Slack In Possessing The Land: As Israel Did Then The Church Does Now!
Posted by Job on April 11, 2009
Joshua 18:3 – And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?
God gave Israel a commandment, a task, a job to do, a commission if you will. What was it? Possess the land of Canaan. Drive the pagan inhabitants out. Take control of the entire land that God had promised to Abraham. You would think that after 430 years of slavery followed by 40 years of wandering in the desert and seeing an entire generation save Joshua and Caleb die due to its sins, and witnessing the mighty acts of God during all this time, Israel would have been zealous to fulfill God’s commands. But Israel never did. Almost as soon as Israel came into the land, they became, as they say, fat happy and comfortable.
They were not people after God’s own heart. They were only preoccupied with wealth and easy living. They forgot that the reason for being in the land of milk and honey was not just to drink the milk, eat the honey, and sit back. No, the reason for being in the land of milk and honey was to fear God and keep His commandments, which is the whole duty of man. They forgot that God was in heaven watching them, ready to bring all of their actions under judgment whether they be good or evil Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
So work, strive, and self – sacrifice to obey the commandments of the Lord? In those things they were not interested. A passion, zeal, burning fire, and consuming faith in the God that brought them out of Egypt and revealed Himself to them in the desert? No, their passion, zeal, and burning fire were in kicking their feet up and enjoying the benefits. So driving out all those people? Why? There’s plenty of land for all! Why do the hard work of going up against the well – defensed cities or the armies with iron chariots? Far better to leave them be, make leagues with them, have them pay us taxes, and while we are at it worship their gods, learn their practices, and intermarry with them. Besides, who has time to keep going to war and driving these people out of every inch of Canaan? What’s the point when they’ll just keep coming back anyway? There are cattle to feed, sheep to put out to pasture, grain harvests to bring in, and money to be made buying, selling, and trading! (Never mind the truth that the cattle, sheep, grain, money, land, and people itself all belong to God, and without God all of those things were in vain!)
And we all know the ultimate result of Israel’s failure to do the will of God and possess the land. Slowly, they assimilated the ways of the pagan cultures in their midst, and even exceeded their wickedness. They broke the Mosaic covenant, brought the curses on themselves that God threatened in Deuteronomy, and Israel fell to the Assyrians and Babylonians. All was left was a remnant!
But the church of Jesus Christ cannot sit in judgment of the Jews. Why? Because what Israel failed to keep the command that Joshua exhorted Israel to keep in Joshua 18:3 forless than 1000 years. Exodus happened at 1440 BC, the fall of Jerusalem was 586 BC, and the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria in 722 BC. Meanwhile, the church has failed to keep its commandment to possess the land for over 2000 years. Which command am I speaking of?
Matthew 28:19-20 – Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
For a substantial portion of Christian history, the church made practically no effort to fulfill the Great Commission. This was not the case with the first few hundred years of the church, when it was under persecution and spread like wildfire. However, after infant baptism became the norm, there was little need for evangelism; people were simply initiated into the church at birth. Perhaps more significantly, when the Roman church was allowed to assume responsibility, the church was made to serve the agenda of the Roman imperial state, and saving souls of barbarians were not seen as the way to manage the declining economic, political, cultural, and military fortunes of the empire. Along the way, doctrines were even created to justify this evangelical inaction, claiming that the Great Commission was given only to the apostles and fulfilled in their time. As tempting as it is for me to claim that this was a logical extension (or even part and parcel) of cessationism, it is more likely that “the world” was spiritualized or allegorized to mean the Roman state by those who walked in the tradition of Origen and Eusebius.
This mindset was so pervasive that it took literally miraculous interventions such as that of Maywin Socket (the so – called “Saint Patrick”) evangelizing Ireland, the conversion of the Vikings (the work of Christian women that Viking warriors kidnapped to be their wives as spoils of war), the Moravian revivals, or such manifestly unBiblical “evangelism” methods as Charlemagne’s forced conversions at the point of the sword to spread the faith. And the Reformation, sadly, did not change much. This was not directly due to the Reformers’ adopting the false “the Great Commission was for the apostolic times” doctrines, as John Calvin expressed a desire to take the gospel to the unreached. However, for Calvin, running his Genevan church – state and competing with the Roman Catholic states took priority, and down the line the states representing various flavors of Reformed Protestantism became more concerned with competing with each other politically than with evangelizing anyone else outside of an existing Christian church – state (Christendom). There were exceptions, such as limited attempts to evangelize natives in areas where Christianized states established colonies, but such endeavors not only never attracted much in the way of concentrated efforts or heavy resources, but were quite controversial, indeed many believed that it should not be done. Tending to the wayward in areas already churched was considered to be more important (especially if maintaining a strong church tradition was seen as an integral part of matters of state, culture, and economy) plus there were real doubts as to whether the heathen could actually be saved.
This did change with the work of William Carey and other contemporaries of his that God used to start a global evangelism movement. However, much work remains to be done. Nearly 2000 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the population of people groups considered unreached by the gospel is 2.7 billion, 41% of the world. There is much land in need of possession.
Yet, global evangelism is honestly not much of a priority for most Christians. Most of us are primarily concerned with our own comfort and leisure. A bigger judgment: it is far easier to get thousands or millions of Christians mobilized and willing to invest a great deal of time and resources for some domestic political movement or social cause than it is to get a far smaller number of Christians (like dozens or hundreds) actively involved in training, supporting, and praying for a single missionary.
And do not be deceived. Just as the Old Testament speaks of Israel’s being harshly judged by a righteous God for its disobedience in possessing the land and the spiritual decay that resulted, Revelations 2 and 3 speaks of the judgment to come for a church too spiritually hard – hearted to evangelize abroad (or for that matter at home to be honest). So Christian, go forth and possess the land with the gospel of Jesus Christ, or suffer the consequences on judgment day.
(Please note: this has nothing to do with dominionism, whether of the amillennial church – state variety, or of the modern type espoused by the “taking back the culture” religious right, the “social gospel” religious left, or of the third wave Pentecostals. This is all about evangelism, not schemes where we can use the state and culture to force the unsaved to pretend as if they are.)
Please consider supporting the Gospel For Asia overseas ministry, which targets a lot of unreached peoples, below.