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 (Manna 86: Go and Make Disciples of All Nations)
Of All Nations, For All Nations
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Samuel Kuo—Flushing, New York, USA

As the revived apostolic church of the end times, the True Jesus Church will continue the revival process until the second coming of our Lord Jesus. Isaiah prophesies that this revival will include believers of “all nations” (Isa 2:2; 56:7), but we still have much work to do to increase the ethnic diversity of the church. What lessons can we learn from the apostolic era? How can we strive to become the church for all nations today?

Diversity from Day One

From its beginning, the apostolic church was already quite diverse. While the members were all ethnically Jewish, it would be foolish to assume they were a homogenous group.

We know the story of the church’s birth well. On the Day of Pentecost after Jesus Christ was crucified, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out upon humanity for the first time in history, fulfilling prophecies and the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ (Joel 2:28–29; Ezek 36:26; Lk 24:49; Jn 15:26–27). The Spirit’s manifestation was both visible and audible, filling the whole place with the heavenly sound of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1–4).

Soon after the initial 120 believers received the Holy Spirit, Scripture says that “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” gathered together when they heard the sound (Acts 2:5–6, emphasis added). Geographical diversity was evident.

Not only were these observers from different nations, they also spoke different languages. Sixteen different localities, each with its own implied native language, are mentioned in Acts 2:9–11. Thus, when God opened their ears to understand the spiritual tongues spoken, many commented, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” (Acts 2:7b–8, emphasis added). Linguistic diversity was also evident.

Such were the demographics that characterized many of the Jews who would go on to repent, receive baptism, and join the apostolic church (Acts 2:37–41). Those called by the Lord were already a diverse lot.

Lesson 1: Expect Growing Pains and Bridge the Gaps

In the church’s nascent stage, the differences within the Jewish congregation eventually resulted in some growing pains:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1)

Though the believers were from different places and spoke different mother tongues, they eventually distilled into two main groups: Hebrews and Hellenists. "Hebrews" refers to the Judean Jews, who were most comfortable communicating in Hebrew and Aramaic. "Hellenists" refers to the Diasporic Jews, who had adopted Greek language and culture. So, even within an ethnically uniform congregation, complaints and divisions arose.

It is likely to be the same today. While ethnic diversity is an important goal, we also need to bridge the gaps and fortify the fellowships within the existing diversity of our present congregations. Though many of our congregations are ethnically near-homogenous, sometimes there are wedges that fracture the congregation, whether it is language, politics, age, or class.

To handle this issue in the early church, the apostles had the members appoint seven members—“men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”—to serve (Acts 6:3). These men of spiritual character were able to bring about resolution and peace in the congregation, so the word of God could be spread (Acts 6:7).

Today, the church also needs brothers and sisters to serve in this type of reconciliatory role, whether appointed or not. We must work to let Christ’s love knit the church together. This takes awareness of church dynamics and a commitment to promoting peace and joy in the Lord. There is bound to be tension sooner or later if every Sabbath sees us huddling in our own cliques, solely focused on the concerns of our own social bubbles. For the growth and diversity of the church, it is imperative to transcend the natural human inclination towards tribalism—socio-economic, political, linguistic, racial, or otherwise. We should reach out to members whom we rarely or never talk to, especially those with backgrounds we may have preconceptions about. Learn about and share each other’s culture and language, and put ourselves in their shoes. In this way, with the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can build up the fellowship of faith, for the unity in Christ’s body.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With this type of precaution, Paul circumcised Timothy before his second missionary trip (Acts 16:3). A conference had just concluded that circumcision was unnecessary for salvation (more on this later), but Paul circumcised Timothy anyway, so that the Jewish believers would readily accept him. Paul was seeking any advantage possible to minimize conflict, which could hinder the preaching of the gospel. As he proclaims:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews. (1 Cor 9:19–20a)

Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

While this was Paul’s approach, Timothy was the one who underwent circumcision. His willingness to yield to this painful suggestion for the sake of the ministry is worthy of our admiration. This is the spirit of self-denial we must imitate in order to mitigate the cultural friction within our congregations.

Lesson 2: Reach Out Proactively

It was not God’s will for the church to only remain in Jerusalem. He allowed the dispersion of many members into neighboring lands through persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:19). Not long after, through Peter’s preaching to Cornelius, the church became a church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:18). God also used Paul to expand His kingdom to many Gentile lands (Acts 22:21). By God’s design, the church had obtained ethnic diversity. A church of all nations, for all nations, had arrived.

Cornelius’ conversion to Christianity was a watershed moment. Whereas Peter and Cornelius’ encounter was divinely orchestrated, the whole concept of reaching out to other ethnicities was already developing organically around the same time.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. (Acts 11:19–20)

Here, Scripture makes a distinction between two groups of evangelists. One only preached to Jews, but the other shared their faith with Hellenists (in this case, referring to non-Jews)—people with different customs, cultures, and backgrounds. This was exemplary, given that they had only recently immigrated to these new lands. God was very pleased with this mindset: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Act 11:21).

There is a dire need for this missionary mindset in the True Jesus Church today. Jesus Christ commissioned us to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). But how much are we really doing? How much do we have to show for our miraculous call and election? Often, we are simply too engrossed with fulfilling our own interests rather than expanding the kingdom of God. Though the True Jesus Church is entering more and more nations, more often than not, it is not with a missionary mindset, but with an economically driven one, as our members emigrate for work.

Within Evangelical Christianity, the numbers are enlightening. According to the Joshua Project,[1] a ministry that gathers data relevant to the Great Commission, as of August 2018, an estimated 41.6 percent of the world’s 17,000 people groups are still “unreached,”[2] comprising 41.4 percent of the world’s population. How much more, then, should we in the True Jesus Church strive to preach to the nations we have yet to reach? While we have many existing Christian resources at our disposal (for example, Bible translations), our members must be compelled and equipped to spread the true gospel of salvation—to learn new languages, to be adequately trained, and to venture to unreached peoples. Make it our aim, like Paul, to preach the gospel where Christ has not yet been named (Rom 15:20). “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt 10:8b).

Even if foreign missionary work seems too daunting or far-fetched, for those living in countries that welcome immigration, the mission fields are not far at all. Many of us live in heterogeneous societies where the varied people of the world’s nations are our next-door neighbors. To borrow an environmental slogan: think globally, act locally. “Behold…lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (Jn 4:35b). Only when we reach out proactively to the world, even if it is only to those on our doorstep, can we grow to be a church for all nations.

Lesson 3: Exalt the Truth of Salvation Above All

In apostolic times, as more Gentile believers were added to the church, a critical controversy arose: did Gentile converts have to receive circumcision and keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved (Acts 15:1)? Through convening, sharing, debating, and yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the elders and apostles determined that there was no need to subject the Gentile converts to circumcision. A letter was distributed to announce this doctrine to the churches (Acts 15:24–29). This strengthened the believers and gave them great joy.

This event illustrates an important principle—the core truth of salvation is to be discerned and exalted within God’s church. We all know, understand, and believe in our ten basic beliefs—the Articles of Faith—which summarize the biblical truths of salvation. These truths always are to be preached, defended, and exalted.

However, because of our diverse church membership, certain people and groups may promote other ideas, some of which may sound spiritual in nature, but in fact have nothing to do with salvation (or may even go against salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ). Members are well-intentioned, but the church must be able to discern properly and uphold the truth of salvation, through studying the Scriptures and being led by the Holy Spirit. The True Jesus Church general assemblies in various countries have established Truth Research Committees for this very purpose.

As the church grew more diverse in Paul’s day, he reminds them not to allow non-essential disputes to divide the church. “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom 14:1). He particularly mentions disputes over food (a vital part of every culture, not only significant to the Jew-Gentile divide) as matters that are not related to the truth of salvation; he thus warns the believers not to judge one another, nor be a stumbling block to others because of food (Rom 14:2–3, 14–15, 20–23). Paul also mentions how some Jewish Christians may still observe various holy days as a sign of piety; they are to be received as well (Rom 15:5–6). Ultimately, Paul encourages us to “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom 14:19). If it means curtailing our own rights and freedom, so be it. “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Rom 14:21).

Sometimes it takes direct communication to exalt the truth and promote the spirit of unity. On one occasion in Antioch, Paul noticed that Peter was “not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). At the time, since Peter had already been set free by the gospel, he was living “in the manner of Gentiles,” not having to keep the ordinances and statues that were fulfilled in Christ. He was even eating with Gentiles, contrary to Jewish custom. But once the pro-circumcision Jewish Christians came, he disassociated himself from the Gentile believers, making himself a hypocrite in light of the gospel he preached. Paul unabashedly pointed out his hypocrisy in order to exalt the truth (Gal 2:11–14).

On To Perfection

The apostolic church serves as the blueprint of the True Jesus Church. The manner in which they grew in diversity and handled their differences is directly applicable to us today. Let us endeavor unto perfection, building a church of all nations, for all nations, until John’s magnificent vision is realized:

[B]ehold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9–10)

[1] www.joshuaproject.net.

[2] The Joshua Project defines an “unreached” people group as one in which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize to this people group without outside assistance. Furthermore, less than two percent of this community are Evangelical Christians and less than five percent are Professing Christians. These types of definitions are subjective and arbitrary, but the point is still valid—there are so many unreached people we need to evangelize to.

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Author: Samuel Kuo
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 09/28/2018