There Is Only One World Religion
One evening, last November, I was on a plane headed home after a couple of long, hard days work in Chicago. Once airborne, I had settled back for some rest and reflection time. Then suddenly the flight attendant was standing over me. “Sir,” she inquired, “would you like to have dinner?” I replied: “What are my choices?” She said: “Yes or no!”
That was a reminder to me that there are some choices in life which are perfectly clear. There are some decisions which are not at all vague or hazy. There are some questions in life requiring only a yes-or-no answer. We see such clarity and such simplicity in Jesus’ last words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. He said: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The words are commonly referred to as “The Great Commission.” And in response to that directive from the lips of Jesus, what are our choices? Simple. Yes or no. Yes, we will go…or No, we won’t.
Throughout the 20 centuries of the Church’s life to this point, Christians have been saying “Yes.” They have been making a great commitment to The Great Commission. As a result, today, there is only one world religion. They teach a course at the University called “World Religions.” They need to change the name to “Religions of the World”, because, while there are many religions in the world, there is only one world religion. There is only one faith which is practiced in every nation on the face of the earth. There is only one faith which cuts across every social and economic and political barrier. There is only one faith which is claimed by more than 1/3 of the people of this earth. That faith is our faith—faith in Jesus Christ. It is the one world religion. And that is true in large measure, because Christians in every age have made the great commitment to the Great Commission.
However, in our time, all too often, Christians, when confronted with the clear choice presented in the Great Commission, are no longer saying “yes.” All too often they are saying “no”, and unfortunately they are saying “no” for all the wrong reasons. Let me explain…
Many Christians today say that the Great Commission no longer applies because the call to missions is not a Biblical priority.
Of course, to make such a statement reveals a woeful ignorance of the Bible itself. If you ever dare not just to own a Bible, but to open a Bible, then you will discover that there are two great priorities in Scripture. The first priority is to know God through Jesus Christ, and the second priority is to tell other people about Him—and telling other people about Him is missions!
Ours, you see, is a faith which has never focused on the center, but rather on the circumference. It’s movement has never been inward, but always outward. I like what our own Jim Cook has to say. He says: “The Church is the only institution or organization in the world which exists for non-members!” That has been true from the earliest pages of the Bible. You hear the clarion call to missions in Genesis, in Exodus, in Deuteronomy, and in Numbers. You hear it in II Chronicles, in Psalms, in Isaiah, and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Zechariah and Malachi. You hear it in the Gospels, in Acts, in Hebrews, in James, in 1, 2, and 3 John, 1 and 2 Peter, the epistles of Paul and the Book of Revelation. You hear it and see it especially in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Remember that God had only one Son—and that one Son was a missionary. When He came to this earth, He came to the very circumference of the human experience to tell the Good News and to be the Good News. When He was born, those who were wise came seeking Him from the East. Just before He died, Greeks from the West came, saying: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” From east and west they came—and Jesus’ view of the world and the world’s people was never parochial or provincial. He ministered not just to the people of Israel, but also to publicans and centurions and slaves who were Gentiles. On the cross, His title of designation was written in all the principle languages of the earth. And the last words of instruction He gave to His disciples before ascending into heaven were these: “Go into all the world…”
The Biblical priority is clear. We are to know God through Jesus Christ and we are to make Him known to the people of the world. We are to aim for the circumference. We are to make a great commitment to the Great Commission.
Then there are Christians today who say that the Great Commission no longer applies because the task of missions is largely done.
Those who take this position argue that the Word has been sufficiently spread, the seed has been adequately scattered, so that now all we have to do is to let it grow and spread on its own. They are quick to remind us that there are 1.7 billion Christians in the world today—twice as many adherents as there are to any other faith—and that we have nearly 200,000 missionaries at work in the world. They point to the fact that in Korea, 25 years ago, only 11% of the people were Christians. Now nearly 40% are Christian, and by the turn of the century, Christians will be a decided majority in Korea. They remind us that the church in Africa is growing four times faster than the birthrate, that today there are 90 million Christians in Africa, that by the year 2000, one-half of Africa will be Christian—the first continent to be more than half given over to Jesus Christ. Or they say: “What about Latin America where the faith is spreading like wildfire in a parched forest?”—and, of course, this church is helping to build a seminary in Mexico which will add fuel to that fire. Then they encourage us to look at the way the Church grew behind what used to be the Iron Curtain—without any mission effort there, nevertheless, the Church grew strong enough to bring that Iron Curtain crashing down.
Well, to be sure, the Christian Faith and the Church of Jesus Christ are moving across the earth with a variety and a power beyond anything we’ve known in 2,000 years. More than 100,000 new Christians are being won every single day in the world—and that’s wonderful. But the agonizing fact is that the birth rate in the world is 243,000 people every day. That means that every 24 hours we fall farther and farther behind. The plain fact is that the missionary task is not finished—not at all. The Great Commission still applies.
Then there are some Christians who say that the Great Commission is no longer valid because the purpose of missions has ceased to exist.
There are those who suggest that all religions are the same in their basic understandings, and that their differences are primarily cultural differences. Therefore, these people say, we as Christians don’t need to be so overbearing in our evangelism and mission enterprise. They say that it is a mark of enlightened intelligence to be tolerant of and encouraging toward other faiths. After all, they say, we are all fighting the same battle and all religions lead to God. I don’t believe that. I never have believed it, and if I ever had any doubts about it, those doubts were erased a few weeks ago. Don’t tell me that all religions are the same until you go, as I have, and see what other religions cause human beings to do to each other.
I visited Kanchipuram, one of the seven holy cities of the Hindu religion. The Hindu temple at Kanchipuram is immense, covering acres and acres of ground. Understand, please, that the Hindu faith is built upon appeasing or placating the whims and desires of more than three million gods. One of those gods is called Shiva the Destroyer, and the temple at Kanchipuram is designed to satisfy that horrible and bloodthirsty god. Consequently, the temple is a place of perversion, prostitution and even human sacrifice. The experience of being in that place was like nothing I had ever experienced before. For the first time in my life, I felt, literally felt, the power of evil. I felt it clawing at me, clutching at me, trying to absorb me, trying to swallow me up. It was not my imagination, and it was not a game. As I moved through the gloom and darkness of that place surrounded by the stench of perversion and death, I felt I was in a battle for both my life and my faith. In the grip of a powerful ill that was stronger than I was, I don’t know why I did it, but I began to sing. I’m no singer—and you know that—but I began to sing the words of an old spiritual I love: “Give me Jesus, Lord, give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus.” I had to find some way to hold out my hands and my heart to Jesus Christ so that He would not let me go. When at last I emerged from that temple at Kanchipuram, I felt I needed a bath on the outside to wash away the dirt, the filth, the perversion, the stench. But more than that, I felt that I needed a bath on the inside to wash away the clinging grasp of evil.
A strange set of circumstances, I now believe it to have been the grace of God, then caused us to make an unscheduled stop at a village ten miles from Kanchipuram—a village called Vedal. The houses in Indian villages are walls made of sun-baked mud and thatched roofs—very simple. The first little hut that I came to in Vedal had molded in baked mud on the outside the sign of the cross. It was the humble home of a Christian family. Out of my own desperate need at that point, I fell on my knees and closed my eyes before that cross and pleaded with God not to let go of me. When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by children—bright, smiling, beautiful, poor—terribly poor—but happy Christian children. They took us then to the village schoolhouse—one large room, built by the Christians in that village. There were 150 children in the room, being taught by five of the village Christians. The children are being taught from one book—it’s the only book they have in that village. It’s the Bible. Everything those children are learning is taken from the Bible. The children wanted to sing. As I stood there listening to those beautiful children singing the songs of our Christian faith, I knew that God was giving me the spiritual bath that I needed. He was cleansing me from the evil.
Don’t tell me that all religions are the same. My friends, Hinduism is heartless and it’s hopeless. It burdens people down with guilt and terror. It exacerbates human misery and human need. The way it treats people is inhumane to say the least, and demonic to say the worst. (Oh, by the way, the New Age movement in this country is nothing more than Hinduism in western dress—but that will have to wait for another time.) Interestingly enough, Will Durant, the great historian, way back in the 1950’s, wrote these prescient words. He said: “The last major confrontation of the twentieth century will not be between the political system of democracy and communism, but will be between the religious thought patterns of Christianity and the Eastern religions.” His words are coming true! The Great Commission still applies.
Well, let me bring this home…
When Jesus said: “Go into all the world,” that wasn’t just a make-work project. He didn’t mean that we are to sit around and think about it and talk about it. He didn’t mean for us to debate it or to discuss it or to delay it. He meant for us to go. He meant for us to join Him in the fight against evil in this world. He meant for us to make our own great commitment to the Great Commission.
“How?” you ask? First, be a missionary! Let me speak especially to young people who may be listening. Many times young people say to me: “I do the things I’m supposed to do, so why isn’t my life more exciting and why isn’t my faith more dynamic?” Almost always the answer is that you haven’t begun giving your faith away. If you’ve got a little goal for your faith, you will have a little faith. If you’ve got a dull goal for your life, you will have a dull life. But if you ever catch the vision of winning the world for Jesus Christ and you give yourself to that vision, then both your faith and your life will become exciting, dynamic, thrilling and adventurous. So, give God the chance to call you to mission service if that is His will. Be a missionary. Second, if you are not called to be a missionary, then at least support missions sacrificially. No matter your age or circumstance, you can pray that the church will find ways to reach the unreached peoples of this world for Jesus Christ. And no matter your age or circumstance you can make a gift to the mission enterprise of the church. Right here in this church, you can make a gift to help us build that seminary in Mexico so that ministers and evangelists can be trained to carry the Gospel to the unreached people of Central and South America. Third, if you can’t pray and give sacrificially, then let me kindly suggest that you get converted, because you haven’t learned yet what Jesus calls His disciples to do.
I keep thinking about one of our missionaries in the Middle East. An American oil company approached him, offering him a job. His fluency in the language, his knowledge of the customs and culture, and his contacts with the people of that region would be a valuable asset to that company. The salary would be substantial. He turned it down. The company then proposed to double their previous salary offer. The missionary sat down and wrote them a letter. It read: “Please don’t waste any more of your time. Your first offer was more money than I have ever made or ever hope to make. It’s not that your salary isn’t big enough—it’s that your job isn’t big enough! Why would I want to give myself to trying to win a contract for your company, when I am presently engaged in trying to win a continent for Jesus Christ?”
Jesus said: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” How do we respond? Simple. Yes or No. I pray that today our answer—yours and mine—will be: “Yes, Lord, we are ready to make our great commitment to your Great Commission.”
So may it be…