Alex's Blog - July 23, 2009 - The Extent of the Great Commission
By Alex Dodson
Dr. Ralph Winter recently went to be with the Lord. He left us with an enormous legacy in his thinking and innovations on missions. One of his great contributions to the cause of world evangelization was his whole concept of reaching people groups with the gospel, not just political nations but groups of people within those nations who need to hear the gospel. Even though a church might be planted within every political nation, those nations have not been completely reached if there are nations or people groups within them that have no gospel witness.
Today, there are many people groups without a church or gospel witness. There are many with only a small number of Christians present within them. Many people groups still have a Christian population of less than 1%. Even if we were to plant a church in every people group in the world, could we say that our task is done?
What is the extent of the Great Commission? Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) Did He mean that our task would be done when we have planted one church in every nation (people group)? Would that mean then that the whole world would have been reached or is the extent of the Great Commission much more than that?
Psalm 86:9 says, "All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name." (KJV) When will this happen? Will it happen in this age or in a future age? Charles Sprugeon wrote, "David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth's sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, O God, 'and shall glorify thy name.' The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be uscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven." (The Treasury of David, 1874.)
The great pioneer missionaries of the 19th century had a view of winning the whole world to Christ. David LIvingstone went to Africa in 1841 and was a missionary there for some 30 years. He was a forerunner for missionaries of the future. He explored and opened up Africa for the evangelization that would come after him. He had a great vision for Africa. He wrote, "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord - that is enough. We can afford to work in faith, for Omnipotence is pledged to fulfil the promise.....A quiet audience today. The seed being sown, the least of all seeds now, but it will grow a mighty tree. It is as it were a small stone cut out of a mountain, but it will fill the whole earth." (Puritan Hope by Iain Murray, p. 182.) Livingstone was found by natives dead on his knees on May 4, 1873. Murray writes, "He had died in the act of prayer and who can doubt that the last prayer, like so many that preceded it, had borne up to God 'this poor long downtrodden Africa'? Though his death occurred in an area where darkness and ignorance of God were universal, he had passed on with undiminished confidence in his testimony of former years: ' Missionaries do not live before their time. Their great idea of converting the world to Christ is no chimera: it is Divine. Christianity will triumph. It is equal to all it has to perform.'" (Puritan Hope, p. 183)
What then is the extent of the Great Commission? Is it not that we win the whole world to Christ and that every nation will come to acknowledge the Lord and glorify His name. This seems to me should be our goal if we are faithful to the Great Commission.