As a church planter in North America, I am constantly forced to consider the most advantageous ways of reaching our community with the Gospel. While missionaries and pastors in third world countries, and the 10/40 window, have many difficulties and challenges that I may never know personally, I have been called by God to spread the Gospel throughout the Southeast region of Coastal Georgia. In the spirit of cultural contextualization, I have learned that two things are of supreme importance to the residents of Coastal Georgia: (1) grills, and (2) boats.
In so far as I understand the idea of being missional (who really understands what this term is supposed to mean?), I have come to realize that we should use everything we have to reach the lost with the Gospel of Christ. This means that we must use our grills and boats for Jesus. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like eating food or going out on a boat. So, instead of railing on the people of God for owning grills and boats (something that seems to be the default, guilt-driven position of Christian discipleship these days) why not encourage the members of our congregations to use their grills and boats for Jesus.
When we come to understand that everything we do should be done to the glory of God then we will begin viewing our possessions as instruments of evangelism, rather than merely objects of self-pleasure. If all we are doing is heaping up possessions for our own pleasures and for the advancement of cloistered communities, then all that awaits us is a certain fearful expectation of judgment (James 5:1-5); however, if we see them as means to a Gospel end, then they may serve to be instruments for advancing the Kingdom of God.
We would do well to remember Joseph of Arimethea–who used his wealth to honor the deceased Savior; or those women who supported the Savior with their finances during the days of His earthly ministry. We should also remember Martha, who opened her home and kitchen to Christ.
We who live in North America are all rich on the global socio-economic scale. Out of desire to deal with what is sometimes unfounded personal guilt, we have a propensity to condemn the rich–rather than encourage them to use what the Lord has given them for the spread of His Gospel. In 1988 J. I. Packer, in his article “The Christian and God’s World” (Collected Shorter Writings vol. 2 pp. 271 ff.) made a fascinating observation about the unique role Americans could have in the evangelization of the world–in part, on account of our financial prosperity:
“Why do I feel this strongly? Why, because of the unique significant vocation that God appears to have given to the United States of America in the modern world.
Theologians, as you know, distinguish between special grace, the grace that saves sinners by turning them to Christ and that builds up the church in and through Christ, and common grace the grace of providential action–sometimes kindly, sometimes severe–that restrains sin, maintains some order and some justice in our fallen communities and so provokes a milieu in which the Gospel and the work of special grace can go forward. When Paul directs Christians to pray for rulers ‘that we [believers] may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1 Timothy 2:2), his words clearly express this view of common grace serving the interests of special grace.
I see the United States as having at this time a unique role in the world at both levels of divine operation. I might perhaps be able to see this more clearly than a native American ever could, simply because I look at it from outside. As a non-American, I do not endorse any form of utopian triumphalism, the secular counterpart of the Pilgrims hope of building new Jerusalem in Massachusetts, that periodically breaks surface in the American mind and that looks to outsiders so ominously like the pride that goes on before a fall. The idea that America is God’s most favoured nation and always will be is a snare and a delusion that can only tap America’s spiritual strength in the way that Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Malcolm Muggeridge think has happened already. Do not, I beg you, fall victim to any such notion as that.
Nonetheless, I want to go on record as saying to you, and about you, the two things that now follow, and I ask you to hear me well.
First, as regards special grace The United States of America is a nation of almost a quarter of a billion people. Of these, 65 percent claim a church connection, and something between 20 and 40 million–maybe one is ten, maybe one in five profess to be born again evangelical Christians. The United States has a conversionists fork religion that gives great support to evangelicalism…What it boils down to is that among the larger nations, only the United States has both the manpower and the money to sustain evangelical world mission for the next generation, and this gives America a uniquely important role in the global strategy of the kingdom of God at the present time.1
What Packer so insightfully observed is that American prosperity does not need to be seen as an enemy of the Gospel, rather it may still be used to support and further the Kingdom of God in the world. It is not sinful–in and of itself–to have possessions. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Dangerous though it may be to have great possessions, it may also be a great benefit to the church of Jesus Christ if we use our goods for His glory and the advancement of His Kingdom. While some need to do as Jesus said to the rich, young ruler (i.e. “Go and sell all that you have and follow Me.”), still others need to heed the words of the apostle Paul, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 timothy 6:17). May we never waste our possessions when what we have may be used to advance the Kingdom of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t waste your grill; rather use it for Christ!
1. Packer, J. I. Collected Shorter Writings (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1998) vol. 2, p. 271 ff.
Nicholas T. Batzig is the organizing pastor/church planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church, a PCA church in Richmond Hill, Georgia.