Vaughan Roberts once referred to Europe as a “cut-flower” society. It has the look of beauty in its steeples and church traditions, but it has no roots in Jesus. The gospel was once heralded in Europe, and many trusted in Jesus. Tragically, many have forgotten the gospel and have been forgotten by the church.
How much investment should be made to bring the gospel to places it’s already been, like Europe? Some of us may feel disinterest or even disdain because such places, it seems, have squandered Christ’s riches.
Yet when we look at all the “reached” places and decide strategically to move on, we may have a case of missiological amnesia. God, on the other hand, never forgets.
We see that God never forgets as we trace the storyline of the Bible. We see the repetition and progression of God’s covenants with his people, from Eden to the New Jerusalem. After Adam and Eve mess it all up, God responds with the greatest promise of all time (Gen. 3:15). Over and over, God speaks and enacts covenants with his people, and ultimately Jesus fulfills all these covenants. He never forgets.
We’re familiar with the language and cycle of God’s people as a “remnant.” From Noah and the ark to ol’ man Simeon in the temple holding baby Jesus, God always preserves a remnant. It’s a motley few, who’ve stayed behind to testify to hope for renewal and restoration. In Judges and Kings we see God’s people rebel and reject him before they remember and repent. God always rescues his people. He never forgets.
Additionally, the two ordinances of the church—baptism (our entrance ID) and the Lord’s Supper (our ID check)—remind the church of God’s faithfulness. Every time we baptize a new believer, we’re heralding the good news. Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we’re feasting on Christ’s body and blood by faith. Both of these practices infer a progressive transformation from life to death to new life in the ebb and flow of daily life until Christ returns. The church grows, and God keeps her. He never forgets.
Revising Our Reach Metrics
Because we worship a God who never forgets, the “unreached/reached” dichotomy is not always helpful for general missiology. We need not pit them so strongly against each other.
We weren’t commanded to only pursue unengaged or unreached people. Our anthropological target is all people (Matt. 28:18–20). Our geographical extent is progressively everywhere (Acts 1:8). The gospel is so powerful that it can reach those who are forgetful, as well as those who once rejected it. Perhaps we ought to revise our “reach metrics.” What if we measured our reach by the quantity of all people everywhere and by the quality of faithfulness and fruit-bearing?
What if we measured our reach by the quantity of all people everywhere and by the quality of faithfulness and fruit-bearing?
Here we are in central Europe, the birthplace of the Reformation 500 years ago. In Germany, the state provides for the needs of everyone (via taxation). Religion is taught wide and thin in public schools. Kids grow up learning about Christianity, along with other religions and naturalistic ethics. When a local Roman Catholic was teaching my son’s fifth-grade religion class, she asked how Jesus was able to perform miracles. He answered, “Because Jesus is God.” She laughed and with mockery said, “That’s ridiculous! It’s just because he was a magical man.” Still, Jesus was proclaimed to a group of people who, seconds before, never knew anyone who actually believed Jesus is God. Even in the land of Luther, people need to hear the gospel and see the difference it makes.
How long should we preach this message where it’s already been preached and often rejected for centuries? Until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. Thankfully, God supplies what we need and doesn’t grow tired. This is why I can easily get behind the International Mission Board’s call for an “endless, borderless, limitless spread of the gospel,” since Jesus and his work are all those things for us. He never forgets.
Do You Forget?
Today, God’s people throughout the world see how the local has become international and the international has become local, in some way or another, on every continent. For the mission-minded this means we’re better positioned to share the gospel with all people everywhere than ever before.
And God has gifted each one of us uniquely. Opportunities abound. We live in the richest and most destitute of times. People and populations are never static but always in flux. But God is unchanging. He is faithful. He never forgets. As long as we’re alive, the time is ripe for planting gospel seeds everywhere.
To God, there’s no forgotten place. All is before him. We are limited, and many of us have forgotten, but we need not limit ourselves to only unreached people and places. God wants all people everywhere to know Jesus and come to him in the grace he supplies.
Our mission is limited to man and earth’s boundaries, but God’s mission is committed to Jesus and heaven’s bright shores. There’s no end to the extent of his kingdom; it’s all his. There’s no end to the extent of his cross; our justification is full. There’s no end to the reach of his grace; it overflows all bounds. And there’s no end to the reach of his renown; he never forgets. All people everywhere will one day bow and confess. They will know him as Lord and Savior, or they will not.
May we not limit ourselves when it comes to God’s mission. He never forgets, and neither should we.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at The Upstream Collective.
Join Evangelium21’s efforts to revive the church in Germany by attending the “500 Years Reformation: Together for the Gospel” conference in Hamburg from April 27 to 29, 2017. Find more information and register here.