Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Good morning. Bonjour. Buenos días. Guten Morgen. Buongiorno. Miremengjes. 早上好. Magandang umaga. Buna dimineata. Bonjou. Habari za asubuhi.
As you've probably guessed by my pronunciation of the simple good morning greeting. I do not really speak all of the languages in which I greeted you this morning. Which included English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Albanian, Chinese, Filipino, Romanian, Crail and Swahili. However, if I wanted to greet the brethren on a Sunday morning at my home congregation in Montreal, Canada, I would have to do in 15 different languages because that's how many cultural groups are represented in less than 100 people in our congregation. And I don't mean people who say, my great, great grandfather came from Albania and my, my great, great, great, great, great uncle is from Romania. I mean, we just got here from the Ukraine last week and we just arrived from Shanghai a month ago and we're new immigrants from Albania and Romania and the Philippines and the Congo and Haiti. And we've just arrived.
Thankfully in Montreal, everyone speaks at least one of Canada's two official languages. The official languages in Canada are English and French. So in our congregation, we function as a fully bilingual church but there are other issues that make our multi cross-cultural ministry in Montreal quite interesting. It's not just multicultural and it's just not cross-cultural - it's multi cross-cultural ministry.
For example, no one has the same cultural references and that makes it tough for the preacher. I remember once trying to use Babe Ruth as an example, and I said to everybody "it's like when babe Ruth was playing ball" and 90% of the people just, "huh who's babe Ruth?"
Another example, potlucks are quite eclectic because not every culture has the same definition for main dish, side dish or dessert. We once had a fellowship meal where almost every dish was made with rice. And for the first time in my life, I was craving fried chicken. Food and tradition.
We have to integrate people from many really different religions. I mean really different religions. We have a brother who still removes his shoes when he presides at the communion table. I'm convinced that we're the only congregation in North America where not one of our members used to be a Baptist or a Methodist, not a one.
Now on the upside, having this multicultural multinational mix of people who were converted from Hinduism and communism and every other "ism" you can name, this particular kind of work affords us a special insight, not into mission work, but into God's word itself. You see, because of who we are spiritually and especially culturally, there are two passages of scripture dealing with evangelism that take on a new meaning and a new power for us in Montreal because of who we are. And I'd like to share these two passages of scripture and our own special insight into these with you this morning.
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:18-20
Probably no Bible text has been more quoted, more read and preached on at functions like this than Matthew 28. It encompasses the entire task of the missionary in one brief passage. You have to go, you have to disciple, you have to teach and you have to persevere. Isn't this what we do? Isn't this what we've been trained to do? Isn't this what you're being trained to do?
To leave and bring the gospel with you, make disciples of Jesus, to train and build these people up. To hang in there despite loneliness and persecution and frustration and lack of support and whatever else comes along. Isn't this what we do? Essentially, the fact that we were all gathered here in one place is the exception. It's a blessing. It's a time of taking a deep breath of sharing war stories, but it's the exception. It's not the rule. It's not what we do.
I've got nothing new and important to add to these things, the insight and the meaning that I spoke of before concerning this passage refers to the opportunity we have in our day and our time to fulfill this commandment in a way that it has never been fulfilled before. That's my point.
Do we realize that with the technology that we now have in hand, it is literally possible to actually obey this command?
We used to read this passage and the other one in Mark 16, "go into all the world and preach the gospel to all." We used to see this as a command whose fulfillment would come and has come gradually with the eyes of faith. We understood that the apostles began and then in every generation, their disciples continued this great task. And it was very much through the eyes of faith. I'm preaching to you and with the eyes of faith, I know that you're preaching to someone else. And with the eyes of faith, I know that you are reaching someone else that I may not know about. And somehow God's great commission is accomplished in some way, but we had to see it from the eyes of faith. As the gradation, as something that was gradually happening, we understood that all creation is reached by the cumulative effort of every disciple, reaching back to the very first disciples who received this command directly from the Lord. And that's how we've understood this idea. And it's true, but this view is being expanded in our generation, your generation.
I have to confess to you that I'm surprised to see that most of the people here are younger people. I don't know why, because I've just attended so many lectureships and so on and so forth, attended or spoke at where people are my age. And so what a pleasant surprise too. It's the first lectureship I've ever attended where I'm the oldest guy. Well, maybe I see a couple of, we won't mention any names, Dr. North, but today with the communication technology available, we can directly preach the gospel to every human being on the planet in a single day, by a single person. Nevermind this gradation me to you, to you, to you to one person can now do it to everybody.
Elvis Presley back in the 1970s broadcasted a concert. That concert was the first international concert on TV from Hawaii. His concert reached 1 billion people. And I mean, that was so amazing. That an entertainer had that much reach, 1 billion people.
The concert was the forerunner of the farm aid concerts and the live aid concert and all these other internationally broadcast concerts. Today, the World Cup soccer match and championships are seen by over one-third of the planet. Imagine a third of the people on earth are watching a bunch of guys running around, kicking a ball, a third of the planet. So the gospel to the whole world in a single day, every day until Jesus returns is now possible. This is now at the dawn of possibility.
You and I live at the beginning of a time when this is a reality and this was never a reality before a new reality, a new paradigm, as they say, has appeared in our generation. I see it in my own work, as I'm sure you do as well. I want to say something to the church. I type an email, hit a button. It goes out to the whole church. Some people never look at their emails, so I text them. So they get it on their phones. And there are a few that just have to be called. But I mean, in five minutes I can reach the entire church.
Our congregation streams our morning services live on our website for members who are ill or members who work in on shifts or visitors who are not quite comfortable to come to a live service can just go to our website and there on Sunday mornings is our live worship.
Every week I have an online Bible study with several women who live in China. They live in different cities in China. They don't know each other. They know me, I know them. We sit there, we use Skype, and we have a live Bible study back and forth. They want to know more about English. They're curious about the Bible. They don't have access to Bibles. So we use an online version.
I have a website, BibleTalk.ca that has over 500 audio lessons and 30 hours of video material and hundreds and hundreds of textual studies and blog entries all available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all available for downloading and all free of charge.
What's my point? I'm not Elvis. You figured that out.
There are not a billion people watching. But 10,000 have watched. Thousands have come to the website and downloaded videos and tapes and texts and all kinds of stuff. According to the software that we have they've come from South Africa and South America and the United States and Canada and Europe and everywhere.
You see this new expanded opportunity afforded us in the area of God's great commission also comes with expanded responsibilities. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required (Luke 12:48).
I suppose the adjustment that has to be made on our part can be summed up by something else that Jesus said:
Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.
- John 4:35b
In other words, open your eyes. See what's out there. Realize the possibilities. No one religious group has yet to really harness the power of the internet for the purpose of evangelism. But I'm telling you that sooner or later, somebody will forge ahead. And you know what? I want that to be us. Why not us?
In the 1950s, the Church of Christ was the fastest-growing religious group in the United States. How many times have we heard that? We used to be, I'm so tired of hearing us being used to be something, we used to be the fastest growing religious groups. And there were a lot of reasons for this, but one powerful tool that we learned to use back then and use it well was radio. Believe it or not, People in the church knew how to use radio and they used it to spread the message of the gospel and the idea of the New Testament church across America. But we forgot that lesson and largely ignore television as a medium to evangelize when it became popular. And you know what, in our place, this Pentecostal preacher from Tulsa named Oral Roberts learned how to exploit television. And as a result, charismatic churches are now the fastest growing groups here, as well as other countries, South Korea, Latin America. You think that Oral Roberts didn't have reach with TV. I can remember as a little kid living in Windsor, Ontario, looking at my little TV, it was round in those days, it was black and white. We only had four hours a day of programming. And on Sunday mornings, I'd see this guy jumping around. I thought he was nuts, but I knew who he was, this little French Canadian kid living in Windsor. Why? He married old-time tent revivalism and television. And he put them together in a way that had never been done. He saw it and the rest is history.
Well, a new technology has arrived more powerful, farther reaching and influential than radio and television put together. The internet enables us to speak to each person in the world, one at a time in his or her language and his, or her convenience. And you know what? They can talk back all day, all the time. No medium, no technology has ever given this to us in all of history, brothers and sisters, fellow workers, the perfect storm of technology and opportunity is upon this generation of missionaries and how we rise to its challenge will determine who will be preaching what to whom for decades to come.
You're not just another group of missionaries. You are special and you live in a special time. I pray that you'll see it. That you'll get it.
Now, in addition to the expanded opportunities for evangelism, our vantage point in Montreal. Now I want to make a point here. Did you get what I was trying to say about Montreal and the internet? We have less than a hundred people but we have an international reach. We have a thousand dollar-a-week budget and yet we're talking to people in all kinds of countries and evangelizing them. We have churches in our brotherhood that have 5,000 people and don't do it. That's my point. We have a vantage point. The international flavor of our congregation has forced us to do this. Translate simultaneously into three languages our services on Sunday mornings. We have the special translation gear with transmitters and so on and so forth. And my wife is one of the translators and another, several other people in the congregation. And when I'm preaching in English, the congregation is hearing it live in English or simultaneously translated into French or Spanish. And our equipment permits us to translate into up to 10 languages at a time. Uh, we didn't figure this out. We didn't just sit down and say, you know what, it'd be nice if we translate it, we had people coming in, didn't speak English or French and that forced us to open our eyes to the possibilities.
And so, in addition to the expanded opportunities for evangelism, our vantage point in Montreal has also made us experience the reality of what God is saying in his word in another passage.
7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying,
"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
In this passage, John describes in exalted language, the church. And I want you to note what he focuses on in his vision. Does he focus in his vision on the talent or the knowledge of the church? Does he focus on the wealth or the beauty of the church? Its power, its influence its position? The exalted church? The finalized church?
What does he say about it in describing the church of the end times, the kingdom of God fully realized on earth, the true and biblical church of Christ. The only thing he notes about it is its diversity. Every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation, the church will include people from every different social unit, from the smallest (the tribe) to the largest (the nation).
The church will include people from every different cultural unit, from different language groups, as well as different cultures. In other words, what happened at the Tower of Babel will be reversed. And just as the relationship between God and man is healed and renewed by the cross of Christ. The broken relationship between man and man is also renewed and healed by Christ in his church. That's the exalted vision of the church.
When I said that John used exalted language to describe the church in the Book of Revelation, I didn't mean that the words were flowery or poetic. I meant the very idea that humans from every tribe, tongue people and nation would actually serve God together in a kingdom here on earth that this would and could actually happen. That was a lofty idea. I mean, a quick check of human history will show that even when men have sincere motives and similar tribes and cultures serving their own, self-interests rarely go for very long, without violence and division.
Even when all white people get together and pursue an all-white people's goal, they don't go very far without arguing with each other. Even religious history parallels the same track as men fight wars and kill each other in the name of God.
God says through John, that His kingdom, His church will include all in Christ and all of these will be included in peace in service in unity. And this idea is not new to John's revelation, but is clearly stated by Jesus himself. When he speaks to the future glory of the church, we get new understanding when we read
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;
- John 17:22
Now there are many aspects to this unity that Jesus, and then later John refers to. However, I believe that one sign of the church's maturity and the coming of the Lord is the globalization of the body of Christ. Think about that for a second. Think about your place in history and where we're going as communication technology brings the gospel to more and more of the world's population. More and more people will want in. They want in, they hear the gospel in their language and they want to be part of the body of Christ. All kinds of people want in and not just different language and different culture, but also people with lots of very different religious, political and philosophical baggage they want in.
And not just these, but sexually dysfunctional people they desperately want in, you know, Paul mentioned a book that I had written about homosexuality Gay Rights or Wrongs and one of the points in that book that I make is that homosexuals are people. Yeah, there are people and the big fight was about marriage and "I was so disgusted. Gays are going to hell. God hates fags." Can't we see beyond that for a second? Can't we see the fact that these men who are sexually dysfunctional want God to bless them in some way? Can't we see that they want in?
Now are they right? They want in on their terms. That's wrong, of course. But can't we get past that and see that they want in and in the future, people who are born in test tubes or cloned or sliced or bionical altered, even people from other planets, they're also wanting in?
Someone said to me, well, what if they discover that there are Martians? What will you do then? I said, well, I'm going to preach the gospel to them Martians. Because if God is the author of all life than all life ends up as sinners needing the salvation of Christ. Amen.
When the whole world hears of Christ, when they see His cross, they will want in. So it's no surprise that from the beginning, the final picture of the church presented to us, shows it with all tribes, all tongues, all nations, all people, Everybody, when they know Christ, everybody wants in and our job is to open the doors wide.
God knew that this day would come. And so it has, and it is upon you. And it is upon I. You're at bat, you're up. You're not on the on-deck circle. You are up. It's your turn now. Nevermind what the guys did back in the forties and the fifties and sixties nevermind about them. It's your turn. You're at bat. And you have something very special. The bases are loaded. You have something very, very dynamic to do in your generation. I so pray that we will see and hear and understand the sign of these times. And I also pray that we will rise to this challenge and that despite the fact that we may be called the Main Street church of Christ or the Sydney Church of Christ, we'll begin thinking and reaching out like the Global Church of Christ and in doing so hastening the coming of our Lord.
Thank you. And may God bless you in His work.