In a previous article, I mentioned that “before we can discuss covenant evangelism, we need to clear up some important preliminary questions.” Those questions dealt with the application of the law of God to all people and all nations. With this behind us, I would like to briefly put forward some thoughts about preaching the whole gospel of Christ in light of this Christmas season. Allow me to begin with the lyrics of an Isaac Watts hymn that are so frequently sung and commented on at this time of year.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King…
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!…
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
So, the question is, how far is the curse found? Are the consequences of the curse limited to the depravity of the hearts of men? Of course not. All of creation fell due to the sin of Adam. There is not an area in all of life that has not seen the consequences of the fall. Another question relating to the lyrics above would be, is there an area in all of life over which Christ does not reign? The answer is the same. Of course not.
The consequences of the fall have reached every nook and cranny of this thing we call life. Christ currently reigns as King over this same comprehensive expanse. This reign is manifested in history through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, so many of our missionary efforts are limited in scope. They work to see the souls of men converted but stop short of providing Biblical direction for changing all of society around them. What does their conversion mean for their family? What about their business? Their recreation? Their community? Local and national political issues? Many times we are told that the Bible does not specifically address these so-called secular areas of life.
Perhaps this limited scope is a direct result of the understanding that the church will ultimately fail in history. Most evangelical Christians believe that the world as we know it will continue to denigrate until the time in which Jesus comes to rescue her. If this is the belief of the church today then the natural outworking is an evangelism that seeks to rescue as many souls as possible until the day of judgment.
There is little in this life that has more influence on our present actions than our view of the future. What we believe about the future will ultimately guide our actions in the present. In much of the evangelical world today, this is exactly what we are witnessing in terms of our missionary efforts. We are preaching a gospel that we believe can change the soul of a man but then stops short of allowing that converted soul to influence every area of the world around him. It is time we challenge both the theology and logic of this position.
“We have been preaching an abridged gospel. We have discounted the power of the Holy Spirit this side of Heaven. What we need is high-powered evangelism that takes the whole gospel to the world. Without the whole gospel and an understanding of institutional growth and success brought about by covenant obedience, we inherently say that the pagans will inherit the earth over time until a time of final judgment when Christ comes to effect what the Holy Spirit could not through his church.” ((John Crawford, Baptism is not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explains Everything (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2013), 136.))
The point is, the Holy Spirit’s work in history is as comprehensive as the reign of Christ. They are comprehensive because of the extent of the fall. Sin has touched everything. In turn, Christ’s redemption touches everything. This happens in time and space. This happens in history.
“How does it happen? Just as we suspect it would: the church evangelizes, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and people are converted. Over time those people seek to set up the rules of their homes to reflect the character of God, and work in their church to do the same. But they do not stop there; they seek to do the same in their community. They work within the established hierarchies in each area to bring about godly environments.” ((Ibid, 34.))
Specifically, this happens through God’s ordained covenant institutions of the family, church and state. Whether self-consciously or not, a missionary seeks to make a Christian nation out of the nation in which he is ministering. As he teaches the word of God to converts, they work out their salvation in every area of their lives. They live a different life at work. They vote differently. They allocate their time and money differently. Put simply, they govern themselves according to God’s covenant law. They change the way they govern their families. Over time, the obedience of a multitude of converts brings about changes in civil law. Ultimately, we see nothing less than individuals, churches, families and even nations operating in covenant with Christ.
“Let earth receive her King”. Whether someone acknowledges it or not, Christ is King over all creation. He is King over all men. Missionary efforts spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to see men openly acknowledge or profess Christ’s Kingship over them. They submit. As they do this, they change their families, communities and ultimately their nations through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through representatives, institutions submit. Christ’s reign over all creation is manifested covenantally in history. This historical manifestation brings blessings that flow far as the curse is found. It will continue until all of His enemies have been put under His feet. (1 Cor. 15:25) This victory occurred definitively at the cross. It occurs progressively in history. It will happen finally and perfectly at the end of time. “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Rev. 22:3, KJV)
So this year, as you have occasion to sing the oft-sung carol, contemplate the comprehensive power of the gospel to change everything. Allow a sincere passion to arise out of sheer confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit this side of Heaven. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!