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Mission for the Third Millennium

by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1991, page 39. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

As the third millennium approaches, a large segment of evangelical Christians are pushing for the completion of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) by the year 2000. This goal is linked in the minds of many with the belief that we are living in the last generation before the second coming of Christ. The church should therefore focus all of its attention on the short-term goals of winning as many people to faith in Christ as possible and bringing temporary relief to those who are in need. These are indeed crucially important goals. However, I believe that in addition to pursuing these short-term goals we should be making long-range plans and preparations for continuing the church's mission into the third millennium.

Let me first say that I agree with the premise that the church must complete the Great Commission before Christ returns. Most Christians recognize that this is so (Matt. 24:14; cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). There are those who interpret Matthew 24:14 differently and deny that the church must evangelize all nations before Christ returns. However, they also agree that we should continue to evangelize and disciple people of all nations until the End.

Why, though, should we make long-range plans? First of all, we have no reason to be certain that we are living in the last generation. The evangelical "prophecy industry" that promotes this idea bases it largely on dispensationalist theology. However, the vast majority of dispensationalist theologians and biblical scholars say that while we might be living in the last generation, we also might not be.

Second, 150 years of continuous false predictions of the End by both Christians and cultists ought to make us suspicious of feverish expectations regarding the year 2000. The failure of such predictions prior to the year A.D. 1000 should also make us wary of "millennial madness," as my dispensational colleague Ron Rhodes has pointed out (Viewpoint, CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, Fall 1990). Of course, we should not scoff at the idea that Christ will return (2 Pet. 3:3-4); but let's not give unbelievers any more excuses to scoff by making rash and unfounded predictions.

Third, there is substantial reason to think that we are a long way from fulfilling the Great Commission. The precise interpretation of the Commission is disputed. The least demanding interpretation requires that churches be established in each nation (or "people group") as witnesses in their communities. This task is far from complete. Although there are Christians of some sort in every country on earth, within many countries there are whole cultures and communities untouched by the gospel. In fact, there are apparently more people on earth who have never heard the gospel than at any time in history. There are thousands of languages in which the Bible has yet to be translated. In some ways we seem to be tantalizingly close to reaching all peoples, while in other ways we seem to be losing ground.

The difficulty in pinning down precisely what must be accomplished before the Great Commission is fulfilled suggests that we should be prepared for both short-term and long-term futures. Perhaps we are closer to finishing the task than it seems, and Christ will come soon; but perhaps we are a long way from finishing the job, and Christ will not come for centuries.

If we do not plan for the long-range future that may await the church, we will in effect be abandoning the future to the non-Christian world. It is too early for the church to call retreat from the task of challenging the peoples of the world to submit to Christ's lordship.

What sort of long-range goals should the church be setting? It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to spell out the church's agenda in full. My main concern is that more Christians begin thinking and interacting with one another on this matter (some already are), and that Christian institutions -- denominations, parachurch ministries, seminaries, and the like -- give concerted attention to it.

I will suggest, however, just one of the things that ought to be put on this long-range agenda. The evangelical Christian church, while continuing to reach out with the gospel as quickly as possible to the unreached peoples, needs to make a long-term commitment to putting its own house in order. The doctrinal aberrations and heresies, as well as the moral failures, of some televangelists are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to bring back church discipline! If our home churches are doctrinally aberrant and morally lax, what kind of churches will we be planting among the unreached? I am more concerned about the kind of Christianity we import to unreached peoples than I am how fast we reach them. Church growth is desirable, but we need to grow up more than we need to grow out (Eph. 4:11-16). Both quality and quantity are important, but quality is more important.

I pray that Christ comes soon. But let us be faithful in both the short term and the long term, so that -- whether we meet Him in death or we are here when He comes for us -- He will say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servants." With that as our ultimate goal, we need to begin to think through what Christ would have us pursue as the church's mission for the third millennium.

End of document, CRJ0139A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Mission for the Third Millennium"
release A, August 31, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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