Every generation must inquire anew of itself and of the Word of God what motivation there is for taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Many reasons for holding the Church true to her obligation to preach the Gospel may be advanced. There is the command of the Great Commission, the love of God, the spiritual need of the heathen, the grip of immortality on sinful men.
Christianity is unique and universal in relevance. Not to recognize this is to downgrade the Christian faith to the plane of the nonredemptive religions. It is to dissolve the basic genius of the Christian faith, sap its vitality, and render it sterile. Christianity’s uniqueness consists not simply in its claim to superiority over pagan religions, but to the supreme singularity in which it pronounces all other religions to be the inventions of men and unmasks them as self-saving schemes. Biblical religion is the only true and saving revelation of God. Measured by this yardstick, all other religions are revealed as wholly inadequate.
Christianity is universally relevant because it springs from the love of a God whose saving concern is as broad and as wide as humanity. Indeed its uniqueness carries universal implications for all men under the dominion of religions which cannot save.
In the great missionary eras of the past, missionaries unreservedly ascribed this uniqueness and universality to the Christian faith. These convictions became the driving force which thrust them into the distant regions of the world hitherto unreached for Christ. They believed that without Christ men are lost in this life and doomed in the life to come. They believed that however high and lofty other religions are, religions without Christ cannot bring salvation. Missionaries therefore devoted themselves to rescuing the perishing.
William (the cobbler) Carey said, “My real business is to preach the Gospel and win lost souls. I cobble shoes to pay expenses.” He would point to the map on his wall and exclaim, “The people living in these areas are pagans! They are lost, hundreds of millions of them, not knowing the blessed Saviour!” Charles Simeon preached a sermon on “The Lost Estate of the Heathen” which moved Henry Martyn to a short but glorious life of missionary endeavor in the Moslem world. Robert Morrison of China fame wrote to his sister, “My dear, dear Hannah, do think of your soul now, set heaven and hell and a dying Saviour before you. I stand in doubt of you, lest you still be in an unconverted state. Forgive me, forgive me; it is not in harshness, but in love to your precious soul that I speak. Come to Jesus, Hannah; come to Jesus.”
Adoniram Judson was America’s first Baptist foreign missionary. When he found India a closed door he went to Burma. Writing home to request aid of others to join him in the missionary task, he spoke of “the sin of turning a deaf ear to the plaintive cry of ten millions of immortal beings who, by their darkness and misery, cry day and night, ‘Come to our rescue, ye bright sons and daughters of America. Come and save us, for we are sinking into hell!’ ” Hudson Taylor once had to pay some Chinese boatmen 14 dollars to save one of their own countrymen who had fallen overboard. When his body was lifted from the waters it was lifeless. Upon reflection, Taylor wrote: “Let us pause before we pronounce judgment against them (the Chinese fishermen who cared not for the life of their comrade), lest a greater than Nathan answer, Thou art the man.’ Is it so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? Of how much sorer punishment, then, is he worthy who leaves the immortal soul to perish? The Lord Jesus commands me, commands you: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.’ ”
J. Ross Stevenson, sometime president of Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote in 1902 for the Toronto World-wide Evangelization Conference:
Fifty years ago the ordinary church member had some excuse for not knowing the condition of the heathen world.… But that is not true today. The information at hand is adequate. Every Christian student who claims to be an educated man ought to be well acquainted with missionary fields and know the helpless, hopeless condition of his brothers across the sea.… Knowing the need and knowing the remedy, the love of Christ should fill up the breach and bring every Christian into sympathetic and helpful touch with the humanity that awaits redemption.
In 1902 Robert E. Speer penned these words:
A thousand millions of men, sinning, suffering, struggling, need a Saviour, helpful, tender, sufficient. He came for them, but they have not heard of Him. It is not a matter of speculation as to eternal destiny. There is a righteous Judge. It is a matter of present want and ignorance and death; and I speak not of the Bible’s teaching as to men’s condition, but of actual fact and experience. When Jesus said, ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,’ He was not setting arbitrary limits. He was simply saying what all history has shown, and is proving today over all the world, that only by Christ do men come to the Father.… In studying the non-Christian religions one wants to think well of them, to see the best that is in them. They force the inevitable conclusion that there is no best. Their elements of truth have been counteracted and distorted by their error.… If Christ is our life, and we have been able to find life, full and abundant, only in Him; if there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby they must be saved; if, as Keith Falconer said, ‘vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of Islam;’ if the Saviour of the world included these millions in the sweep of His love and sacrifice; if they are the children of the Father who would not that any should perish, but that all should enter into life, and for that end has made us stewards of the missions; and if life is to us not a play and a trifle, but the solemn doing of our Father’s business, then I ask, in the Master’s name, Is there not need that we give ourselves to the mission of the world’s redemption?
Bishop Stephen Neill, high in the echelons of the International Missionary Council and the World Council of Churches, recently acknowledged that earlier missionaries had a sense of urgency because “those who have not believed are lost. Every day thousands of human beings are dying without opportunity to hear and believe the Gospel. From these presuppositions the duty of the Christian follows logically … there is no time to be lost” (“The Urgency of This Mission Today,” in The Christian Mission Today, by the Joint Section of Education and Cultivation of The Methodist Church, Abingdon, 1960, p. 249). Bishop Neill then relates the story of the Chinese boatmen previously mentioned here. He follows: “There are still Christian circles in which exactly such an illustration could be given, and in which exactly the same conclusion would be drawn from it. But the majority of Christians today probably see things rather differently [italics supplied]; and, if the sense of urgency is to be brought home to them, it must be in different categories from these.” And the bishop shares this view: “We do not say, like our ancestors, that all those who have not accepted Christ are going to hell. We do say that it is the birthright of every single human being born into the world today to know that he has been redeemed by Christ, and to have the opportunity freely to accept or to reject that salvation” (p 256). Since Bishop Neill had already curtsied to universalism (in his discussion of Progressivism [sic] Universalism and Relativism) saying, “We must at once recognize that each of these viewpoints has something to teach us” (p. 251), he sheds no light on the condition of the heathen who die without Christ except to exempt them from hell.
Teachers of comparative religions profess to see in the non-Christian faiths pathways which lead to the same celestial city. Others suppose that men can be in Christ without knowing Him. The uniqueness and universality of the Christian Gospel are obscured. Some think that “the best in all religions” can be brought together either in an eclectic array or by synthesis. Gone from these expositions is the dogmatic assertion—the heartbeat of apostolic evangelism—that Christ is the only way. He either becomes simply a “higher” way or “one of many” ways. In the former case He may be acknowledged as the fulfillment of true religion of which other religions are lower expressions, but they still are viewed as sufficient for salvation! In the latter case His good is joined to the supposed efficacy of other religions, and He shares the idol shelves with Buddha, Zoroaster, Mohammed, and Gandhi.
There is a choice to make, but time is running out. It must be loudly and prophetically said what the results of a wrong choice are. To conceal or destroy the uniqueness and universality of the Christian faith—to rob the missionary motive of the conviction that men without Christ are perishing—is to sever the nerve which lies at the heart of missionary effort. It is to produce a paralysis which will leave the Gospel truncated and bereft of its redeeming power, although it may yield incidentally a harvest of humanitarian fruit. The external conditions of men may indeed be improved, but their hearts will not thereby be transformed. Cleansed from outward defilement, they will be left with blackened hearts and guilty consciences.
Strangely enough the problem is not a theological one. A man may subscribe to all the basic doctrines of the Christian faith beginning at the Trinity and ending with the Second Advent. He may dot every i and cross every t. Such a man can still be left without the impelling conviction that men without Christ are lost; the constraining love of Christ to seek and to save the lost may be far from his thoughts. The two centuries of the greatest advance of the Christian faith, the first and the nineteenth centuries, were those in which the lostness of men without Christ, and the desire to save them from a Christless eternity, were strongest. These are the indispensable motivating forces for foreign missions without which the Church’s witness to the saving Gospel becomes enfeebled and impotent.
Lord Macauley wrote history even if he did not make it. He composed the epitaph which stands above the lonely tomb of Henry Martyn who gave his life in the conviction that souls needed to be rescued from certain destruction:
Here Martyn lies! In manhood’s early bloom
The Christian hero found a Pagan tomb.
Religion, sorrowing o’er her favorite son,
Points to the glorious trophies which he won.
Eternal trophies, not with slaughter red,
Not stained with tears by hopeless captives shed;
But trophies of the Cross. For that dear Name
Through every form of danger, death, and shame,
Onward he journeyed to a happier shore,
Where danger, death, and shame are known no more.
SUNSET FOR HEMINGWAY; A MIGHTY PEN RUNS DRY
The bell tolled last week for Ernest Hemingway. At age 61 the literary giant whose pen dipped deep into the disillusionment of a restless post-World War I generation searching for new gods came to life’s end with a staccato shotgun blast. Even critics who found the writer’s naturalistic technique so realistic as to be almost romantic were stunned.
Hemingway’s mastery of the English language and his gifted style fashioned some of the world’s outstanding contemporary literature. An underlying skepticism, a thoroughgoing humanism, an emphasis on courage as life’s primary virtue, hallmarked his work. The short story early became his most comfortable literary medium. His last great novella, the magnificently written The Old Man of the Sea, in 1954 won him a Nobel Prize. Among his other acclaimed writings, For Whom the Bell Tolls continues to win the preference of many critics.
Scholars of a religious bent have searched Hemingway’s works as also those of William Faulkner and other literary naturalists for Christian symbols. The mast of the Old Man’s boat, for example, became a symbol of the Cross, and so on. In some respects indeed Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s writings in recent years seemed actually to move nearer the Christ-image. But there was no trace of true supernaturalism. Although a Roman Catholic priest conducted the funeral service in Idaho, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano described Hemingway as a “great writer but not enlightened by the grace of Christianity.” Meantime the late twentieth century waits still for the enlightened ones to become great writers. Disappointment is the frequent theme of Hemingway’s writings. Now he too like many of his fictional characters has slumped at the end of a lonesome road.
THE LOVE OF FREEDOM AND JUDICIAL DETERMINATION
Deplorable and anti-democratic as segregation may be on public premises, some anti-segregation pressures may be equally deplorable and anti-democratic. Freedom Riders heading South have something in common with Student Rioters in Japan—both rely on mob pressures to force social change.
When the Justice Department requested an Interstate Commerce Commission ruling against bus station segregation, the Riders failed to halt their efforts to break down racial barriers in bus, rail and air terminals. Emphasize though they may the efficiency of a combination of “moral and legal pressures and education,” the Riders’ strategy exhibits a distrust of democratic processes of law. Viewed from this perspective, they may have less in common with the spirit of the Republic than with that of a Strong Man on a steed. Abolition of segregation in all public facilities is inevitable and right. But if it is to be achieved by pressures that violate constitutional procedures the long-term implications may be unfortunate both for the land and for the people.
SAID LORD ACTON: POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT …
The sun shone brightly for Jimmy Hoffa in Miami Beach. The Teamsters union convention gave blanket approval to all his actions of the past four years, along with a salary boost from $50,000 to $75,000—nestled within an unlimited expense account. Rights of rank and file members to hold office were limited by overwhelming vote. Sparse opposition was crushed.
Proceedings smacked of a Soviet congress. Totalitarian tactics in democratic guise somehow seem particularly repugnant. Shades of Khrushchev in a New England Town Meeting! Or Salazar in ancient Athens.
This darkening cloud over America’s horizon multiplies the already common question: “Can nothing be done?”
SERIES OF ESSAYS TO TELL WHAT’S HAPPENING IN ISRAEL
From a secret site on the Mediterranean shore the tiny state of Israel has launched a rocket 50 miles into space. Success of Israel’s atomic program quickly prompted the verdict that the balance of power has shifted in the Near East.
Something more is at stake in the rocket race than the crucial question of the moralization of power. There was a day when the Holy Land reminded the rest of the world that a nation’s only guarantee of survival rests upon trust in God rather than in steeds and stallions. The great contribution of Judaism and Christianity as historical faiths was their proclamation that God makes known his power and his goodness in time and space. Today the world needs daily notice that Divine dominion is the only sure alternative to atomic destruction.
What is happening in modern Israel? CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s Editor Carl F. H. Henry recently returned from a 10-day visit arranged by the Israel Embassy, on which he was accompanied by Executive Editor Kenneth L. Wilson of Christian Herald and Editor Sherwood W. Wirt of Decision. They traveled from one end of Israel to the other, interviewing scores of leaders, attending the Eichmann trial, and seeking answers to many pressing questions. This Fall CHRISTIANITY TODAY will carry four essays on Israel based on these first-hand observations.
MODERN VIEWS OF MAN TAKE A SOMEWHAT BETTER TURN
Is man no more than an automaton whose behaviour is governed by the stimuli that come to him fortuitously from his environment? The noted author Arthur Koestler, following his recent visit to the United States, has contributed an interesting series of articles to The Observer (London) in which he maintains that “the age of the dehumanization of man” in the history of psychology is drawing to its close.
“Words like purpose,’ ‘volition,’ ‘introspection,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘insight,’ ‘choice,’ ” writes Koestler, “which used to be banned as obscene from the vocabulary of the so-called ‘Behaviourist sciences,’ are triumphantly reasserting themselves—not as abstract philosophical concepts, but as indispensible descriptive tools, without which even a rat’s actions in an experimental maze do not make sense.”
The three pillars on which the currently fashionable theories about the nature of man rest are, he says, “beginning to reveal themselves as three monumental superstitions,” namely, “that biological evolution is the outcome of random mutations preserved by natural selection; that mental evolution is the outcome of random trials preserved by ‘reinforcements’; and that man is a self-regulating but essentially passive mechanism whose life is spent in jerking out adaptive responses to environmental stimuli.”
Of course, modern theories of the nature of man run counter to the plainly defined scriptural view of man and, in consequence, strike at the very roots of the structure both of human dignity and of society. They have served to popularize the sentiment that man, being the victim of heredity and environment, must not he held responsible for his misdeeds: the criminal is sick, not wicked; and this sickness cannot be punished but only treated. The idea of sin and answer-ability is discredited, and, in the ultimate issue, the central message of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ the Son of God incarnate vicariously endured the punishment of man’s sin on the Cross, is undermined. The Bible, however, knows that man is more than the sum of his genes and his reflexes. It reminds us that man’s fundamentally constitutive environment is God, before whom he stands as a responsible creature. As the Good Book says, it is fools who make a mock at sin—and, we may add, at salvation and at judgment.
ONE WAY TO EVALUATE THE ACADEMIC YEAR
Summertime is often the season for academic evaluations: “How is the school progressing? Did we accomplish what we set out to do last fall? Are we mastering the right areas, and are we accomplishing this at the proper rate of speed?”
We would like to toss in the hopper another subject for discussion by our academic colleagues, particularly those engaged in theological education. It is this: “Did the students enrolled in your institution grow significantly in their own personal relationship to Jesus Christ during the school year just ended?”
A well-known professor of Christian education once explained his duties at a theological seminary to a group of university students. He remarked, “Some of these young fellows come to us pretty pious. We have to knock that piety out of them first, and then replace it with something better.”
Is that what happened during the past year in our theological institutions? We wonder. And we also wonder whether this “something better” really involves a deeper commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, a warmer love for the heavenly Father, a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit. Or is it just a devil’s brew of sophistication, worldliness, methodology, and ecclesiastical politicking?
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingChristian and Missionary Alliance Will Ordain WomenMinisters may now use the title “pastor” regardless of gender.
- From the MagazineI Find Comfort in the Divine WarriorA surprising psalm changed my view on God’s presence during seasons of trial.
- Editor's PickMost US Pastors Use Armed Congregants as Church SecurityWith shootings on the rise, more churches are dropping no-firearms policies and turning to gun-carriers in their flock, survey finds.