1. The World Church in Crisis
The global church is facing unprecedented challenges. In modern times the church has continued to grow in size due to its expansion in non-Western countries. But while the quantity has been spared from decline, the same cannot be said about quality. For a long time, the Western church has been on the decline due to influences of secularism and a humanism-based Enlightenment movement. And expansion of Western civilization and global secularization has crippled the world church.
Proponents of the Enlightenment movement claimed that light comes from reason, not from the Word of God. They believed that human rights based on reason and development of scientific technology would result in the expansion of democracy and economic prosperity, eventually leading to the establishment of utopia on Earth, the ultimate goal of the Age of Reason.
Francis Bacon declared at the inauguration of this new age that “Knowledge is Power!” Intellectual authority began to control the world. For the past 400 years, this intellectual authority incessantly and intentionally infiltrated, undermined, and sabotaged the church. As a result, highly educated theologians and scholars took the seat of authority while faithful ministers that sincerely love and worship God in spirit and in truth and serve by the power of the Spirit have been marginalized and demoted. Furthermore, political and economic interests have corrupted the church structure. In the end, the church was secularized and stripped of spiritual power and degenerated into a mere religious organization.
Jesus instructed us that through the Holy Spirit we would receive the power to be witnesses of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The New Testament age began with the power of the Holy Spirit. But somehow in the church today, healing of the sick and driving out of demons by the power of the Spirit are considered primitive and trivial Christian ministries. Christian religion stripped of authority to overcome the gates of hell has turned into a religion of ethics where social action takes the center stage of ministry while ministries centered around the preaching of the kingdom gospel is labeled and criticized as “aggressive evangelism.”
Meanwhile, the African church has experienced astonishing growth in the past 30 years. But crippled by the shallow teachings of the prosperity gospel and a deep-rooted tendency to depend on outside assistance, it is unable to exercise spiritual leadership in the outside world.
The South American church overcame the religious authority and tradition of the Catholic church that claims to be alive but is dead and is experiencing powerful revival. They have great passion in praise and worship but are not able to grow out of shallow sensationalism, void of gospel power and a commitment to cross-carrying discipleship.
The European church seems helpless in the face of Islam, which has quickly outgrown Christianity in Europe, where 5% of the population is Muslim and 4% is Christian.
The American church has confused Americanism and Christianity, thinking that America is the kingdom of God and in the process losing its spiritual heritage from the Puritans and giving in to ideologies of capitalism and liberalism.
The new leadership of the world church is the Asian church, especially the Korean and the Chinese churches. The Chinese church with 150 million believers that have overcome the brutal, systematic persecution of the communist regime in the past fifty years, will soon rise to leadership in the global church and will build the highway for the Lord’s return back to Zion, the city of God, and bring about a rapid evangelization of the world.
The Korean church has been in continual decline, as a result of rapid secularization that started in 1988. But the Korean church is still led by the first generation Christians that endured through persecution under the Japanese occupation. They have brought about explosive revival in the Korean church through evangelism, prayer, and Holy Spirit movements in the midst of poverty and political instability following the Korean Civil War in the 60’s and the 70’s. This spiritual heritage remains a powerful source of spiritual potential in the Korean church.
In the 1990’s, certain Christian intellectuals in Korea did much damage to the church by advocating a shift in the church’s focus to its social and cultural responsibilities. They went about making a vociferous attempt at reformation of the Korean church, but it actually turned out to be a catalyst for the secularization of the church in disguise. Emphasis on what they called the ‘Holistic Gospel’ eventually derailed the church from the gospel power in the cross and the resurrection of Christ.
Nonetheless, there remains in Korea countless faithful, gospel-centered, Spirit-seeking, cross-carrying, wholly-devoted believers and churches advancing the kingdom and serving in various ministries with the firm conviction that only the gospel has the power to change the world. They are the true disciples of Christ. They are the faithful church. They will not give in to the temptations of the Prostitute under the elegant and persuasive guise of the ‘Holistic Gospel’. They will not fear sacrifice or hesitate to suffer. They are preachers of the ‘Eternal Gospel’ – the future revivalists of the Korean church and leaders of world mission in the next generation.
2. But History Moves On
The Kingdom of God was inaugurated after the Advent, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ by the Great Commission, the fulfillment of which is the end of the world and the completion of God’s salvific history. Therefore, mission is not simply one of various ministries of the church but its highest purpose. History revolves around the movement of the gospel to all nations and missionaries are at the center stage of the drama. Missionaries, therefore, are history makers.
The movement of the gospel advances in basic units of cultural-linguistic people groups. The Bible clearly dictates that the gospel must reach every cultural-linguistic people group rather than every individual or nation-state. Salvation is achieved through individual faith in Christ but the missional mandate of God in the bible is to bring the gospel to all people groups. God’s history would not be complete if there is even one people group that has not received the gospel. Therefore, the highest priority in the mission of the church is to bring the gospel to unreached peoples. So the church must always remember to prioritize frontier mission.
What does it mean for a people group to be reached? What percentage of the population has to be Christian before it can be categorized as evangelized? This question is impossible to answer with complete precision but we can infer from the biblical witness and from the ministry of Apostle Paul that the biblical definition may be very different from our common sense notion of evangelization. In Romans 15, Paul says that he ‘no longer has any room for work’ in the regions around the Corinthian church so that he has been wanting for a long time to go to Spain. How much of Corinth was Christian that Paul found no room for work in its regions? Without doing historical research we can easily surmise that it was much less than 1%. Paul was incessantly interested in advancing the gospel to the frontiers.
Historically, when more than 20% of the population becomes Christian, the ethnic church quickly declines as a result of secularization and the fire of the gospel moves on to a new frontier. Such is the witness of past 2000 years of church history. Some believers say that they will lay down their lives for the complete, 100% evangelization of their own nation or people group. Such devotion may be laudable but it is not biblical. God never made such promises in the Bible. Like Paul, we must have zealous love and commitment for the revival of our own ethnic or national church to the point that we are willing to lay down our own lives. But we must never forget God’s eternal plan and desire to see the witness of the gospel to all nations (Matt 24:14, Matt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8)
Therefore, we must obey the Great Commission in any circumstance and at all costs for the rapid evangelization of the world. Mission programs of churches and mission organizations must prioritize frontier mission to unreached nations. The world church is in decline and so is the Korean church. But God’s history is always advanced by the faithful few. As long as at least 20% of the Korean church remains faithful and loyal the spiritual vitality of the Korean church will continue. It is the 20% that will save the 80%, not the other way around. God’s history advances through the faithful obedience and loyalty of his people. Such is the witness of past 2000 years of church history.
By Missionary Paul Choi