Over the past few years, I’ve had increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances becoming involved in foreign missions. I find great blessing in offering practical and prayerful support to their assignments; I greatly admire their obedience to God in answering the call to be fishers of men in poor, often dangerous areas of the world–places where false religion abounds and the death penalty for “infidels” is the harsh reality. The stories of men, women, and children being set free in salvation through Christ stirs my spirit with an otherworldly joy.
There is no doubt that missions activity requires preparation, hard work and financial backing. Missionaries are faced with learning a new language and culture so that they may not only survive, but be effective in their ministry. There is serious equipping that must be done, by the individual and by the church, if the people in these impoverished, spiritually-oppressed areas are to be reached. Why do churches and missionaries put forth such efforts in return for little to no practical benefit to themselves? Because the souls that come to a saving knowledge of Christ as a result are PRICELESS. Heaven rejoices over every single one. Jesus gave his followers a Great Commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, making disciples in His name, and missionaries are carrying out this command.
I’ve thought about this a great deal in recent months, and it has occurred to me that churches are doing a great work in emphasizing the importance of foreign missions, motivating more laypersons to participate as they are called. But what I’ve come to realize is that there’s an entire mission field that is going unnoticed by many churches, or if it’s noticed, the church doesn’t know how to approach it.
I’m talking about the droves of agnostics and atheists American universities are cranking out year after year—many of whom identified themselves as Christians their freshman year.
When it comes to poor, third-world countries, meeting the basic needs of clean water, food, shelter, clothing, and education are incredible blessings that draw people to the Gospel. But when you have a whole demographic that is well-fed, designer-clothed, and highly educated, a radically different approach is needed.
It is deeply troubling to me that the church is not exhibiting the same concern for these souls that they exhibit for those in the foreign mission field. When is the last time you noticed fundraising activity for an apologetics education endeavor at a local church or heard of a church staff bringing a professional apologist on board? Exactly what is the church community doing to reach out to the men and women of the community who believe the Bible to be nothing more than a collection of fables that have lost any integrity they might have had through thousands of years of copying and mis-translation? These are the same folks that believe morality is completely relative to the time, culture, and evolutionary era a person lives in, and even the definition of “person” is not absolute.
The standard response is, “Oh, we have to love them with a Christ-like love and let the Holy Spirit do the rest!” Okay, but love is an action word in Christianity. We can reach out to them with compassion and practical help in their times of emotional distress, for sure.
But what if more Christians did the hard work of preparation to be most effective in this mission field, outfitting themselves with the evidential arguments for the historical reliability of Scripture, the philosophical arguments against naturalism, and the scientific arguments for design detection in nature? What if more churches facilitated their studies? I’ve talked with individuals, some of whom are close friends of mine, that were drawn to Christianity through extensive intellectual discussion. In their cases, the Holy Spirit used the scholarly preparation of a believer to reach a lost soul for the Kingdom, just as he uses the hard work of foreign missionaries building medical clinics or digging water wells in poverty-stricken villages.
My question is, isn’t the soul of the arrogant atheist or stubborn agnostic every bit as valuable as the soul of the starving single mother in central Africa?
Our compassion naturally gravitates towards the latter–of COURSE it does. But how does Christ view these souls? They are equally precious in His sight. Think of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Yes, he reached out to the marginalized men and women; He called fishermen to follow Him; He defended the poor and lowly; but He also reached out to the “high and mighty.” He called wealthy tax collectors and members of the intellectual elite to follow Him. The Apostle Paul is a perfect example: a well-educated man with high ranking in society and a virulent disdain for Christians. In a dramatic display of evidence for His divinity, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. We all know how that story played out.
If we have at our disposal the resources with which to arm ourselves with answers and evidences for the Christian Faith, shouldn’t we exploit those resources to the greatest extent possible? If the Holy Spirit can use this knowledge as a tool to reach a specific segment of our secular society, a segment that has a huge influence over public policy and education, by the way, why aren’t we doing more to make apologetics training available in the church? We must not let this mission field lay fallow.