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 (Manna 24: There is One Body)
Church in Action
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SITTING HERE, having just watched another year come to a close, I couldn’t help thinking of the old cliche, ‘how time flies’. It seems only yesterday that I, together with a number of TJC youths, listened to a stirring exhortation by a minister to mobilise ourselves in the last decade of this century and prepare the church for the twenty-first century. Four years have since passed. Where do we, as a church, stand? Ever since I could remember, we have always emphasised the need to evangelise and to pastor the members. Yet, in reality, how well are we doing? Have we ever taken a close look at our efforts to date and objectively analysed the results?

Faced with these questions, I decided to take whatever materials that are available and attempt to find some answers. The answers are not encouraging. First, I looked at some global statistics provided by the World Evangelisation database, 1990, International Bulletin of Missionary Research. According to this database, the world population is estimated to be 5,297 million in 1990; of these, 1,759 million are Christians, making it 33.2 percent of the population. When this is compared to the church’s International Assembly 1994 official statistics, which states that there are about 75,000 TJC members, the message is clear. Our standing in the Christian world is negligible, even if we were to include estimates of mainland China membership of about 500,000.

Perhaps, I should be more focused and compare ourselves with two specific church groups. Of the 1,759 million Christians, 962 million are Roman Catholics, 324 million Protestants. You may argue that I am not comparing like with like. These two churches have centuries of history. TJC has yet to celebrate her centennial commemoration. If we had the luxury of time, we too could have matched their membership and geographical spread. But the truth is, we do not have such luxury. We do not know what time frame God has assigned to us. Regardless, we still have to produce the results. Besides, using time span as our defense is not conclusive. Consider the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement which started at the turn of this century and now has millions of adherents.

Now, what about our standing by geographical regions? In the United Kingdom, with a population of 57.4 million, 69.4 percent are Christians, comprising 9 percent Roman Catholics, 48 percent Protestants, and 2 percent marginal such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (nearly 98,000), Mormons (67,000), Scientology (45,000). [Source: Operation World by Patrick Johnstone, 1990, Send The light] Despite more than two decades of existence, we have yet to make an impact in this country. We are still unknown amongst the Christian community at large. Our membership there of around 1,800 still comprises primarily those of ethnic Chinese origin, and even then, our number is insignificant, amongst the total immigrant Chinese population of some 125,000.

Let me take another country where we have a much longer history, Taiwan. Here, there are just over one million Christians, of which 275,000 are Roman Catholics, and 670,000 are Protestants. The Presbyterian Church has 95,000 members. The True Jesus Church membership is 44,000. In this country at least, our membership breaks the 10,000 barrier. (The only other place that can match this is Sabah, a state in Malaysia, with some 12,000 members.)

From these facts, I could only conclude that we are still far from achieving the Lord’s commission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). It is so easy for us to say that we are already doing our best. But the problem is, “our best” may not be good enough.

How can we progress faster? This question is a popular sermon topic expounded by numerous speakers over the years. I do not intend to join their ranks. But what I hope to do is to share some less ‘traditional’ evangelistic activities undertaken by some of our churches, usually on an ad-hoc basis, and also by other Christian groups to see if there are any lessons to be learnt.

The “by my spirit” principle

BUT BEFORE THAT, it is crucial to recognize that in any church work, especially in the important task of saving souls, the “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” principle holds true. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are merely stewards entrusted with the task. The work itself belongs to God; hence we have to rely on His Spirit to guide and to direct. As in the apostolic time when the footsteps of the missionaries were led by the Spirit (e.g., Acts 8:29,39; 10:19; 16:7), today the footsteps of the true church must also be led by the Spirit. For our evangelistic work to be effective, first and foremost, we have to pray, and ask the Lord to have mercy on the souls of humanity and to open the door of salvation.

But prayer alone is insufficient. We also have to take positive steps to propagate the message. As the apostles acknowledged, they had “to devote (themselves) to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Assuming that many concerned members are already investing time and efforts in praying for the church’s ministry, let us see what actions are being taken to propagate the message.

Examples from the True Jesus church

APART FROM the ‘traditional’ approaches adopted by many, such as holding evangelistic meetings at church chapels, some of our churches have taken the courageous step of venturing into the outside world, away from the safe enclosure of the church compound. For example, they rent community centres and auditoriums to hold large scale evangelistic gatherings. Also, I understand that in Taipei (Taiwan), our members have taken the initiative of holding evangelistic meetings at local hospitals, with organised teams to invite patients from the wards to attend these services. These are supplemented by regular follow-up visits on those patients who attended the meetings. Since its implementation some ten years ago, I was told that more than two hundred have come to believe through these hospital meetings.

Recently, a new trend is to have hymnal evangelistic meetings, where the message is presented, not so much from the pulpit, but through hymnal presentations by choir groups. In this category, a beautiful testimony I knew was in London church, where some of the religious education students would get together, usually during their school holidays, to rehearse and practise for what they called their hymnal outreach. These young soldiers of the Lord, with age groups ranging from early twenties to as young as ten, would then gather at crowded public places such as the London Chinatown and town centres, being surrounded by strangers and uncertain of their reception, to present the evangelistic message through hymns with their youthful voices. At the same time, other members would be placed at strategic locations, to distribute gospel tracts and to talk to any interested bystander. I could not but marvel at their courage and praise God for their zeal. This is especially so, since their reception was not always favourable. I know of one occasion when they had items thrown at them. I could still remember some of them relating that episode to me, not with fear or anger, but with joy and thanksgiving. If only more of us could have such courage and zeal to try ‘something different’, perhaps many more would be in the true fold today.

I am sure that there are other commendable actions taken by some of our churches that I am unaware of, and are therefore not mentioned here. To them, I apologise, and invite them to share their experiences with our readers by writing to the Manna Committee.

Examples from other Christian groups

LET US move on and see what the other Christian groups are doing. Now the more conservative among us would probably frown at this analysis. These are secular churches, devoid of the Spirit of God, what can we, members of the true church, learn from them? Some may even ask why we should even learn from them in the first place. I would like to suggest that there are lessons to be learnt. If anything, the spirit of service exhibited by some Christians, their dedication to propagate the salvation message, is worthy of our emulation.

There are young educated Christians who, for the sake of preaching the gospel “to the end of the world”, have left the comforts of their homes and probably sacrificed good careers, to live amongst total strangers with cultures alien to their own. By staying with these communities, they strive to build up a rapport of trust and over time, communicate the gospel message to them in their local tongue. These Christians may not be preaching the complete gospel, but I do not believe we can belittle their work. How many of us from the true church have taken such steps?

Let us keep an open mind and learn from their good works. The Lord Jesus once told His disciples that He was sending them to reap what they did not sow, since many had laboured and they could benefit from these labours. It should be with this magnanimous spirit that we look at the works of other Christian groups.

When I survey the many methods taken by these groups to propagate the gospel, one is commendable. This is the so-called ‘tent-makers’ missionaries, who follow in the footsteps of Apostle Paul by supporting themselves with their own vocations while bearing witness for God. These are not trained missionaries, but ‘ordinary’ Christians who, because of their desire to propagate the gospel, have sought employment in other countries. This means that they need not burden their churches for financial support, yet at the same time could be ambassadors for Christ. By working in society, they also have better opportunities to meet up with a wider range of the local nationals than the ‘professional’ missionaries. To support these ‘tent-maker’ missionaries, a number of Christian churches organise training and orientation programmes for interested parties, from running Bible study seminars to providing practical guidance on how to reach out for Christ across cultural and linguistic barriers. And when these ‘tent-makers’ are in the field, their churches continue to support them through regular contacts. Counselling facilities are also available.

As for those who are not full-time ministers, or ‘tent-makers’, they can still dedicate part of their time to God by joining ‘mission trips’. These are usually short-term trips abroad organised by various Christian groups, primarily to preach the gospel. I know of Christian friends who have spent their annual holiday leave entitlements in this manner, and returned feeling physically tired but spiritually enriched. By using this approach, these secular churches have extended the evangelical work to their ‘ordinary’ members, by allowing everyone to actively participate in their overseas missions.

Christian groups are also propagating the gospel to people ‘from all walks of life, even so-called ‘social outcasts’, such as criminals. They have taken up what they call ‘prison missions’, where they visit prisoners and preach to them the message of the Lord’s salvation with the belief that even if in this world, these prisoners have ruined their chances, the door of salvation is still open to them, provided they repent and return to God.

Finally, many charities set up to help the under-privileged are also sponsored by Christian groups. Whilst the main objective of these charities may be to provide some physical and mental relief to the society’s needy, indirectly they too have lived up to the spirit of propagating the Christian message, by being a light to the world, to let humanity know that they are the disciples of Christ. This is especially true since volunteers in these organisations are usually dedicated Christians who just want to do some good in this increasingly cruel and uncaring world.

As I write this, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps we too could encourage tent makers, organise ‘mission trips’, reach out more to people from different walks of life, and be actively involved in charitable deeds to alleviate society’s needs, for the glory of God.

The way forward

ALTHOUGH the above examples are by no means exhaustive, it does show that we in the true church can build upon the good works already taken by our ministers and dedicated brothers and sisters, and where appropriate, learn from some good evangelistic approaches of other Christian groups, to propagate the complete gospel of salvation through even better, and more effective means. We have the spirit of God with us, and if God is with us, what is there that we cannot achieve? The important question is whether we still realize our commission; perhaps the passage of time and the good life we lead have numbed our initial zeal and conviction.

Individual conviction apart, we can also actively find opportunities to participate in the church’s organised evangelistic activities. For instance, the International Assembly Standing Committee has recently revised its evangelistic and pastoral strategy, in that each General Assembly will be responsible for managing and implementing the holy work in a particular country. If adopted, this new approach can provide more opportunities for every member to take part in the overseas holy work.

As each GA focuses on its ‘adopted country’, it can organise training, pastoral and evangelistic programs that are tailored to that country’s particular needs. And based on the human and financial resources required to implement these programs, it can mobilise every local church to participate in the holy work, such as having regular visits to the adopted country to conduct RE and choir training, spiritual and evangelistic meetings, short-term Bible courses and so forth. In short, everyone can then play an active role, unlike the present situation where the majority of us are divorced from the actual field-work of world evangelism, and may find it difficult to relate to the needs of this ministry. Let us therefore be prepared to volunteer our services when the church asks for assistance.

To progress, the church as a whole has to continue to enhance her infrastructure, in order to properly support the numerous concurrent activities. Although each local church may have her own programs, she still has to coordinate her activities with other churches. An integrated organisation, staffed by full time administrators to manage and direct the different areas of the global ministry may be the next step forward, as this strategy will free ministers from administrative burdens, and allow them to concentrate on their primary goals of evangelism and pastoral care. With full-time administrators, they can also co­ordinate and support the efforts of the workers in the field.

A good global communication network is also vital in building this infrastructure. Whilst nothing can replace face-to-face meetings for encouraging rapport and fellowship, we can and should make more use of existing technologies since in the long run, they are more efficient and cost effective. A good example is Internet, a sprawling worldwide network which connects more than two million computers and 20 million users. Currently, we already have some members registered with Internet, and who also regularly share sermons or testimonies which they have heard with other members through TJC.net, a ‘distribution list’ within Internet set up by one of our members in the US. More use could be made of this network amongst the churches. Later, we can even venture into desk-top video conferencing, where PCs can be turned into videophones that send pictures captured with the computer’s camera in real time across high speed telephone lines, enabling TJC to conduct meetings across geographical boundaries with her delegates sitting in the comfort of their own homes.

The world of information technology may be baffling to the uninitiated, but this does not mean that we can ignore its impact. In fact, once we have mastered it, this growing ‘information highway’ can help us to reach out to millions who have computers in their homes. The gospel message can be broadcast to them at the press of a button. The potential is enormous.

Individual conviction, willingness to join in the church’s activities, upgrading the church’s infrastructure with full-time administrators, assisted by latest technologies, these are merely some suggested ways for the church to “preach the gospel to all creation”. And this must always be our goal.

In conclusion, we really ought to actively participate in the evangelistic work while we still can. Take a close look at the world around us. Can we not see the signs of the last days? The heartless genocide in Rwanda, the devastating winter floods in continental Europe, the killer earthquake at Kobe, Japan, the fierce fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya, the list is endless. They have one common message; namely, our time is running out, and we cannot afford to take things easy and progress at our own chosen pace. As Christ’s valiant soldiers, it is time to mobilise and march forward into the battlefield, so that the world will recognize the True Jesus Church as a church in action.

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