I was once asked what I believed was the greatest enemy of a Great Commission Christian or Church. My answer to this question is quite simple.
WAIT A MINUTE – don’t mis-tweet me! I am not arguing that it is a sin to be patriotic or to love your country. However it is very easy for conservative Christians to be distracted by political issues and to forget the missiological implications of our thinking and speech (or tweets or Facebook posting). Our position on economics, immigration, war on terror, Islam, homosexuality, etc. are important. But we cannot allow this to distract us from the command of making disciples of all nations. We must always respond remembering that we are not primarily representatives of our country or political party – We are ambassadors of the kingdom of God.
This temptation is not new. It has been faced, failed, and conquered many times throughout the history of Christian missions. One great example is a relatively unknown missionary named Raymond Lull. Lull lived during one of the darkest phases of Christian history, the Crusades. As Islam spread through the Middle East and Europe, a series of wars were waged in the name of Christ in order to reclaim the Holy Land.
Gallons of blood were spilled. Ralph Winter has said it would be impossible to overstate the impact of these wars, which he calls a tragic debacle, on Christian missions and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Ruth Tucker noted that despite the “noble intentions” the crusades resulted in almost irreparable disaster for Christian Mission. They popularized hatred in the name of Christ. Atrocities, violence, and savagery were committed in His name. “The Crusaders missionary strategy with its reputation for cruelty and revenge has been and is the albatross around the neck of Christian missionaries in the Middle East.”
The notable exception to this hateful missio-politico movement was Raymond Lull. According to his biographer Samuel Zwemer, Lull was raised up to demonstrate what might have happened if Crusaders had fought with forgiveness and peace as demonstrated by the cross. Lull said, “I see many knights going to the Holy Land beyond the seas and thinking that they can acquire it by force of arms; but in the end all are destroyed before they attain… Whence it seems to me that the conquest of the Holy Land ought not be attempted except in the way in which Thou and Thine apostles acquire it, namely, but love and prayers, and pouring out of tears and of blood.”
Lull spent years studying Arabic, studying the Koran, and developing apologetic answers to questions Muslims ask. He made at least 3 trips into Muslim Africa and eventually he died a martyr’s death at the age of 80. He stood as a notable example of a missionary who rejected the popular politics of his day for the priority of the gospel. How about you? Are you willing to allow the structure and the priorities of the gospel to determine what you prioritize?
Consider for a moment how our priorities and mission are actually shaped by culture rather than the gospel.
Scott Hildreth is the director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies. He frequently speaks on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology. Scott also contributes to SEBTS faculty blog www.betweenthetimes.com