Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
I grew up in a small, South Alabama community that could be grouped in several ways: White or black, wealthy or not, going to church or not. As a pastor’s son, I was especially aware of the latter group. Many church-going people are still very aware of who goes or who does not.
I often wonder if the Lord is evaluating us_not who goes to church, but who in the church is going into the world. Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 was that the disciples, who were not of the world, would not be taken out of the world, but would be sent into the world_as He was sent into the world.
The world was a hostile place for Jesus to go, but His going brought salvation to it. He was not content to live in safe isolation. The will of the Father was that He go and give His life. In the same manner, it is the Father’s will that we go beyond the safe community of believers, into the world with the Gospel.
The Great Commission of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, is equally clear as is John 20:21. Paul, the apostle, calls us ambassadors; ambassadors are sent to represent their government to other nations (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). It is clear that we have a mission to represent the kingdom of God to the world. “The world” is not only some foreign culture, it is any place beyond the believing community.
“The world” can be intimidating and is apparently so to many Christians, since they do not go there with the Gospel. But, the Church can never be the overcoming force that it is called to be until it overcomes its fear of the world. The focus is too much on going to church rather than going to the world, and that leaves us marginalized and unprepared for the Lord’s return.
Most Christians believe in a second coming of Jesus Christ. However, the sense of preparation or urgency is lacking. Perhaps this is due to a neglect of the topic or our comfort with the world. Yet the return of the Lord is referred to many times in the New Testament. Even an angel declared Jesus’ return to His disciples in Acts 1:11.
There are numerous theories about the Lord’s return, as there were about His first coming. The theories generally fall into one of three categories: Pre-millennial, post-millennial and a-millennial. The millennium refers to the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth (see Revelation 20). “Pre-mills” believe Jesus’ return will be before the one thousand year reign on earth; “Post-mills” believe that after the Church has brought in the Kingdom, He will return; “A-mills” do not believe in a literal one thousand year reign.
Of course, these are extremely condensed versions of those theories, and there are differences of opinion in each category. Some believe the Book of Revelation is already fulfilled, as is Matthew 24. Some even believe that the Second Coming has already occurred.
The Scripture reminds us that we know and prophesy in part. We should all agree that each point of view believes in the victory that Jesus won on the Cross and, that victory will ultimately be made manifest on the earth. The second victory waits on the Church to do what the Lord commanded it to do. Do I believe that the Church_even the obedient Church_will complete the victory apart from the return of Jesus? No.
I do not find myself fitting comfortably into any theory. I am more concerned about our obedience to His command than I am about speculation. As to the end of the age; I have questions. Here are some of them:
Ephesians 5:25-27 makes it clear that Jesus is returning for a Bride without blemish_a glorious Church. Here is my question: Can we separate our personal maturity from the glorious overcoming Church? Can the corporate Church succeed while individuals fail to embrace the mission that He gave to us?
What are the limits to our mortal perfection? The apostle Paul saw mortal perfection as impossible, but saw maturity in following the Spirit. (See Romans 7, 8.)
If we are to be victorious in this life, what is the basis for overcoming the world? (See 1 John 5:4-5.)
What role does tribulation play in our maturity and refinement? (See Acts 14:22; Matthew 5:10-12.)
What are forces that face us in the world? Study secularism and Islam.
Is there a relationship between events in the Middle East and the Church? I believe so. (See Matthew 24.) We cannot declare that He “rules in the affairs of men,” yet divorce ourselves from world events.
Where in the Bible do you look for a clear discussion of the sequence of events leading to the return of Jesus, and what occurs after? (See 1 Corinthians 15.)
Who is a true Jew or child of Abraham? (See John 8 and Galatians 3.)
There are literally hundreds of questions for discussion. Those I have listed are a few of my own. The answers raise more questions. It is healthy to realize that the Lord left us dependent on Him and the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible. In fact, we cannot truly understand Bible prophesy until it comes to pass. When it happens, no one will say, “That is exactly the way I knew it would be!”
Here are some answers that motivate me:
Don’t rely on the map without the Guide. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth; we are not there yet. He gave the map and He must help us to understand it. It was not given to divide us, but to cause us to seek the Guide.
The Guide, the Holy Spirit, is telling us to take off the “night clothes” and put on the armor of Light. Out salvation will come through battle. We are in a spiritual war, even if many “soothing prophets” refuse to discuss it. (See Romans 13:11-14.) The biblical writers understood the war.
We are being called to move from a “missionless worship” to worship through obedience. (See Isaiah 6.)
The mission is personal not just corporate or theoretical. The daily cross demands self denial in favor of Christ’s cause. (See Matthew 16:24-27.)
The Church is a body_the body of Christ, not an institution. We are His Body doing His will in the earth. (See Hebrews 10:5-7.)
Rather than speculate, we need to evaluate what we are producing_disciples or mere members? The Lord and the world will evaluate our fruit. (See 2 Timothy 2:2.)
We are being called back to Jesus’ model and mission. He had much to say about true disciples being reproductive. (See Matthew 28:18-20 and John 15. Compare Genesis 1:28 with Matthew 28:18-20.)
I do have a theory about the Lord’s return, but I realize that it is just that_a theory. It is not my test for fellowship with other believers. I applaud those of any sincerely held biblical belief who are seriously demonstrating practical action. I have little use for theories that bring no personal result.
I do believe in a literal Return of Christ and living in expectation of it_in any age. Nearness to Him always produces anticipation. I do not believe in setting dates. Jesus Himself acknowledged that only the Father knew the day and the hour. Date-setting is foolish.
The Lord reigns now (see Psalm 2; Psalm 110; 1 Corinthians 15:25; and Ephesians 1:20-23), and will reign upon the earth. (See Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 11:15-19.) And, we will reign with Him. (See Revelation 20:4.) But we are called to reign now in our own lives. (See Romans 5:17-21; 2 Timothy 2:12.)
Having said that, we believe that those who overcome will reign with Christ. We must not forget that overcoming implies a struggle. I hasten to add that the Western Church will face serious tests that will prove our faith or lack of it. Tribulation (not only the Great Tribulation), will awaken and refine us. The churches in Western Culture are in for some serious shocks.
I do not believe that modern Israel is irrelevant to the purpose of God. Romans 11 should make that clear. One cannot believe that the Lord rules in the affairs or men, and yet believe somehow that the Middle East is irrelevant. While I believe that I am a true child of Abraham (see Galatians 3:26-28), and that those who receive Christ are grafted into “the Branch”_that does not eliminate the current nation of Israel from a place in God’s purpose. So, I hold to this: that those in Christ are Israel by virtue of our being joined to the covenant. And, I hold to “natural Israel” having a place in God’s purpose, but that purpose is not a separate path to the Father. The Cross was and is once and for all. To ignore Israel that exists in the Middle East, or to see it as just another nation, is in my view to ignore much Scripture and the existing reality.
So perhaps I have upset the “Pre-mills”, “A-mills”, and “Post-mills”. But I still pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and I love the people of Israel. I think that they are on the front lines of conflict_a physical war that typifies what is going on in the heavens. I hope that we can be vigilant.
I recognize that Israel of the Middle East is sometimes wrong in its policies; and that many of it citizens are atheists. I also recognize that there are many Arab Christians_our brothers and sisters in Christ_who need and deserve our prayers. They are caught in a deadly crossfire. I only ask that we not ignore the significance of the current situation and that we look to the Lord for opportunity to serve His purpose
Time and space force me to conclude. Whatever your view, we have business in the world. Let us go there.
Charles V. Simpson
P.S. Thank you for your prayers concerning Jonathan. He continues to make strong improvement_see our website for continued updates. Let me sincerely ask you to please keep CSM in your prayers and in your budget during this month. These have been lean days financially, but they are not lean in terms of opportunity to extend the Gospel. We depend upon the Lord and the faithfulness of people like you to continue to move forward in our mission: “Equipping Christians who build churches that disciple nations.” Thanks for your friendship and support.
Scripture Reference: John, Matthew, 2 Corinthians, John, Acts, Revelations, Ephesians, Romans, 1 John, Acts, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Isaiah, Hebrews, 2 Timothy