspect, the church works out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of society and culture, and in so doing is a sign of the kingdom that has been inaugurated and is to come.

The third thread is the church’s cross-cultural and cross-linguistic mission. Throughout the Scriptures, God makes clear that he will glorify himself among the nations. In Solomon’s prayer, for example, we learn that God will make known to the nations his great name, his strong hand, and his outstretched arm. In Psalm 67, we learn of a God who will make his salvation known among all the nations and to whom all the peoples of the earth will give their praise. In Matthew’s gospel we find our Lord commanding us to take the gospel to the nations, while in Luke’s we find him promising that his name will be preached to all nations. Finally, in Revelation, we are given a glimpse of those redeemed worshippers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Mt 28:16-20; Lk 24:46-49; Rev 5, 7). These passages and numerous others make clear God’s mission to redeem worshippers from every people and nation in his good creation.

God has woven these golden threads deeply into the tapestry of the biblical narrative. To remove any of the three threads is to distort the mission: God’s mission-to win the nations and to restore his creation-frames the church’s mission. The church’s mission, in both its redemptive and cultural aspects, frames the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic aspects of her mission[3]. Mission, therefore, begins with God. He organizes, energizes, and directs it. The danger is that we lose sight of this, thereby divorcing missiology from theology, and thence making the church’s mission in our own image.

[1] We use the word “missional” in a particular manner, to denote a certain posture or impulse among Christians and churches. A person who lives missionally, as we use this term, is one who sees all of life as an arena for God’s glory, who sees himself as “sent,” whether he lives in Mumbai, Moscow, Memphis, or Milan. The word “missionary” carries connotations of professional overseas service, but to call a person “missional,” in our usage, implies that he takes a missionary posture no matter what his geographic context. We recognize that many whose use this term do not share our theological convictions. This is the central concern of Keith Eitel’s article, “Shifting to the First Person: On Being Missional,” Occasional Bulletin of the EMQ, 22:1, 1-4. Eitel warns that many who use words such as “missional” reject absolute truth in general, and absolute biblical revelation in particular. We share his concern, and hope that this blog series in its entirety will help to provide sufficient context for our use of this word.

[2] It is fitting that the book of Revelation encapsulates both the redemptive and creational aspects. Revelation 5 speaks to the redemption of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, while Revelation 21-22 speaks to the restoration of God’s good creation, as he provides a new heavens and earth.

[3] By this, we do not mean that our international missionaries will pay the same attention to the cultural mandate that they will to their evangelistic mandate. It is our opinion that Southern Baptist missionaries should focus their energies on church planting, and in particular on church planting among unreached people groups. However, the churches that we plant should seek to glorify God in every conceivable manner among their people group. These churches’ efforts, therefore, would optimally include efforts to work out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of their respective cultures.