NEW ORLEANS (BP) — I became a follower of Jesus at age 13. The first church I attended was a small Southern Baptist church in southwestern Ohio. That church gave me a strong, unshakeable confidence in the Word of God that has grounded me to this day. What they ultimately gave me was a theology for doing the Great Commission. I have learned since then just how important that theology is: a biblical theology should drive us to get the Gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.
That theology is unquestionably clear. All human beings are separated from the one and only true God, desperately lost and destined for hell. No person is good enough in his nature to inherit heaven, nor can any person do enough good works to get there. Apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, no man has any hope.
Jesus, though, is indeed the answer. He willingly bore the sins of the world, paid the penalty for our wrong, and broke the back of the Enemy through His death. In His resurrection, He overcame death and now offers life to all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. That message is amazingly good news.
Five times in the New Testament, this same Jesus — the perfect eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity — is recorded as telling us what we must do in response to this message. He who has the authority to do so mandated that we proclaim this message to all the people groups of the world. That we must do, for no one can be saved apart from a hearing of the Gospel.
At any given point in this task, however, a faulty theology will lead to diversion from the Great Commission and disobedience to God. If, for example, the Bible is not the Word of God, why follow its teachings at all? If there is more than one God, why should we assume a need to proclaim the God of the Bible? If this God is not a perfectly holy God, why worry about sin at all?
Deny the lostness of human beings, and evangelism becomes only a politically incorrect religious confrontation. Assert that Jesus is “a” way to God — not the only way — and missions is then only a costly and arrogant cross-cultural endeavor. Reject the truth about divine judgment, and hell is explained as a faulty first-century worldview rather than the eternal judgment of a holy God. The cross itself becomes only a bloody means of death in an ancient city if the story of the Gospel message is not truth about the one who is Truth.
Thus, I am deeply indebted to Southern Baptists who led the Conservative Resurgence. As a pastor since the early 1980s, I have reaped the benefits of men and women who stood for the Word, refused to compromise, and proclaimed the truth that my home church had taught me. I pray that future generations will always learn from me what others taught me by their courage and obedience.
Here is what frightens me, though: I know very few churches that would reject the biblical message, yet I know many who live as if the message does not matter. Most of us have more Bibles than people in their homes, but we seldom think about 1.7 billion people of the world who have little access to the Gospel. Dollars given to missions are often leftover funds, not a sacrifice to support God’s work among the nations. And, actually going to the nations is, of course, someone else’s calling. In fact, crossing the street to speak to our neighbors is sometimes seemingly too far to go. We Southern Baptists have stood faithfully for a message that we have chosen to keep to ourselves.
Our inattention to the Great Commission is, despite our arguments otherwise, a practical denial of the very theology we claim to believe. Theology that does not affect the way we live is only an academic exercise — often a prideful one. Biblical theology lived out, though, will result in denying ourselves and taking up the cross. The Conservative Resurgence rightly applied should compel us to the hard places for the glory of Christ and the sake of the nations.
If you want to hear more about how the Conservative Resurgence should fuel Great Commission passion, and you’ll be in New Orleans for the annual meeting, plan to attend the B21 luncheon at 11:30 CST Tuesday. Be sure, too, to experience the TENT at the IMB booth in the exhibit hall. Join us in making disciples among the nations — no matter what the cost of Great Commission obedience may be.
This column first appeared at http://www.BaptistTwentyOne.com. Chuck Lawless is vice president for global theological advance of the International Mission Board.