Sabotaging the Kingdom Part II

sabotage_6

Earlier from Part I

… We must fill the pews today, not tomorrow. Why overexert ourselves when there are far less difficult fields? The truth is that our mission has become more about the Church than about the Gospel, and we may be effectively sabotaging the Gospel work in these last days, perhaps without even knowing it.

What Then Shall We Do?

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

– Acts 2:37

The first part of this article received widespread attention and interest. Many called to thank me, others to assure me that they are carrying a fresh breath of change to their local churches. Some, that they would take this concern into impending church board meetings, and other into thoughtful proposals and recommendations on specific interventions at various levels of our church system.

All this is great, and it was certainly my intent to ignite, as far as possible, a sense of urgency for the perishing souls of the 3W category. Yet it remains necessary to set forth, in as clear terms as possible, the way out of the problem. Because the solution to such a complex problem cannot be reduced to a set of instructions, our objective will be to present a framework rather than a manual; approaches rather than steps. Yet this is no equivocation. I maintain that though they may not be sufficient for complete transformation of our evangelism agenda, I cannot see how any such change can be attained without them.

In the spirit of Acts 2:37, it is only fitting that having stirred us up to reflect on how amiss we have been in the past, I offer an answer to that most blessed of questions: “What shall we do?” So here we go.

A New Humility

We don’t know how to do it, truth be told. This is true both on an individual and on an organizational level. Don’t get me wrong; as a church we do have a clear vision as to the pattern that end-time evangelism ought to take. But we have much to learn of Christ still.

The Spirit of Prophecy declares, “But this work must be done, and it will be done by those who are led and taught of God” 3SM 234.2

In saying so, Ellen White indicates that a willing church of the end times submit humbly to the teaching and leading of the Holy Spirit. New and difficult areas will need our patient, studious and disciplined attention. We can no longer continue to brush aside the challenges of postmodernist science and philosophy as overly sophisticated trifles. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the complexities of a increasing secularism not only in social organisation as it affects institutions like marriage and family, but also in areas such as science, religion and academia, where it affects the creation and use of technology, the restriction of religious faith and practice, and the regulation of conscience and free expression.

All these trends are occurring, not in the overt light of opposition and conflict, but in the subtle guise of universal tolerance and acceptance which is so fundamental to postmodern thought: Everyone is right; let’s not allow anyone therefore to say otherwise.

Prophecy, Patience, and a New Meaning of Success

Evangelising the Wealthy, Worldly and Well-Educated requires a whole new set of success metrics. Evangelising this group takes time. As we discussed in part I, the key to success has much more to do with relationship building and nurturing than it has to do with preaching – though that certainly has its place.

How then will we measure the success of our efforts? What will happen when we send reports to our conferences indicating that after spending, say, GHC 50, 000 on Bible seminars and visitations over a semester, we have no baptisms to show for it? What will happen when after three years of a steady, conscientious campus ministry programme, the tithe returns from our fellowship sees no improvement whatsoever? What if instead of getting baptized the majority of our prospects only move from skepticism about our faith to mere open-mindedness?

If human nature is anything to go by, then it is very likely that we will begin to lose confidence in our strategy, and to wonder whether it is worth all the investment in financial and human capital. How do we avoid this?

We must accept, as we have said, that 3W evangelism is slow, and requires patience. But we must also accept that the purpose of 3W evangelism, while ultimately the unchanged, is nuanced in a slight but important way.

You see, God has promised an end-time revival among his people. He has also promised an end-time shaking of the church and the world. This shaking will be based on individual choices for or against the truth they should already have been made aware of. This is the work that we must do for the world today. For me, the locus of our evangelism must shift from church growth (which was the mission of the early church; Matthew 28:19, 20), to warning the world with the Three Angel’s Messages (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 14: 6 – 10).

Ellen White warns of this shaking, and affirms that in its double effect will be the weeding out of the unfaithful within the church, and the coming in of many who will have heard the message in or near the last hour.

“There will be a shaking of the sieve. The chaff must in time be separated from the wheat. Because iniquity abounds, the love of many waxes cold. It is the very time when the genuine will be the strongest.” –Letter 46, 1887

But what would instigate this shaking among God’s people?

“I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen, and was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. This will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver, and will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this will cause a shaking among God’s people.”

Ellen White, 1 Testimonies, pp 181 (1857)

So in Ellen White’s mind, there is a clear process leading up to the final revival and weeding out of sinners in the church. It begins with the testimony of Jesus Christ Himself to the church of the last days, Laodicea (Revelation 3:14 – 22). This message stirs the hearts of faithful believers who are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit through His word. They proclaim the warning to the church. Some protest against the message, urging that the church is right with God, and can carry on as she is. But many heed the call to change – to a higher standard. This will bring division, and while some will march on to exploits and triumphs in Christ, others will fall away.

But something else happens:

“The broken ranks will be filled up by those represented by Christ as coming in at the eleventh hour. There are many with whom the Spirit of God is striving. The time of God’s destructive judgements is the time of mercy for those who [now] have no opportunity to learn what is truth. Tenderly will the Lord look upon them. His heart of mercy is touched, His hand is still stretched out to save, while the door is closed to those who would not enter. Large numbers will be admitted who in these last days hear the truth for the first time.”

Ellen White, Letter 103, 1903

Ellen White foresees a class of people who before these final hours had no knowledge of the truth. Yet in the final hour (Matthew 20: 1 – 16) they will hear the truth “for the first time” and they “will be admitted”.

I put among this class many in politically restrictive parts of the world, mainly in the Middle East, and parts of North Africa. I also add many who are geographically hard to reach, such as “uncontacted tribes” in the Amazon forest (even though the issue there is more complex than mere geography). I also place in this group many who have simply been neglected by those who have known the truth; people like the 3Ws. These are the last days; the shaking has already began (6T 332, 1900), and they too, must now hear the message. We must go out, charged and impassioned, tell them the Good news, and warn them of the coming judgment.

Intentionality in Resource Allocation

Between writing the two parts of this piece I have attended a forum on Campus Ministries organized by the Southern Ghana Union of Seventh-day Adventists. For three days we discussed how to approach evangelism and discipleship on campus in a new, more effective way.

The overarching consensus was that we need a centralized body to coordinate this ministry. This body will be guided by a set of objectives and strategies that meet the challenges of evangelism amongst the highly educated classes of society. It will oversee the mobilization, resourcing and deployment of our human capital in an innovative way so as to achieve maximum soul winning success on public campuses, and strengthen our young Adventists in their faith.

This is the kind of intentionality that is required for us to be successful. Further, such intentionality is shown in financial commitment by all stakeholder institutions. For example, while the SGUC has commendably committed 14% of its annual evangelism budget to Campus Ministries, we are yet to see similarly firm commitments from the conferences and administrative units involved.

Amongst the fellowships themselves, a bold new approach to budgeting is necessary, where evangelism is concerned. Fellowships must spend more on their own campuses than elsewhere. While rural evangelism is important, this is a matter of improving efficiency in the utilisation of the Lord’s resources. At the moment, nobody else is spending seriously on the campus evangelism agenda; it is not as if fellowships can afford to not prioritise their campuses.

If GNAAS UG, for example, committed 70% of its local evangelism budget to campus evangelism, that, for me, would be a statement of intent I can believe.

A Holistic Approach – Local Church Involvement

Adventist students on public university campuses need to be supported with training and resources to be effective evangelists in the heart of Ghana’s intellectual conscience, the educational institutions. Local churches can greatly support the conferences by contributing in these areas. Particularly local churches on university campuses have alumni and university workers who are well placed to open doors for witnessing that would otherwise remain shut to students.

Secondly, simply ensuring the presence of English speaking local churches within reach of such communities would make a world of difference. Though millennials, particularly, may be able to speak indigenous languages like Twi and Ga, but increasingly their thought system is increasingly being built in English. Adventism must wake up to that fact, or became more obfuscated, and less relevant over time. Highly distracting concurrent translations are not the solution either.

Such local churches with intentionally designed worship programmes will play a key role in closing the loop in successful evangelism to the 3Ws. They must be welcomed into an atmosphere and environment that is at par with their station and sensibilities. This is not pampering; it is catering.

There is nothing virtuous in backless benches, poor ventilation and rough concrete floors. All our congregations, of course, must aspire to worship in a setting that is decent and that glorifies a God of beauty and decorum.

Failing this, we will find our faith a hard sell to people who currently congregate in some of the poschest auditoriums this side of the globe. Were we to win them at all, we ourselves might certainly try their new faith with unnecessary inconveniences that the Lord has not designed to test anybody.

Overrated Sophistication

While the 3Ws group presents a challenge to traditional evangelistic methods, it has to be said that this challenge is often over-exaggerated. True, they are intellectually competent, but they are, generally, not omniscient. Yes, they are philosophically complex and worldly, but at least in Africa they are rarely completely irreligious. And while they are socially distant by way of their circles of association, they are not completely separate or inaccessible.

How Well-Educated?

I will be blunt here. In our part of the world, “Well-Educated” should only be understood in relative terms. Africa has had a history of poor education, particularly post-colonialism. Governments have not invested nearly enough in the education of their people, and so much of the education people have is functional and tailored to the basic economies established by colonial era economic interests.

The result is that many of our best educated are not truly “well-educated”. I have come to this conclusion from personal interaction with members of the so-called intellectual elite in Ghana.

  • Professorial papers are often logically and grammatically flawed to the point of assault
  • Books written by Ghanaian authors are rarely better. I have struggled to read Ghanaian books past the first few pages as a result.
  • Many political leaders demonstrate poor logical reasoning on an almost constant basis
    • Africa’s notoriously poor reading culture [1] [2]
  • English language proficiency is generally poor in Ghana, but it is little better among the social elite
  • Ghana consistently places near the bottom of global education surveys[3] [4]

As a demography then, the practical scope of the “well-educated” is broad, and covers everyone with a tertiary education of any sort and quality. A job market that is agnostic to intellectual quality means that these will also be the more frequently employed and better paid members of society. The result then is that they form an upper class that has more the appearance of sophistication, but not so much the reality of it. Largely. (Before somebody shoots me J).

Even if we had veritable Einsteins walking down the corridors of our universities and about the streets of our cities, their intellectualism would pose no substantial challenge to Christ’s method of evangelism; only to our own.

Worldlier than Thou?

Further, though they are unmistakably worldly, I do see how it can be sustained that they are any more so than the rest of us. The only difference in all likelihood, is the expression they give to the worldly tendency we all share as fallen human beings. The 3Ws’ expressions of worldliness are supported by opportunity and means. That it is really the big difference. Some change cars like clothes, others clothes like handkerchiefs.

Again, were they the very epitome of irreligious worldliness and hedonism, they would not be beyond the saving influence of a Christ-Inspired witnessing approach.

Christ’s Method Alone

How then shall we approach this group, wherever they be? As we have earlier discussed, there are several instances of successful evangelism to this constituency. These approaches are based on:

  • Service: Ministry that meets them where their needs are
  • Relationship: True personal connection that develops into long-term relationships
  • Integrity: The gospel lived out is often the only sermon they are interested to hear.

All three, of course, must be woven together by the constant, winning declaration of the word of truth and grace. This is Christ’s method. Says the Spirit of Prophecy:

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”

Ellen White, Ministry of Healing p 143

Conclusion – Sabotaging the Other Kingdom

“…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:8

Matthew 16:8 is a frequently discussed – and debated – Bible text. The volume of ink that has been spent debating the identity of “this rock” is probably enough to float the entire battleship fleet of Ghana’s navy. Yet the verse says something else that I find equally as captivating, and fascinating.

Jesus tells us “The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church. In ancient times, cities were walled, and gated.” At the gates they were heavily guarded. This was often one of the first points at which enemy invaders would attack during a war. In medieval times armies perfected battering rams that would pound repeatedly at the gates of castles until they were literally battered down. All the while, the occupants of the city or castle would be gripped with fear, hoping and praying that the gate is strong enough to buffer the onslaught.

You’ve probably seen it in cartoons and movies set in the Middle Ages. They were helpful in the siege of Constantinople, the destruction of Jerusalem and during the Crusades of the 11th Century. Even today, specialized military forces like SWAT teams use small rams to force open doors in order to gain entry. But battering rams were not the only offensive strategy against fortified gates. Trebuchets could launch missiles (balls of fire) over the gates and over the walls, and could help to weaken the gate from a distance. Various ballistic weapons could help to decimate the actual guards along the defense wall around the gate.

Basically, the gate was the first point of attack, and had to be built to be strong and tall enough to prevail against any sort of onslaught. It is true that in this text Jesus very likely alludes to His coming death, from which he was to prevail against hell through His resurrection. But I submit it must also be true that the church is triumphant in a battle siege against the kingdom of darkness. We are used to picturing the Kingdom of God as a vulnerable flock under constant attack from a determined enemy, yet our mission is the deliverance of every soul under the clutches of evil. In this light, it is the church that is to be on the offensive. This is what I find fascinating – that it is we, who must strike fear in the hearts of the enemy and his minions with the deafening sound of our two-pronged battering ram; and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony – Revelation 12:11. We must begin a great sabotage against the enemy’s detention of the wealthy, worldly and well-educated classes of the world. It’s like C.S. Lewis said,

Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

For too long the gates of Hell have been quiet, holding secure the souls of many whom we have been neglecting. It is about time that we launched the attack, under the banner of Christ, our battle cry the Gospel of grace, forgiveness and peace with God. We must storm the territories of hell, and rescue all who are perishing in its grip. Why should we wait… what should we fear… We have the Lord’s promise that the mightiest of hell’s gates will not prevail against us.


References

[1] [1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-25141849

[2] [2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4365958.stm

[3] http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/May-13th/ghana-ranks-bottom-in-latest-maths-science-survey-report.php

[4] http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/singapore-tops-oecds-global-education-ranking

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Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.