Several years ago, I stumbled into a world missions’ luncheon by mistake at General Assembly. I had intended to attend a meeting of alma mater seminary. By the time I discovered my mistake, it was too late to leave. After sitting through the whole presentation, I wish I had left anyway. Following the meal, there was the keynote presentation—a tape of a female missionary in Africa who was recording the work she and her husband were doing. There was nothing about the gospel or starting churches in the presentation. It was all about a plan to provide economic development for a small African village. Is that what the Great Commission is all about? Here is what Christ said in Mark 16:15—“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Or, Acts 1:8—“And you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Mark’s version of the Great Commission is briefer than the more oft-quoted Matthew 28:18-20. It has the same meaning though. While there is not a command to go in either passage, that is somewhat irrelevant. It matters little whether the Scripture assumes that you will go or commands you to go. The effect is the same either way. Once you have left the comfort of your own place and gone out into the world you are to preach the gospel. When you find yourself, intentionally or unintentionally, in the marketplaces of the world, you are to be like the Apostle Paul when he preached Christ at the various Agoras (farmer’s markets) in the ancient world. The primary purpose of the Church is not to help merchants devise a better, more profitable way to sell their merchandise. That was the presentation at that missionary meeting. The missionaries were helping little women make and sell goods for their living. That is a noble thing to do, but not at the expense of the gospel. There are many people who can teach economic principles to merchants. Rather, the Church has a message that is incomparable to anything the world can ever say. We have the gospel and we must proclaim it.
The mission of the church is about taking the gospel to the world, “whether they listen or not” (Ezekiel 2:5). That mission has been co-opted by the modern church through the undefined word, missional. I must admit I don’t know what “missional” is or what it means. I fear that it means something else than intentionally taking the gospel to the world. I fear that the old liberalism has re-entered the church under a new package. I particularly think that when I hear people making statements such as, “social justice is the gospel.” Or, “people will not listen to the gospel if their stomachs are hungry.” Oh, really? Can social justice save a soul? Can food and clothing save a soul? I certainly believe that we are to feed others and give them clothes to wear and water to drink and to visit them in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet, are any of those things more important than preaching the gospel to sinners?
A friend gave me a little book by a Christian convert in India who exploded the idea that we must feed and clothe a person before we can preach the gospel to them. That man (whose name I do not remember and whose book I cannot now find) began preaching in a train station in India and people began to flock to hear what he was saying. In many parts of India what he did is very dangerous and could well lead to imprisonment or death. Yet, this Christian convert practiced what Peter told the lame beggar at the Temple grounds, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:6). Of course, we no longer have apostles who have the power to make people walk physically, but our message has the power through the Spirit to make hardened sinners into people who walk in the ways of God’s commandments and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. That message is not social justice or food and clothing alone. It is the life giving message of the gospel.
The church’s message is not a social message. It is the eternal message of the gospel. It is not a law. It is a life giving message that is actuated through the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, social justice is just the opposite of the gospel. I have written before that there are only two messages in the world—law and gospel. All other religions preach the law. All other systems of government preach the law. Communism is the law. No country has ever had more laws than the Soviet Union. We see that happening today in the western world with the rise of Marxism. There are laws being adopted in many places concerning gender identity. Those laws are contradictory of known facts and become circuitous in their efforts to devise laws that protect sin and punish obedience to God’s Word—and even true science. A very good friend, Geoffrey Thomas, wrote me and others today about this very problem in the United Kingdom. He wrote that he was not going to silence his voice just to please the government even though he has already faced death threats and persecution and malignant stalking.
When I wrote that earlier article, someone objected to my statement that there are only two messages in the world. He responded, “There are many messages in the world. For instance, there is the message, ‘hello.’” Seriously? I was left scratching my head. He is a reputed conservative Biblical scholar. When even conservatives do not get it, how can we hope that the world will? Despite his objections to my article, I think he knows very well what my point was and is. It is simply this. Legalism, whether under the banner of social justice or any other title, always starts with this message: “Do this in order to be a good Christian.” That is the message of the law which says, “Do this and live.” Salvation is then based on doing something. Whereas the gospel always starts with faith—not obedience. Obedience always follows faith, but never precedes it or comes along beside it. Obedience is always the caboose of the train. Faith alone saves. The gospel always says, “Live by faith in Christ and then you will do these things.”
The church is always a failure when the message of the gospel is replaced with any message that is law-based. The church has been given only one message—“preach the gospel.” It is the greatest message ever proclaimed. What a blessing it is for those who believe it. Yet, at the same time, we have a responsibility to care for those who are of the household of faith and to not shut our hearts to them. I know of a situation concerning a young Christian lady who is a member of a reformed congregation. For several reasons outside of her control, she has been reduced to living in her car. Thankfully, a family just took her in and let her have a bed. Where is the church when such members are hungry and homeless? It is never enough to simply say, “Go in peace, be warmed, and be filled” (James 2:16). If she lived in Florida, rather than in California, I know my wife and I would help her (and I am working on helping her situation even as I write this article). The church must help such fellow believers. Nothing written in this article is contrary to that point.
Yet, the preaching of the gospel is the paramount responsibility of the church. Nothing can be a substitute for that message. Nations are transformed when the gospel is believed. Nations are destroyed when the gospel is persecuted. There are so many examples of each in the history of the world. This is the mission of the church.
NEWS: Presbytery had a zoom meeting last night in order to approve the particularization of a new Vanguard Presbytery congregation in Clovis, New Mexico. The worship service to do that will be at 6 PM (MDT) on October 13, 2023. The Lord has really blessed this new mission church and raised up leadership for them. This is exciting for them and for our presbytery.
The Lord has also already begun to bless the new school of ministry that Vanguard Presbytery is starting (which is online and free of charge). Something wonderful is happening in that there are several young men who are transferring into Vanguard to become ministers in our denomination after they receive their training. That has always been our greatest need. Before we can start new churches in the many places where interested people desire a Vanguard congregation, we have to have ministers. Initially, we thought that the best approach was to simply use the existing seminaries to recruit pastors. This proves the philosophy that Ronald Reagan always operated by: Try it, fix it, do it. The normal approach is to have study committees to explore things for several years that result in doing nothing. We had members of Vanguard churches clamoring for theological and pastoral training. We decided to try it, fix it, do it. It is already proving to be a great blessing to the denomination. In fact, that is the philosophy I have used on every good thing I have ever done. You start it. You find out what works best and fix it. You keep doing it. The great work the Lord allowed me to do in Russia for many years was done that way. I went. I saw. I tried it, fixed it, and kept doing it. That is the only way to do anything for the Lord. I am sure may others on this email list can say the same thing about any good thing they have ever done.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin. FL
Please send donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.