What Hath the State to do with Missions?
Missions is on my mind.
Not just because I am a Pastor, although this surely does drive me to pray over and ponder missions more often than I might otherwise. But, primarily, missions stays on my mind because I am a Christian. To be a Christian is to desire to have the very heart of God for this world. And God’s heart is a missionary heart, if ever there was one. John 3:16 says so.
But I need to go further. I am not just a Christian frequently thinking about missions. I am a Christian in America thinking about missions. Or, said another way, I am an American Christian seeking to live on mission with Christin this world, and seeking to lead Corydon Baptist Church to do likewise. And I think being an American Christian makes this missionary pondering particularly potent and filled with hopeful potential.
Saying I am an American Christian seems to make many Christians nervous these days. Even among conservative evangelicals, with all the debates about Christian Nationalism, saying anything that might link governments or States or politics to missions is becoming increasingly taboo. And this bothers me. No. That’s not strong enough. It disturbs me.
I have had two interesting conversations in recent weeks. One with a young Christian college student wrestling with whether Christians should be involved much at all in politics. And another with a missionary who lived in China for two decades, seeking to train indigenous pastors and churches there to send out missionaries to the world.
Let me begin with the missionary who lived in China. I really enjoyed hearing from this brother. His work with his missions agency has changed pretty dramatically now, as he was forced out of China, more or less. Many missionaries from the West have been forced out of China in recent years, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues its crackdown on “foreign” influence, especially Christian influence. The CCP is also renewing its persecution of Christians and Churches within China, as well. Communism as a system of government has always hated Jesus and His Church and His Gospel. And we ought to take very careful note of it, dear American believers.
This missionary relayed that, by and large, the Chinese Church has not been at all successful in sending missionaries to the world. He said that the vast majority of missionaries launched out of Chinese churches return in a year or less, with the devasting label “failure.” In an honor / shame culture, this often means that the missionary is not even welcomed back into his sending church. The “failed” missionary often lives out the rest of his or her life in depressed seclusion. Hearing this testimony, was alarming to me. Clearly, as the missionary said, big changes are needed in the discipleship culture of Chinese evangelical churches. One’s “national” culture, be it honor / shame or western individualism can never be permitted to hold such dominant sway over Christians. We have One King, and One Book. And His Kingdom Culture must come to trump all else in our hearts, lives, and churches.
That said, I could sense a palpable awkwardness when I tried to broach the subject of how the CCP might bear some responsibility for the non-missions mindset of Chinese Churches. The missionary said the failure is more the Church’s fault than the government. He mentioned how monolithic and ethno-centric the Chinese Christians and their churches are. And while that’s no doubt true, I wondered how the Church in China got so monolithic and ethno-centric? Why can’t the Chinese believers excel at crossing cultures with the gospel? Why can they not freely engage the world with the message of Christ in public, bold, missional ways? Why might they think the Chinese way is the best way and that outside influences are to be shunned? All these things are intentionally baked into the Chinese cake by the CCP! This is exactly the mind-set that China saturates children with from Day Care to College, from cradle to grave. This is what the CCP monitors with its “social scoring system,” bolstered by surveillance videos of the citizens’ every waking moment. It's little wonder, `rank`ly, that the Chinese churches are not missionary-sending launch pads. Not only is it frowned upon by the CCP, but it’s built into the warp and woof of daily existence. This is a sad reality, when we consider that more Christians reside in China than anywhere else in the world. While I am not excusing any sin in any churches, whether in China or Indiana, I am saying we could not reasonably expect the Church of China to be a missionary force in this world. How could they?
What Marxist or Communist Country has ever been a gospel missionary force in this world? Name one. In all of human history. What totalitarian dictatorship has exported the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations? Can we not see a connection?
A Pastor friend of mind rightly reminded me recently that God did not need America to advance the gospel widely in the first 300-400 years of Church history. Amen. God does not need America. Jesus will build His Church, with or without us in the western world.
But I think some conservative Christians in America are really missing some important points, or failing to make some critical connections between State and Missions. Two in particular.
First, God is a God of means. God most often does His work via normal human means. One of which is government, which He has ordained to be His servants (Rom 13:1-5). Now, the fact that Jesus has saved so many millions of Chinese people even in spite of the persecution and oppression of the CCP, is a testament to His sovereign grace and power! Truly, no one or nothing can stop our God! But again, we must examine human history, and ask, “What kinds of government has God typically used to evangelize the world and to carry out the Great Commission?”
Answer: Democratic-type governments and free-market-style economies.
The Roman Empire was unique in its day. Indeed, much of our American system was modeled after it. How was the gospel so easily advanced throughout the Empire? And, how was it exported to other parts of the world out of the Roman Empire? Well, Roman citizens were afforded freedoms unknown up to that point in time. World-wide economic trade flourished in much of the Roman Empire. Roads and systems of mobility were developed. And, though persecution arose from time to time, by-and-large a measure of religious freedom existed (certainly true after Emperor Constantine). And God used those governmental and economic systems to ignite a gospel missions wildfire. And, praise God, Europe was never the same! And neither was the New World we now call the United States of America.
While the Apostle Paul would have no doubt tried his best to evangelize as far and wide as possible, regardless of the governmental system he found himself in, we can easily imagine how his missionary zeal might have faired inside the walls of Communist China or under the Russian Czars. Whether we like it or not, the reality is these things matter. There is a connection between State and Missions.
Second, God has blessed America. I am not impugning the patriotism of any missionaries or pastors or Christians in the US. But I just mean to call us all to ponder anew what God has done, and continues to do as it pertains to the Great Commission, through our Nation. It’s all of His grace and to His glory! But do we think our Gospel Light to the world will keep shining if the slow, steady encroach of Marxism and communism continue unabated in our educational and governmental institutions?
History says no.
I, for one, want an America that continues to prosper, not for nice cars and picket fences. But for the sake of those all over the world who still have never heard His name. I know Jesus does not need America. But, I want Jesus to keep using our Nation to export His glory until it fills the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). I want my children and grandchildren to have the freedom to give and go to all the world. That’s why governments and politics matter. Only one Kingdom is ultimate and eternal. But this in no way means other kingdoms are inconsequential.
Join me this year in fighting for America. On our knees. And in our homes. Workplaces. Schools. Businesses. Legislatures. Courtrooms. And Churches. Let’s be a part of bringing about, by God’s great grace, the Red Wave America truly needs – the blood of Jesus washing sinners clean as they repent and trust in Him, and then transforming those sinners into missionaries.
So, preach Christ! Freely! Boldly! Privately! Publicly! Locally! Globally! Freely!
While you still can.
For, unless God extends His mercy and revives our Nation, it appears to me our lampstand might be removed. Let’s not ignore the valuable connection between State and Missions. Let’s engage in both spheres as we have opportunity. And in America, for now, we are still the Land of Opportunity. When it comes to politics and religion, it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Especially for us as blessed Americans.
“To whom much is given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48).
by Keith McWhorter