The Biblical Basis For Missions (Intro)
Missions is today one of the most abused words in Christianity. We speak of missions in a sense that has long since convoluted both the intent and purpose of the term. In a common church today, you will find no distinction between reaching those who have access to the gospel (reached) and those who do not (unreached). Let me explain this difference.
Defining the Reached and Unreached
According to The Caleb Project, there is at least one church in every political nation of the world. Does this mean that we have reached all the nations as Jesus commanded? No, because God’s view of nations and our view are completely different.
Our misconception of missions and reaching the nations stems from a misunderstanding of what “nations” means. The Greek word ethnos and the Hebrew word goÌ?y goÌ?y had a specific meaning. We get the English word ethnic from ethnos. Ethnic groups are defined by language, culture, and geographical location; but it does not refer to a political nation. So when the term nation is used in the Bible it means different ethnic groups (usually ethnic groups outside of ethnic Jewish descent).
While there are over 200 socio-political nations in the world, The Joshua Project tells us that there are 16,010 ethnic groups. You will often hear the term ethnic groups used synonymously with people groups in missiological circles. A reached people (ethnic) group has a traditional definition of being a group that has at least 2% evangelical Christians and a self-replicating church, and an unreached group will have neither of these characteristics. The unreached have no access to the Gospel of Christ. When Jesus says, “make disciples of all nations” He is saying to go get a representative from each people group.
The Joshua Project has currently identified 16,010 people groups throughout God’s creation. Of those people groups, 6,782 are still unreached (42.4%). These people groups include 2.51 billion people which is 39% of the world’s population. Most of the unreached (95%) live in an area called “The 10/40 Window” which is a box from 10 and 40 degrees above the equator spanning from North Africa to Asia.
There are even more staggering statistics: only 8% of the world’s cross-cultural Christian missionaries are reaching the unreached. So, 92% of all the world’s Christian missionaries are, in Pauline language, “build[ing] on another man’s foundation” (Rom 15:20). The Traveling Team states that of those building on another man’s foundation, 74% of them are witnessing to nominal Christians! They are leaving behind the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, unreligious, and other expressions of religious thought.
Lastly, the church worldwide grosses over 12.3 trillion dollars and of that less than 1% goes into reaching the unreached. It is quite apparent that something is drastically wrong in our current approach to missions.
Because of the lack of progress we are making I feel it necessary to make the definition of missions specific not ambiguous. Missions is the act of reaching the unreached. This means that when we are reaching out to peoples that already have a 2% evangelical population and a self-replicating church movement we are simply doing evangelism and not missions. Keep in mind that of the 6,584 unreached people groups in God’s creation only 24 are in the United States which amounts to .004% of the worlds unreached. Almost all of our evangelistic efforts in the U.S. would not fit this definition of missions.
The Biblical Basis for Missions
Many Christians believe that when Jesus spoke in Matthew 28 about making disciples of all the nations (people groups) that The Great Commission started right then, but when we look farther back we will see that the purpose and intent of God of seeing His name exalted throughout all of His creation started back in Genesis 1!
The second part of this article is going to be a survey of Genesis to Revelation over the intent of God with His creation. When we look clearly at the Biblical record of God’s working with man we will see that when Jesus spoke of reaching the nations in Matthew 28 He was simply restating a truth that had been spoken upon for 4,000 years.
“For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.