Another on how closure, unreached, reached, unevangelized, etc. are not Biblical terms

Recent conversations have reminded once again that the terms we use to define the task are not Biblical terms. They are barely Biblical concepts. We try to drive our understanding from Scripture, but these measures are always lacking in some way.

It seems very clear (at least to me) from Scripture (Matt 28 and 24 are our go-to passages, always, but Rev 7:9 and pieces from the OT etc fit in as well) that we have been given a task. This task involves both proclamation of the Good News and disciple-making. There’s even a big, tantalizing, mysterious carrot for us: Matthew 24:14 can be read to indicate when the task is done, Jesus comes back. (Maybe.)

We know what Scripture records of how Jesus did things, but even Scripture tells us the record isn’t complete. (End of John.) And we don’t want to get “too locked in” to things we shouldn’t be locked in on. Jesus didn’t do Twitter – but then Twitter wasn’t around in those days. Would he have done Twitter if it had been? Eh…

Here’s an analogy: it’s as if I headed out the door, and as I headed out the door, I told my kids to do the dishes before I got back. (Rough analogy.) I didn’t tell them precisely HOW to do the dishes. So, what do they have to judge whether the task I have given them is complete? They have basically how I’ve done the dishes in the past (my example) and how I’ve shown them to do the dishes in the past.

When I said “do the dishes” did I mean just the ones in the sink? Did I mean to scour the house for every last dish? Did I mean to re-wash all the dishes in the cupboard? It’s only obvious if you know me – and even then, there can be some ambiguity.

When we define “closure” and “unreached” and “unevangelized” and “the 10/40 Window” and “non-Christian” and all these terms… we are getting into messy and murky waters. It’s not that we shouldn’t try and define the task – definition precedes doing and measuring. But we should realize that in many ways we are making up our own measures to try and describe “the things we have seen and heard.”

(Really, we’re describing the things we see and hear as recorded in Scripture…)

People will quarrel and argue and fight over these definitions when maybe we should hold them very loosely.

My general rule of thumb is: let’s take a definition and do it. And if Jesus doesn’t come back, let’s just take another, deeper, definition, and do that. And let’s allow for mystery and muddiness and murkiness in the waters while we do, and be humble and charitable about our work.


6 COMMENTS

  1. Greg Parsons says:

    Justin,
    THANKS for this post. I always appreciate your reflections…
    When teaching about such things (in Perspectives for example) I always say things like:
    • We don’t know God’s definition for when the gospel is preached (Matt. 24:14). So, we’ve done our best, looking through the Scriptures, history, culture, strategy to come up with what seems like the best way to look at it.
    • We also don’t know when a people is reached BIBLICALLY. So, we define that in a certain way, leaving room for (and this is KEY): “teaching them to obey.”
    Discipling people and teaching them are tasks that NEVER end (for one reason, there are always new beliers, children growing up to maturity, etc).
    There will ALWAYS be improvement these kinds of definitions, but at this point, they are likely to be minor tweaks.
    Of course, perhaps we are way off, and we’ll find out when we are with Jesus! 🙂

  2. Global Nomad says:

    I think the Scripture does give a LOT of clarity as to what it means to plant a local church and that this is clearly implied as the outcome of the Great Commission – so wouldn’t it follow that our definition of completing the task at hand should be defined by putting into place the frameworks for a local church to reach maturity?

    • Justin Long says:

      I would tend to agree, but here is where it gets murky. As you note, church planting is implied but not specifically stated in the various renderings of the GC. Further the GC talks just as much about waiting on the Spirit, going in the world, being witnesses, proclaiming, and even healing as it does about making disciples. I agree that where you make disciples the church is gathered and therefore planted. But when we define “GC finished” as “the church can become mature” it may be a valid test that we create for ourselves, but it may also go above-and-beyond (or not far enough).
      To look at it another way, does the whole world have to be part of a mature local church before Jesus comes back? For that matter, does every local church have to be mature? There’s nothing that says that has to be the case. Don’t mistake me: I think maturity is important, and certainly every local church ought to be growing up in Christ… and it’s a goal to strive for.
      Hope I’m saying what I mean clear enough?

      • Global Nomad says:

        I would say “frameworks for the church to mature” because without them churches don’t multiply to be effective disciples. Not all reach maturity and I don’t believe anything else that we can define stands in the way of the imminency of His return. So by frameworks I would go with basics like access to the Scriptures in a language they can understand, good discipleship, ability to pass it on, etc.

        • Justin Long says:

          Again, this is where it’s murky. I agree these things are important – even very important, even probably critical – and are therefore good thresholds and goals to strive for. But there are other things too. For example, is access to the Scripture a requirement of spiritual growth? On the one hand it certainly helps – one could even say it is critical, nearly necessary. Then again, the “early church” (eg Acts) didn’t have the New Testament, and there wasn’t even an OT in every house! Of course, they had the teaching of the Apostles, which would in a sense be the equivalent – but you see what I mean?
          Is it possible to have a church with the framework for growth and yet have a situation where a lot of the world doesn’t hear the Gospel? You could argue that hearing the Gospel is fruit/evidence of maturity. We have a lot of churches today with frameworks for growth but 2 billion who don’t hear. So they could have frameworks for growth and yet not grow – like a vine that has the framework to grow on, but remains puny.
          I think we need multiple measures of “closure” and we need to hold each one lightly, thinking of it as good and useful but not necessarily “the *final* measure of completion.” Only God knows when the times are full.

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