On 25 to 28 March 1993, the International Assembly of the True Jesus Church (IA) held her first ever symposium. With the chosen theme of 'Strategies Toward World Evangelism', presenters shared with the audience their personal experiences in the Lord's ministry, their hopes and aspiration for the future. They also expressed their views on such issues as the global integration and utilization of resources, cultural pluralism and world evangelism, theological studies and church growth, youth participation in the ministry, IA finance and reorganization. In all, some twenty papers were presented.
The symposium was timely. The invaluable messages presented will assist the church in developing an effective global strategy for the coming decades of the next century. As individual members of the True Jesus Church, it is also timely for us to identify our own contribution toward world evangelism. Do we have a role to play in this global ministry? Or, do we feel that with our limited ability and strength, world evangelism is best left with the 'professionals', namely, members of the International and General Assemblies and the full time preachers and ministers? The question is, what does the Lord Jesus require of us?
Prior to His ascension, the Lord Jesus gave His followers an important commission. When the Holy Spirit comes, they shall be His witnesses to the end of the world. They are to propagate the good tidings to the entire human race, so all will come to believe in Him and receive the salvation of God. Quite rightly, we have acknowledged this commission by taking up the task of proclaiming the message orally as well as through the written word. But these by themselves are incomplete. From the teachings of the Lord Jesus, we would note that the bearers of the message themselves are also important. Time and again, this point is stressed. In their everyday lives, they are to manifest such distinctive characteristics that others could tell that they are the Lord's disciples: they have to establish a community that is built upon the foundation of love (Jn 13:35), and members of this community are to be "the light of the world", "the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13-14), the ones who bring the lost souls of this world to the Lord through their good deeds and their Christ-like behaviors. The teaching is clear: the bearers of the message are the Lord's witnesses.
Every member of the True Jesus Church has an invaluable role to play in the propagation of the message of salvation. We can participate in the evangelistic activities of our local church. We can share the message with our friends and neighbors. And just as important, we can testify through our way of life that we are the followers of Christ. It is time to take stock and assess our contributions to the evangelistic ministry. Have we played our part in preaching the gospel of salvation? Are we effective as His witnesses?
We are privileged to have received the complete truth of salvation. This gift, freely received, must be freely shared amongst all. We have to preach the salvation of God at all times. But in practice, we can only orally preach to those who are willing to listen. Likewise, our literary evangelism can only reach those who are willing to read our gospel tracts. In fact, it is through the way we conduct ourselves that we can reach out to society at large. When we demonstrate to the world that there are love and warmth within our true community of faith, that its members are gentle, caring and kind, humanitarians in this inhumane world, they will realize that Christianity does make a difference; that it does change a person and give inner peace, true joy and everlasting hope. They will wish to know more and be receptive to the message of salvation. It is therefore vital that our oral and literary evangelism are supported by our moral and ethical excellence.
William Shakespeare in his comedy As You Like It (act II, sc vii) describes the world as a stage, where all men and women are merely the players with their exits and their entrances. There is some truth in this expression. In a sense, life is indeed like a stage. We are born into this world where we live out our days and in the end, we breathe our last breath and we depart. But, unlike the comedy of Shakespeare where his actors can rehearse before the actual show, as well as give repeated performances, in this stage of life, we only have one chance to give the 'performance of our life'. There is no rehearsal, no second chance. At one performance, we either make it or break it. This makes it crucial that we understand the plot and the role in which we are placed. Only then can we give it our best performance.
Sometimes, the pressures of modern living make it hard for us to give our best performance for the glory of God. For a start, we are constantly reminded of the need to climb the social ladder, to make a better living for ourselves and for our families. Phrases like "upwardly mobile" and "upgrading oneself" have entered into our everyday vocabulary. Our energies are channeled into meeting society's expectations, and we find ourselves chasing after material well being. To an extent, it is inevitable that we will be governed by the demands of our environment. For instance, we may be reading an intensive study program or working in a fast moving organization, either of which demands a lot of our time and energy. We may have no choice but to put in the long hours. But as followers of Christ, we cannot loose sight of the fact that we also have to live up to the divine requirements. These are by far more important than those imposed by our society. When these two requirements compete for our attention, we ought to exercise wisdom in order to make the right choice, that we do not misplace priorities between the spiritual and the material.
In this hectic life, it is easy to lose that inner quietude of mind to reflect upon the direction of our faith, to assess whether we are making the most out of our brief time in this world, whether we are investing wisely and laying our treasures in heaven, and not on earth. The danger is that we may be haphazardly muddling through our journey of faith. We may not have declined in our faith; we continue to attend church services, we offer tithes and we pray and read the Bible everyday. But, we make no progress either. Our relationship with God today is the same as that a year ago, likewise our knowledge of Him. Our spiritual character too, remains unchanged. There are no improvements.
It is important to ensure that we are not in this sad state of affairs. Despite our busy schedule, for the sake of our eternal life, we have to somehow retreat from the cares of the world, to quiet our hearts and examine where we stand before God. When one first accepts Christ, he is like a little child who decides to give the best of everything to his father. And if he continues to live up to this goal, the best that he could give to his father will become progressively better as he becomes older, more mature and understands the extent of his father's sacrifices and love for him. When we search our hearts, we may feel that we have given our best efforts in our journey of faith. But is our best good enough? Is what we can offer to God today better than the best we had offered a year ago? Are we, like a normal little child, giving our heavenly Father our best which become better with time?
Time and tide wait for no man. We cannot afford to procrastinate. We cannot turn back the clock to retrieve the past. That is gone forever. We have to make full use of the present, to strive for a progressive and dynamic faith, to lead a life worthy of the Lord's calling, such that when we have to take our last bow when the curtain falls, we are assured that we have adequately testified to the world that we are the followers of Christ.
In the 16th Century, a young Christian, deeply distressed by the ignorance of the clergy of his time, resolved to make the Bible, then available primarily in its original languages, more accessible to the general public by translating it to English. This task became his lifetime work. To achieve this mission, he underwent tremendous difficulties. He was seen to be a traitor by his own countrymen and was arrested by the King of England for undertaking this project. He had to flee from his own country to continue his work in exile. Yet, his enthusiasm remained unimpaired to the last. During the last winter of his life, as he laid in prison, he wrote to a friend requesting for his Hebrew books in order that he could continue with the translation of the Old Testament books. Against all odds, William Tyndale was determined to change the status quo of his days. And armed with this goal, he worked single-mindedly to complete his mission. Although he was executed before he could finish his work, he had nevertheless charted the way for others to follow. And because of the fortitude of one man, we are able to hold in our hands an English Bible today.
At various points in our journey of faith, we may have resolved to be a better Christian, and to play a more active role in the evangelical as well as pastoral ministry of the church. Such resolutions are easy to make, but often they are difficult to achieve as they have to pass the test of time, where obstacles and disappointments will arise. The Devil too will lay traps along the way. When faced with these, the easy way out is to give up and revert to the status quo. This is where the need for fortitude comes in. The realization of any resolution requires time and effort. It is a laborious process where there are no shortcuts. Often hard work and toils, suffering and pains, all form part and parcel of the process. What is important is that we hold on to our initial resolution, and are prepared to meet with all forms of challenges.
When, over a period of time, we begin to lose heart and there is a gradual slackening of resolve, the author of Hebrews offers invaluable advice. Fix your eyes upon the Lord Jesus, he suggests (Heb 12:2). And when we meditate upon the Lord Jesus' ministry, we can understand why this advice is given. For three long years, Jesus had to undergo physical hardships, where He Himself admitted that He had "nowhere to lay His head" (Lk 9:58). And what must be even worse was the fact that even His close companions often failed to understand the purpose of His mission (Mk 8:17, 21; 9:32). They argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest (Mk 9:34). Eventually one of them went to the extent of betraying him. On top of all these, the impending suffering on the cross loomed closer with each passing day. Yet, our Lord never gave up. He knew that He had to complete the work entrusted to Him (Jn 4:34b). With fortitude, He fulfilled His mission. If we are to imitate Him, we have to imitate this virtue of His too.
From his letters, we could see that Apostle Paul understood the importance of fortitude. Ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus, he dedicated his entire life to live up to the purpose of his calling: to be an apostle to the gentiles. Along the way, he met with such hardships that he confessed he was "despaired of life itself" and he felt that he had received the "sentence of death" (2 Cor 1:8-9). Yet he was able to remain resolute until the very end. Towards the last days of his life, he shared with Timothy the secret of his success: "But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me" (2 Tim 4:17); a simple yet comforting statement for all who are facing hardships in their strive to become effective witnesses for the Lord.
As we walk along the rugged terrains of life, let us always remember that we are never alone. The Lord is always near by. When we accepted Him as our personal Savior, He did not promise us a life free from hardships. In our strive for spiritual maturity, we, like the postexilic community, have to "pass through the waters" and "walk through fire" (Isa 43:2). But we also have the precious assurance that He will always be there for us, as He has promised: when you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. .For I am the Lord your God ... Fear not, for I am with you (Isa 43:2, 3a, 5a). With the Lord on our side, we can bear effective testimony for Him everyday of our lives.
The development and implementation of a strategy towards world evangelism is not confined to the various organized bodies within the True Jesus Church. Every member can have his/her own personal strategy towards world evangelism. The Lord Jesus wants everyone of His followers to be His witnesses. We have a responsibility to meet this divine directive. Our stay in this world is temporal. Let us not be so entangled by the cares it imposes that we misplace our priorities. Let us also avoid being in the consequence caused by "a little slumber and a little folding of the hands" (Prov 24:30-34).
Under the guidance of God, the True Jesus Church has been established in the oriental as well as the occidental world. Much of this can be credited to the dedication and laborious efforts of both the early and contemporary workers of the true church. As the church moves towards the 21 century, it is time for every conscientious member to identify the role he or she can play in promoting the complete Gospel entrusted to the true church. Are we equipped to bring the church into the 21st Century? Where do we stand in terms of our knowledge of God and His Word? How much time do we devote in prayers each day? And in our daily behaviors, can others see Jesus in us? These are pertinent questions for our contemplation as we prepare ourselves for the challenges of the new century. We cannot remain complacent with the efforts to date. Rather we have to build upon the good works by our predecessors and gear ourselves up as we strategize towards more effective world evangelism. Remember, we do not cease, till our Gospel reaches "the end of the earth."