The Priority of Pioneer Missions
What God’s Word says about foreign missions
by Dr. Bob Finley
Founder of Christian Aid
February 29, 2012
The New Testament gives priority to pioneer missions. Other things, though still important, are secondary. Notice I said “pioneer missions.” It’s based on what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:20-21;
So have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named . . . but as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
Paul told the Roman Christians that he had avoided going to visit them because they already had churches in Rome. His calling was to go where no churches existed.
Most of what our Lord said to His disciples during the 40 days He was with them after His resurrection can be summed up in the words, Go teach all nations (Matthew 28:19). Earlier He had said that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations (Luke 24:47). Speaking of His return to this earth He said, The gospel must first be published among all nations (Mark 13:10).
He never said all nations would be converted or Christianized. Just the opposite. He told His disciples how believers would be hated of all nations for His name’s sake (Matthew 24:9). Such tribulation helps to test and purify our faith. He said His gospel would be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations (Matthew 24:14).
The Greek word for “witness” is martyr. Our Lord died for us, and asks us to be willing to take up our cross and die for Him if need be, in order to be His witnesses in hostile nations. Then He went on to say that when He eventually has a witness in every nation He will come again. His disciples had asked for the sign of His coming (Matthew 24:3), and He gave only one sign. First He listed many things that were not signs of His return. Wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution and tribulation for believers are things that have been going on for 2000 years. They are not signs of our Saviour’s coming. Rather, He said that the end would come when He has a witness for His gospel in every nation.
The Apostle Paul said that our Lord had given him grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name (Romans 1:5). In Revelation 7:9 we are given a vision of a great multitude which no man could number of all nations, kindreds, people and tongues who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).
These are the witnesses (martyrs) which our Lord said He would eventually have in every nation. The ones who have taken up their respective crosses and followed their Saviour to the top of the hill called Calvary and been crucified with Him. During the past 2000 years our Lord has had millions of witnesses who were faithful unto death, enduring tribulation, knowing that He would give them a crown of life.
Our Lord’s number one purpose between His first coming and His second coming was summarized by His apostles at the first great missionary convention held in Jerusalem. After reading my New Testament in the original Greek for 68 years, I would translate Acts 15:14 this way: Simon [Peter] has declared that God’s first priority is to take out a people for His name from among the nations.
The Biblical word for “nation” is very different from the way we use the word today. In the USA we pledge allegiance to our republic as being “one nation under God.” But actually, America is a melting pot of several thousand nations in the Biblical sense, because the Greek word is ethnos, meaning an ethnic group having their own culture and language. Before European conquerors came to this hemisphere, about one thousand native nations were already here. Our Lord’s eternal purpose is to have a witness for His name in every one of these, as well as among six thousand other nations living on other continents.
For about 150 years (1800-1950) thousands of churches and hundreds of mission agencies in America were committed to pioneer missions. Thousands of American missionaries were sent out to evangelize unreached nations in “mission field” countries. But everything changed after World War II.
China, the largest of all fields, was taken over by the Communists and all foreign missionaries were forced to leave. India, the second largest field, gained independence and the Hindu-controlled government said, “No more foreign missionaries.” Muslims, who controlled half of Asia and the northern half of Africa, also said, “No more Christian missionaries.” Mission boards in America found 90% of unreached people cut off from their missionaries.
Some tried to continue by sending humanitarian workers as what came to be called “tent-maker missionaries,” but most had to sign affidavits by which they vowed that they would not “propagate their religion” within the host country. So the traditional way of doing “pioneer missions” came to an end among 90% of the unreached nations on earth.
But God had an alternative strategy ready to roll just at the time when traditional missions faced closed doors. The answer was: INDIGENOUS MISSIONS, at least 4000 of them, sending out over 300,000 native missionaries.
Their biggest problem was that financial support was not available within their anti-Christian countries. Indigenous churches were just barely self-supporting, but most had nothing left over for the support of missionaries.
But in 1953 God raised up Christian Aid as the first U.S. ministry to see what had happened and to begin sending financial support to indigenous missions. Today we support over 800 ministries which deploy about 80,000 missionaries. They are located within every closed country on earth except Saudi Arabia and a couple more small Islamic nations.
We have always given top priority to planting a witness for our Lord within the nations where heretofore He has had no people for His name. And we believe His promise that when He has finally planted His church within every nation He will come again to wipe away all tears from the eyes of those who have suffered for His sake.