Becoming a "World" Christian1
To be a “world” Christian simply means that you have consciously, sincerely, and sacrificially reordered your life around God’s global purpose to glorify himself. A “world” Christian is a believer who has made God’s global purpose a priority in terms of how you pray, what you read, where you spend your time and energy, and perhaps most important of all, what you do with your money.
In his book, In the Gap, David Bryant defines “world” Christians as that group of believers who say,
“We want to accept personal responsibility for reaching some of earth’s unreached, especially from among the billions . . . who can only be reached through major new efforts by God’s people. Among every people-group where there is no vital, evangelizing Christian community there should be one, there must be one, there shall be one. Together we want to help make this happen” (62).
To help get your mind around the task that God has given the Church, consider the six major religious streams in the earth as of 2010.
Christian (RC and Protestant combined) – 32.5%
Muslim – 21.1%
Non-Religious – 15.5% (of which 83% are agnostic and 17% are atheist)
Hindu – 13.5%
Buddhist – 6.6%
Ethnic/other – 10.8% (such as Animist, Taoist, Confucian, Bahai’, Shinto, Spiritist, etc.)
Let’s now break this down into relevant “people groups.”
Best estimates among leading missiologists are that we have a minimum of 13,000 and a maximum of 16,650 “people groups” in the earth today. A “people group” is not a “nation” but a distinct and independent body of people within a nation which shares a common ethnic identity and language.
There are approximately 7.1 billion people on the earth today. 2.9 billion, or 40.7%, of them are unreached.
Thus, on the assumption that the number of people groups is approximately 16,650, more than 7,100, or 43.1%, of them are currently unreached.
To say that a people group is “unreached” means “there is no viable indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people without outside (cross-cultural) assistance” (Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church, xiii).
What this means is that God’s redemptive purpose in the Great Commission is not complete or fulfilled just because there are now more Christians than there are in any other religious group. Nor does it mean the GC has been fulfilled simply because there are Christians living in all 21st century “nations” or because the gospel has penetrated the territory of every geo-political state.
The fact is that within every geo-political state there are thousands of tribes and castes and sub-cultures and linguistic groups, each of which must finally find represenation before the throne of God (see Revelation 4-5).
Thus, a world Christian is a believer in Jesus Christ whose body, soul, spirit, time, prayers, energy, and money are dedicated to the global purpose of God in reaching with the gospel every people group on the face of the earth.
Why should we care? Why should we want to become world Christians? The immediate and first answer is because there is a hell and people are going there. That sobering, inescapable fact is the underlying assumption of missions. And until your heart is gripped and grieved by the thought of the eternal condemnation of men and women, you will never have the heart to become a world Christian.
The late W. T. Conner, former President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, once heard two of his students flippantly joking about hell. He walked over, put his arms around their shoulders, and escorted them to a large picture window overlooking the city of Ft. Worth. As they gazed out the window, and with tears in his eyes, Dr. Conner said: “Don’t joke about hell, men. People are going there. People are going there.”
If you don’t believe there is a direct correlation between belief in the reality of an eternal hell, on the one hand, and a commitment to global missions, on the other, consider this one startling statistic.
Between 1953 and 1980 the overseas missionary force of mainline Protestant churches of North America decreased from 9,844 to 2,813. By “mainline” Protestant churches I have primarily in mind those denominations who have gradually abandond their belief in the reality of hell. During this same time period, the missionary force of evangelical Protestants, who take seriously the doctrine of hell, increased by more than 200 percent. The Christian and Missionary Alliance, for example, with its 200,000 members, supported 40% more missionaries than the United Methodist Church did with its 9.5 million members. [Statistics provided by John Piper]
Although its melody is beautiful and almost hypnotic, the lyrics of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” are theologically horrendous:
“Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try;
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.”
When professing Christians and religious denominations embrace their own version of that abominable concept, world missions will die.
One more thing to note.
I earlier said that the reality of an eternal hell is the underlying assumption of missions. That’s only partly true. There is an even greater reality that ought to stir us to become world Christians. I have in mind the glory of God. John Piper put it best when he said:
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” (John Piper).
What we must keep foremost in our thinking is that our commitment to world missions must be driven by our commitment to the global glory of God.
So what are we to do? Part of the answer is found in a paragraph of John’s third epistle, to which we’ll turn our attention in the next article.