THE CHURCH’S MISSION TO ALL MEN.

Christ says: ‘Go into all the world, and tell of my love’. Largely, churches do not venture beyond their own walls, not out of deliberate disobedience, or even mere forgetfulness: but because so many people, in so many churches, tend to see evangelism as being something that others are called to undertake, and expect them to get on with it.
 
Therefore, such churches regard: ‘Go! Tell!’ not so much as a command of God, which must be obeyed; but more as an option, which you can take up if your brand of churchmanship is that way inclined.
 
In the very earliest days, in Jerusalem: the Apostles, and all of Christ’s followers, appear never to have seen any part of the Lord’s commands as ‘options’, but always as commands, to be obeyed.
 
The days were urgent: and God was doing things his way; so the Lord’s followers had to ‘key-in’ with him, or else risk getting left behind, while the thrust and drive of the Gospel went on elsewhere.
 
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In those earliest days, at Jerusalem; certain religious ‘die-hards’ insisted upon the keeping of the Old Testament law, and all that it entailed. The Apostles were very much against this, for two, main reasons.
 
Firstly, such teaching cut against the belief that Christ had, in his own life and ministry, fulfilled all the requirements of the law, on our behalf.
 
Secondly, such emphasis directed the Church’s attention inwards; to its own spiritual housekeeping; rather than outwards, to the needs of the world, and the exercise of its God-given mission.
 
What the Apostles were very much for: was the offering of new life in Christ. It was eminently more attractive to the people than the ‘old’ law ever could ever be; and it wasn’t long before the heresy that: ‘Before you can fully accept Christ, you must fully keep the law’, was stamped out.
 
However, within a few centuries, the Church began to revert to the once-abandoned emphasis of first offering the law to people, rather than Christ.
 
Obviously, it wasn’t the Old Testament law that was then insisted upon; but the developing Church’s rules and regulations; its systems and rituals. It can be argued that the Church did not so much offer Christ to the world, as Church life. It can be said that much the same thing, can pertain today.
 
In most localities, all that the community around a church is aware of; is the building itself: a little of what goes on there; and whatever information is shown on the notice-boards.
 
Such a church; persuaded to do something about outreach and mission; is likely to do what it has always done; which is to offer itself to the world; only more intensively, and on a bigger scale, while the mission venture lasts.
 
The offering of its own life-style: is not what Christ had in mind when he commissioned the Church to be his channel of communication.
 
Christ died for the world; not in order to preserve a system of historical laws, for those precious few who could keep them; but to establish the giving of new and spiritual life, to all who accepted him as God, Saviour and Lord, and, as a consequence, entered into the blessings of redemptive love.
 
Any church that consistently offers Christ to the world all around it, cannot fail to be attractive: because such a church is in keeping with the Lord’s requirements of it.
 
Therefore, the Lord will bless it with his spiritual presence; constantly renew its vision; strengthen it with his power, and fulfil its best desires.
 
One good, bible-taught way of doing things: is to allow God to reach in, and change us where necessary. Only then can we reach out effectively.
 
In the story of The Baptism of Cornelius, we find Peter, and other church leaders, having their view of how things should be done, being converted to God’s view of what was proper and necessary.
 
The Lord said: ‘Do not call impure anything that God has made clean’; and Peter and the others saw that there was no choice, but to fully accept the Gentiles, even as God himself fully accepted them; and that the Church’s mission was, indeed, ‘to all men’.
 
As Peter said: ‘Who was I, to think that I could oppose God?’. So he and the others got on with the job in hand, reaching out to all people; including the at-one-time hated Gentiles.
 
However, no church can truly reach out until, first, it has allowed God to reach in, with a vision of missionary fervour. Such a vision recognizes that Christ called, and commissioned, his Church to be evangelical: to take the ‘Good News’ of God’s love in Christ, to a needy world.
 
Obviously, not every member of the church is expected to be an evangelist, but the Church, on both the grand scale, and the small, local scale, is most definitely called and required to be evangelical in its vision; life-style, ministries and outreach.
 
Rabbi Lionel Blue, on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, told a story about mankind’s reluctance to do things God’s way. A man fell over the edge of a cliff; but managed to grab hold of a bush that grew halfway down.
 
He decided that prayer was the only way out for him; so he called: ‘Is there anyone up there to help me?’ A voice answered immediately, and said: ‘My child: trust me. Let go of the bush, and I will hold you up, and save you’.
 
The man, desperately holding on, was too afraid to let go. He went very quiet for a while, then called out again: ‘Is there anyone else up there?’.
 
He looked for a different answer; another way of doing things; one that was more acceptable to his own way of thinking, hopes and fears.
 
God fully understands our human reluctance, but he will not change his way of doing things: nor will he overlook disobedience in our not ‘going’ and not
‘telling’, simply because we feel that we  cannot do things his way.
 
Reluctance can be overcome. Jesus told a parable about a man who owned a vineyard, and who asked his two sons to work in the vineyard, all day. The eldest son said that he would do so, but he didn’t.
 
The youngest son said that he would not do so; but changed his mind. As Jesus taught, a promise made, and not kept, is worthless; but a rejection; converted to an acceptance, by a change of heart and mind; falls within the Father’s will, and can achieve much good.
 
True Christian mission seeks the lost. Much of the attitude of the Victorian Church towards the world, appears to have been one of condemnation: ‘See how lost you are! See how near you have approached to the ‘Gates of Hell’.
 
In wonderful and positive contrast, Christ’s own attitude was expressed in his parables about ‘lost things’, and ‘lost people’; where he touched upon the tremendous gain, and great joy, when what had been lost, was found again.
 
At its best, Christian mission and outreach gets people interested in what is being offered, through demonstrating an interest in them.
 
Various surveys, and practical experience, show that vast numbers of people believe in God; but tend to separate God from the Church, and to seek him in their own, non-church ways. Such people are not likely to take an interest in the Church, as such; but they will sit up; take notice, and gradually respond when a Church demonstrates a genuine interest in them.
 
When the Church gets alongside people, just as Jesus always did; and shows a Christ-like interest in them, many of them will respond in positive ways. They will start to talk about things that are important to them; and, where they are listened to, they may become prepared to listen. It is part of ordinary human nature, to respond to other peoples’ interest in us; and it is part of social experience, that interest can lead to relationship.
 
When any church shows a genuine interest in other people; for their sake, and in imitation of Christ’s example; and those others begin to take an interest in that church, and in what it stands for, and what it has to say; the two-way interest being demonstrated, may develop into new people becoming caught up in the life and work of that church.
 
Effective outreach and mission is based on caring friendship.  19th century ‘fire-and-brimstone’ preaching may have scared a lot of people into the Church; but it had no power to keep them there.
 
When Jesus instructed his disciples about ‘going’, and ‘telling’ the world of his love, in Christ, he gave them a simple, practical instruction, which history proves to have been very effective. He said: ‘Begin at Jerusalem’ (where their friends were) ‘and go on to Judea’ (where their neighbours lived) ‘and then to Samaria’ (where strangers began) ‘and to the ends of the earth’. (Acts 1:8).
 
As our own lives must surely bear witness; a caring, friendly approach to people has its own power to attract, and  to bind together, in worthwhile, on-going relationships.
 
A church which prays that God should reach in, and help it to see where opportunities for mission already lie to hand; so that it can reach out that bit more readily; keys in with The Lord’s way of doing things.
 
Such prayers must surely lead to the simple, friendly effective ways of mission that Jesus lived out, and taught; and demonstrate that faithfulness still achieves all that hopefulness longs for, and prays for.
 
In any relationship, there has to be a first step, to begin what might develop into something worthwhile, and ongoing. It may be no more than a friendly greeting; but whether that ‘first step’ is ever taken; or what form it takes, is determined by attitudes.
 
What is our attitude towards ‘The Church’s Mission to all Men?’ And, as one of our hymns asks: ‘What shall our greeting be?’.   Amen!