Today’s Greatest Mission Field

OK, so where do you think the biggest and most pressing mission field is found today? The Muslim world perhaps? Maybe North Korea? Or a place like secular Europe? Yes, those are all good choices. All are very gospel-poor regions where there is desperate need of solid gospel preaching and evangelism.

But I want to suggest that there may be an even more pressing mission field today. And it is not where you would expect. I dare to say that perhaps the greatest need today for mission and evangelisation is found in Western evangelical churches.

Yes, you heard me right. I believe there may be tens of thousands of so-called Bible-believing churches today throughout the West which are not so much gospel strongholds as mission fields. Indeed, there may be millions of people sitting in the pews in these churches who have never really been converted. That is because they never really heard the biblical gospel.

And that puts them in a very dangerous and risky place. You see, millions of people go to these churches assuming they are Christ’s when they may not be at all. They are good people. Moral people. They say the right things and they do the right things – at least according to outward appearance.

They pride themselves in not being like those on the outside: they don’t smoke, they don’t drink, they don’t swear – at least not too much. They certainly have not murdered anyone, or committed gross acts of adultery. They are pretty decent folks in other words.

But Jesus made it clear to the decent folks of his day – the Pharisees – that they were none of his. They had religion up to their ears. They did all the right things and spoke all the right words. They were as religious as you can get. Yet they were lost sinners heading to a lost eternity.

And Jesus made it quite clear that he actually wanted nothing to do with them. That is because he insisted that he came for those who are unwell, not for those who are well. The Pharisees thought they were well, and not in need of any spiritual medicine. But Jesus insisted that he came only for the sick:

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17). Or as he said in Luke 5:32: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Yet our churches are full of people who do not think they are sick, or are sinners. They put up their hands at meetings decades ago and ‘asked Jesus into their heart’ yet they never heard the real gospel, so they were never actually converted.

They sang ten choruses of “Just as I Am” at a revival meeting, but left just as they were. No real conversion took place, because they never came to grips with one fundamental truth: we are horrible sinners whose sin is a stench in the nostrils of a holy and pure God.

They thought that going to church, or being moral, or not doing certain things made them a Christian. They did not understand that being good is in fact often the greatest hindrance to becoming a Christian, because there is not one person who is good – not one (Romans 3:9-18).

The biblical gospel is actually fairly simple and straightforward: we are all deplorable sinners who are under the just wrath of God. We deserve eternal separation from a holy God, and our condition is irreparable. But Jesus suffered the punishment of God so that we might avoid it.

By coming to Christ in faith and repentance, we can find newness of life, and acceptance with God. But the bits about sin and repentance are so down-played in most evangelical churches today that we have plenty of folks who think they are right with God simply because they mentally acknowledge Jesus and live a fairly decent life.

They have been told to accept Jesus, or put their trust in Jesus, or come to Jesus, or ask him into their heart, etc. But most have not been told that they are monsters of iniquity as Paris Reidhead put it, and are enemies of God through and through. Repentance is seldom heard, nor is the cruciform life.

Yet the cross and repentance are at the heart of the gospel message everywhere in the New Testament. Repentance was everywhere proclaimed. For example:

Matt. 3:1-2 – John preached repentance
Mark 1:14-15 – Jesus preached repentance
Mark 6:12 – The disciples preached repentance
Acts 2:37-38 – Peter preached repentance
Acts 17:30 – Paul preached repentance

Yet today in most churches the word – and the biblical reality which lies behind it – is rarely heard. Evangelicals have rightly condemned sham ministers like Robert Schuller and his feel-good gospel of positive thinking and self-esteem. They rightly took him to task for refusing to mention the word “sin” and related truths.

As he said back in 1985: “I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

Yet many evangelical churches today are effectively doing exactly the same thing as Schuller did. They are refusing to talk about sin and repentance, for fear that it might alienate people, and be seen as “too negative”. They stick to happy, up-lifting, and people-pleasing pep talks instead, covered in sweet, syrupy slush.

Indeed, as we speak, we have perhaps twenty thousand believers in Sydney right now at a big conference. They are flocking to hear guys tell them they can be a “better you”. They will hear positive, warm and vacuous messages about how they can succeed, prosper, and feel good about themselves.

But of course there are plenty of these sorts of churches, plenty of these sorts of preachers, and plenty of these sorts of conferences. No wonder they attract such large throngs: they are telling people exactly what they want to hear, and not of what they need to hear.

Instead of presenting a self-denying and cross-carrying message, they are offering a self-affirming and cross-avoiding spiel. It is all about self. It is all focused on me, me, me. It is as humanistic a gospel as you will find in any New Age festival.

And it is even more dangerous, because millions are lulled into thinking they are right with God when they are not. Thus our churches are ripe for evangelisation and missions, because there are so many Pharisees in the pews. Of course the wolves in the pulpits bear a great responsibility for all this as well.

And let’s be clear here: the people who hated Jesus the most and rejected his message with such vehemence were the religious folks, the Pharisees – those who claimed to be God’s people. If Jesus came back today I suspect that things would be little different.

The ones who would likely hate him the most and would tell him to get lost would be those sitting in our evangelical churches. Many there would find him to be offensive, narrow-minded, intolerant and unloving, just as the religious crowds did back then.

So where is the greatest mission field today? What should we be putting a good hunk of our time and attention into? I suggest that many of our Western churches would be a good place to begin. But don’t take my word for it. Let me conclude with some of the great saints who have gone before:

“Some people do not like to hear much of repentance; but I think it is so necessary that if I should die in the pulpit, I would desire to die preaching repentance, and if out of the pulpit I would desire to die practicing it.” Matthew Henry

“Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell.” Thomas Watson

“If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.” C.H. Spurgeon

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Martin Luther

“It is impossible to follow Christ without repentance. How could it be otherwise? Jesus is the holy, sinless Son of God. He has never taken one step in any sinful direction. He has never had a single sinful thought. Anyone who is following him, therefore, must by definition turn his back to sin and set his face toward righteousness. Christians do sin, but when they do, they must confess their sin and turn from it, being restored to fellowship again. Anyone who thinks he or she can follow Christ without renouncing sin is at best badly confused. At the worst, this person is not a true Christian.” James Montgomery Boice

“The idea that God will pardon a rebel who has not given up his rebellion is contrary both to the Scriptures and to common sense.” A.W. Tozer

“The business of evangelism is not just to solve people’s problems; psychology does that, the cults do that, many things do that. The thing that separates the gospel from every other teaching is that it is primarily a proclamation of God and our relationship to God. Not our particular problems, but the same problem that has come to all of us, that we are condemned sinners before a holy God and a holy law. That is evangelism. It must, therefore, always put repentance first.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

[1633 words]

21 Replies to “Today’s Greatest Mission Field”

  1. Thanks Bill. It was James Torrance who gave a very helpful study in which he noted the vast difference between ‘legal’ repentance and ‘evangelical’ repentance.

    The latter, is inspired by the wonderful news of what God has done for humanity, in Christ. The legal version has words about God, but the odour of death – as Torrance, says: ‘throwing a person back onto themselves’ to effect their own salvation by a work – legal repentance.

    Unfortunately, the ‘legal’ version is often pedalled about by law-minded, moody Christians, disappointed at the response of the community; the legal people think they are doing a great deed – when they are not. But try to say so, and they refuse to listen – claiming anyone who is not with them in their mindset, is soft.

    Rightly discerning the Word at this point is quite important.

    Trevor Faggotter

  2. Thanks Trevor

    Yes many of the older preachers were clear on the differences between true and false repentance. Not only does Finney come to mind here, but consider also the 1826 book Repentance by Scottish preacher John Colquhoun.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. thanks Bill, and yet the people attending this conference in Sydney say that it looks like revival. I ask how could it be with teaching from TD Jakes & Joel Osteen. I thought revival happened when believers were broken, humble and repentant. Repentance and a longing to return to the LORD and for Him to heal their land are signs of revival. All the jumping up and down and shouting doesn’t constitute revival. If the compromise and worldliness are still there, this is definitely not revival only a church party.

    Liz Gee

  4. Thanks Liz

    As long as people like Osteen keep preaching their sentimental, syrupy, sugar-coated me-centred gospel, true God given revival will never erupt. Humility, brokenness, tear-soaked prayer and repentance will bring it in, not a carnal obsession with self and the good life.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. The christian’s faith is show in the deed (work) believing that Jesus had save us is the first step. Jesus had mandate as to overcame the world, if we like the world we are deemed.
    Jonh17:14 I have given them your word;and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
    The world hate to be instructed by God word, because human nature is self determinate and we want our way.
    Excluding God allowed people to fill nonindependent and powerful to serve they desire.
    We are save by grace, but grace without work is dead. Christian who are focusing only in ritual, charity and are silent in proclaiming god kingdom are a great failure. First commandment: Love GOD Second: love your neighbor. Neighbor is a babe that get aborted, a prostitute, a homeless, but is also the one falsely accuse or persecute. Is a stranger in need, a refuge like was Jesus but the majority of church are indifferent and silent of the genocide and abuse of the victim by Islamic sharia, sex slavery, children slavery, rape, torture and killing by religion that are promoting hate.
    Luigi Rosolin

  6. I think Bill you are confusing theology with unregeneration, as Paul said if my brother wont eat meat, then I will eat only vegetables, so too with ‘mission’ field speculations….As a veteran of over 15 countries I can safely tell you that evangelicals, no matter how bad their vegetable eating maybe, are NOT a mission field, when the muslims, hindu’s and atheists of the world have never heard of Jesus, yet are ready and hungry for Him.
    The problem with the 2nd century church is it stopped making inroads into missions to copncentrate on doctrinal purity and forgot to share their core doctinre…’Christ and Him Crucified for your salvation’ to ALL the WORLD….not all the CHURCH….remember Jesus didn’t rebuke peter for his doctrine, but emphasised going and feedign His sheep, and not the fed, 99 found ones, but the 1 lost one….may we have a real revival of mission, where the money and time is spent on those who have never heard and not on those, who have heard and have so much time to backslide, due to not going themselves…..After all it gets tired when the bulk of christian talk is on each other’s ‘camp’ affiliation and not on their acts of grace toward the genuinely lost…may we never forget the ONLY command of Jesus POST Resurrection……’Go Ye into ALL the World and Preach the Gospel, making Disciples of All Nation….”

    Rory Lennon

  7. Thanks Rory. Of course my point was not to minimise foreign missions or deter believers from heading out. It was to highlight the truth that we have plenty of unredeemed folks and fields ripe for harvest in our own churches.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Good article Bill and yes you are right, a great mission field exists amongst those who claim to be ‘christians’ and or in a Christian church.

    Those who are bringing the Gospel of Christ to the West must, along with bringing it to those who have not heard before, win those who are truly ignorant of Biblical Christianity as well as learn how to fiercely defeat the gainsayers who are imposters of our faith with the Word and without intimidation.

    There is a remnant and God is showing whose who more and more, but the apostates will still have the many on the wide path, and those standing must be ready to endure much persecution for their stand.

    Dorian Ballard

  9. Another great article Bill.

    When preaching the need for repentance on the streets, the biggest opposition is usually from so called Christians who argue that it is unnecessary and even detrimental to the message of the gospel. Trying to talk to these people about why their stance in various areas is unbiblical shows them to have a very shallow understanding of what the Bible says and a preference for what their “minister” says over the plain reading of scripture.

    One thing that my father made sure that our family were all aware of was the fact that he and his mother had been in a supposed church for well over a decade before he heard the gospel from a visiting preacher and realised that he was not a Christian. There a lot of people in churches who desire to know God, but are being fed garbage instead of the gospel. These people need to be given the chance to hear the truth before simply being written off as not wanting the true gospel, even if those who will respond are only a minority. It is when they are confronted with the difference between what the Bible plainly teaches and their current lifestyle that you get to see if they want Jesus Christ, or they want an imitation version to suit their flesh man lifestyle.

    Mark Bachelor

  10. Good on you Bill for telling the truth. Such a great article: lose your life means to lose your life – forsake all and follow means forsake all and follow. So sick of it being watered down, and unfortunately I meet so many so called church going Christians who get shocked by those words, and especially when I tell them that’s what JESUS said. It sure is a mission field.

    Mel Heppeler

  11. Great reminder Bill, it’s so important to have this clear understanding of the Word in us.
    Maxine Prosper

  12. Great article!
    It’s sad, but very true. Jesus told us to go out into all the world and make disciples. Sadly too many churches do either none of these things, or bring them in through their false “loving, uplifting, and happy” words and don’t truly disciple them. This lack of true shepherding has resulted in many of today’s “christians” needing nearly, or as much attention as the lost walking the streets, mostly because they themselves are lost.

    Really great read, and it’s great to see the truth being spoken outright.

    Kedesh Hatton

  13. Hi Rory.

    Whilst what you said about the 2nd C Church may be true to some extent let’s not forget the reason they undertook doctrinal formulations was because the True doctrine was under attack from the Gnostics without and other Heretics within the Church. Such works as Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” were a necessary remedy against the false doctrines assaulting the church. One cannot preach the true Gospel if one does not know what the true gospel is!

    This also connects with Bill’s article as we are in a similar boat now in Evangelical circles. Once again the sound Theologians and Preachers need to define and preach the true Gospel to end the so-called “evangelical” malaise. As the late Dave Hunt once said, “Sound doctrine defends the gospel.” You can’t truly know God apart from sound doctrine.

    Mick Koster.

  14. Well done for having the back-bone to say what needs to be said. Christians need to be directed to the Bible and not today’s hireling teachers that would prefer to just use the church to obtain the riches of this life rather than be willing to give their lives for their sheep.

    May these leaders repent and come back to Jesus in spirit and in truth.

    Mario Del Giudice

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