Should We Be Discouraged at the Progress of the Gospel?
This article was originally published in the February 2015 Prophetic Observer
We would be foolish to ignore all the bad news that’s breaking around us, much of it coming from an all-out assault on the Christian faith. But, the writer of this piece can say that he is not in the least bit discouraged. He doesn’t feel doomed, downtrodden, discarded, and defeated. Is he insane, or is there sound biblical warrant for such a statement?
For one thing, Christ is Lord and he is presently ruling from his throne. Though Jesus was brutally murdered for crimes He did not commit, and physically died, it is also true that He was raised from the dead—all according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1–8). Christians should remember that we are not fighting FOR victory but rather FROM victory. We have already been rescued from the rule and reign of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom (Col. 1:13).
While faith makes all things possible, the Bible never tells us that faith makes all things easy. Christianity began as an apparently small sect with some Jewish connections in the Greco-Roman world and grew to be a major force on the planet. However, this advance was not without its martyrs, many martyred with their wives and children in a most brutal way in the Roman Coliseum—slaughtered by hungry lions and swordsmen brought in from the remote reaches of the empire. Indeed, the door of opportunity swings on the hinges of adversity. The apostle wrote: “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9)
So, the Lord is presently ruling, and secondly, he has not changed his mind about saving the lost. The Lord Jesus proclaimed the saving Gospel to a variety of people in a variety of contexts. He challenged the religious establishment of His day, sometimes taking on the leaders in a direct and confrontational way (see Matt. 23). He ministered to children and used them as an object lesson, teaching faith and confidence in God (Mark 10:13–16), despite the fact that children were virtually regarded as non-entities in the first-century world. Jesus ministered to the then-despised Samaritans (John 4), and had a saving encounter with a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-31). His Spirit-led apostles and disciples went everywhere preaching the Gospel. There is no indication in the Bible that once a predetermined number of people come to faith, that Jesus would change His mind about saving the lost.
Thirdly, despite all the press about the Middle East and central Asia becoming a land devoid of Christians, the pundits have been wrong before. Charles Sennott, Middle East bureau chief for the Boston Globe published a book titled The Body and the Blood: The Middle East’s Vanishing Christians and the Possibility for Peace (2002). The purpose of the book was to document “the dramatically diminishing Christian presence in the Middle East,” a veritable “Christian exodus” that has left the Christian community there “withering” and “imperiled” in the face of war, persecution, and radical Islam. Is Christianity truly going to die out in the land where it began? The Christian Science Monitor lauded the book for its reporting and insights, and Foreign Affairs called the book a “touching account of a venerable community whose numbers are sharply declining.”
Sennott’s book reflects the prevailing media view. “Christians Leaving Middle East,” declared a CNN headline, and the BBC reported “Christians Quit Christ’s Birthplace.” The Denver Post reported that “Christian communities have shrunk to a miniscule portion of their former robust selves” and “. . . in 50 years they may well be extinct.”
In his book Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future (2005), Joel Rosenberg writes: “There is just one problem with such stories. They are not quite accurate. Not anymore, at least” (p. 204).
Botrous Mansour is an Arab Israeli evangelical Christian living in Nazareth. Ray Bentley, pastor of Maranatha Church in San Diego, asked Mansour: “What would Jesus want an Arab Israeli Palestinian evangelical Christian raised by Greek orthodox and Catholic parents living in His hometown to do?” Mansour’s answer:
“‘The Lord has prepared me to minister for Him in His hometown in a unique way,’ Mansour said. Working through the Nazareth Baptist School, Botrous and his colleagues are a bridge that crosses another seemingly unbridgeable gulf: linking the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish worlds. The student population of the school is more than 20 percent Muslim. Botrous’s quiet, diplomatic demeanor has navigated dangerous conflicts between powerful Muslim families who were determined to send their kids to the finest school in Israel—sometimes at great risk to Botrous and his team.
. . . ‘My heavenly identity is most important,’ Botrous said. ‘I want to love my neighbor, not put on masks, be what the Lord wants me to be.’ To American Christians he says, ‘We’re your brothers and sisters here. We are a small minority, we have challenges, but please remember that we exist. . . . It would be easier to move to America, where we won’t feel excluded. But we know we are called to be here and to work for transformative change in the land of our Savior’” (Bentley, The Holy Land Key, pp. 63–64).
But there is a fourth reason why I am not discouraged by the progress of the Gospel, and that is because God is raising up faithful servants in non-ordinary places to proclaim the Gospel. For example, God is raising pastors from house churches in China who will minister in house churches in China. There is a very fine Christian college and seminary on one of the South Pacific islands that is training them.
In America, God is raising a number of ethnic language pastors who are planting growing ethnic language churches. Pastor Oleg Xu, a powerful preacher of the Word, was born in Kazakhstan (former USSR) and speaks fluent Russian. His parents are Chinese and he speaks fluent Mandarin. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, Oleg has served as pastor of the First Slavic Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. At present, he is the pastor at Sugar Land Chinese Baptist Church in the Houston metro, one of the fastest growing ethnic language churches in America. This writer has spoken at meetings sponsored by the Southwest Chinese Baptist Association’s youth meetings and has seen young men and women come to know Christ and to walk with Him in commitment of life. Many go on to attain the highest degrees in science and engineering.
Fifthly, everything that Satan does that is bad, God is able to reverse and bring about good. Romans 8:28 reveals that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God. In the persecution following the martyrdom of Stephen, Christians were scattered everywhere in the ancient world. Yet their scattering led them to preach the Gospel where they would not normally have gone (Acts 8:1–4). What looked like a defeat was actually a victory! Joseph’s brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery, but this dastardly deed put Joseph in Pharaoh’s court. He became ruler over the food supply and thereby could save his family from the evil effects of the famine (Gen. 45:1–8).
Added to all of this is the very significant fact that sixthly, there are signs of “pushback.” In a recent issue of Charisma, Christian apologist and social commentator Michael Brown notes: “The gay revolution will continue to overplay its hand. As those who were once bullied now bully others, this will produce an increasing backlash, as seen with the “Houston Five” last year. And as gay activists win more and more battles in the courts and society, that will actually work against them, and their goals will continue to become more and more extreme.”
This same pushback is doing great damage to radical Islam. The recent horrific attack by the Taliban on a government school in Peshawar, Pakistan, where nearly 150 school children and teachers were massacred, has produced outrage and an all-out attack by the government of Pakistan on Taliban strongholds. The same is true with the tragic immolation of a Christian man and his wife, who was five months pregnant, in a furnace in a brick kiln in Punjab Province of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan is now considering this a “barbaric and horrific” murder and is seeking to bring the culprits to justice.
Following the terror attack in Paris The Wall Street Journal featured a revealing front-page report titled: “A Backlash Swells in Europe.” “This bloodshed shows that anyone who ignored or laughed off the concerns about the threat Islamism poses is a fool,” said Alexander Gauland, a leader of Alternative for Germany. In the past, such rhetoric would have been quickly dismissed, but now it is gaining in support. And the arguments of the Muslim clerics who are trying to justify the bloodshed is producing more anger and resolve. The radical Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary has blamed France rather than the terrorists: “So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?” he asks. This kind of blame-shifting is intellectually perilous. If somebody is unhappy with what is permitted in a country, does that allow such individuals to commit horrific crimes?
Psalm 67:1-2 reads: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among ALL NATIONS.”