Matthew 24:14 is perhaps one of the best known Bible texts for Seventh-day Adventists: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ (NIV). It is a texts that seems to give us a clear direction. Just persevere a little longer and remain active! Then, when people everywhere have heard the message of Christ, He will return!
Yes, it seems straightforward, and yet it raises a number of questions. I will mention just a few of them:
- What is the gospel (the good news) that is to be preached everywhere? Is the ‘eternal gospel’ to be identified with the messages of the three angels that fly towards us in Revelation 14? And are those of my fellow-Adventists right who maintain that ‘the gospel’ must be defined as the specific Adventist interpretation of the biblical message?
- The question that follows directly from the previous one is: Is the task to preach the gospel to the world the exclusive assignment of Seventh-day Adventists? Or is it a common project for all Christians? I am glad that already almost a century ago my church stated its position in this regard. In the thick tome with all the policies of the worldwide Adventist Church (Working Pollicy) it is said quite clearly: ‘We recognize those agencies that lift up Christ before men as a part of the divine plan for evangelization of the world, and we hold in high esteem Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ. (Policy O 75). This is the official position of the Adventist Church. Unfortunately, many Adventist church members seem not to be aware of this.
- How far have we progressed with preaching the gospel? The strong growth of the membership of the Adventist Church (now almost twenty million baptized members) seems to indicate that things are going quite well. But other statistics give much reason for concern. The world’s population is increasing at an alarming rate. This is also true of the number of men and women who take leave of the Christian faith. Missiologists tell us that a century ago about thirty percent of the people in the world had in some way or another been ‘reached’ with the gospel. They also tell us that, one century later, the total population of the world has dramatically increased, and so has the number of Christians. But the percentage of people that have been ‘reached’ in a meaningful way in today’s world has static at the level of about thirty percent.
- The mission mandate is: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19). ‘All nations’—this phrase is not to be interpreted as referring to the just over 220 nation states that the United Nations recognize, but it refers to the many thousands of ethnic groups that are spread over the globe. God’s people consists of men and women ‘from every nation, tribe, people, and language’ (Rev. 7:9). This means that all barriers of culture and languages must be superseded. How well are we doing in this regard? Just look nearby. Dot we effectively communicate the gospel in the language of asylum seekers and refugees? And in the language of the millennials, for the matter?
- Will the job ever be completed? Even if the proclamation of the gospel would suddenly accelerate in a miraculous manner, we are still faced with the problem that on every single day some 300.000 children are born into this world. This amounts to some 110 million annually. How will we ever reach the point that all people on earth have heard the gospel?
It is not difficult to add a few more questions. To most questions I do not know the answers. But I try to simply hang on to the firm promise of the Lord that He will return! There is no question about that. And I am convinced that we must continue with telling others about what Christ can do for them.
And then? It is a matter of living the gospel. And trusting that God will somehow solve the problems that we struggle with. And who knows: He may have some interesting surprises for us.