In the early 1600’s, Christians from across Europe began the long journey to America in search of religious liberty. What exactly was one of their stated goals? Create a nation of light for all other nations to behold. While in route to the New World and still aboard the ship Arbella, Puritan John Winthrop preached a sermon from Matthew 5:14 “You are the Light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In a sense, America was not only being founded as a safe haven for religiously persecuted refugees from other nations, but also as a sort of “missionary outpost.” It would be from this “home base” that the good news of Jesus Christ would be spread across the globe. For the next 300 years, no nation has been more faithful to “preach the gospel to all nations” than has America and its churches. However, in our zeal to evangelize people around the globe, it appears that we have overlooked many of those directly in front of us.
America at one time could be considered a Christian nation. While many people today throw around the phrase “God bless America,” few of our political leaders understand what it takes to make that a reality. Our Founding Fathers lived in a primitive time as far as technology goes, but morally and socially they were a nation of light. George Washington said the following in his Farewell Address: “Of all of the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
Jeremiah Smith (1759–1842), a Revolutionary soldier, judge, U.S. Congressman and Governor of New Hampshire, is quoted as saying: “Cherish and Promote the interest of Knowledge, virtue and religion. They are indispensable to the support of any free government… Let it never be forgotten that there can be no genuine freedom where there is no morality, and no sound morality where there is no religion… Hesitate not a moment to believe that the man who labors to destroy these two great pillars of human happiness…. is neither a good patriot nor a good man.”
Daniel Webster, lawyer and member of the House of Representatives in 1812, practically prophesied what would happen to American society if the Bible were ever removed from a place of prominence and influence in American society: “If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be; If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy. If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will. If the power of the Gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.”
Our Founding Fathers understood that nature abhors a vacuum. If you remove something from a given space, that space will not remain empty. Something will come in and fill the void. Daniel Webster and the rest of the Founding Fathers felt that if the gospel of Christ were ever removed from a place of prominence in America, darkness would reign. He felt that if God and His word were removed, the devil and his works would fill the void. This is what has happened in America over the last generation. The light has been removed and darkness has filled the void. This is why the first freedom that the Founding Fathers sought to protect in the Bill of Rights was religious freedom.
America was once “the Light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” But now it suffers from a famine – A famine of hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8:11). And as a result, our nation has fallen into darkness. On Feb 12, 2004, former U.S. Senator Zell Miller stood on the Senate floor, and said the following: “Arnold Toynbee, who wrote the acclaimed 12-volume A Study of History, once declared, ‘Of the 22 civilizations that have appeared in history, 19 of them collapsed when they reached the moral state America is in today.” America has fallen into darkness because it has become devoid of light.
For the first 300 years of America’s existence, America was a Christian nation. However, this no longer appears to be the case. Unfortunately, today’s modern American ministry model seems to still reflect a time in which we were still a nation of light that needed to send the gospel to other nations. When the polls reveal to us that only about half of those that attended church weekly have truly been born again, it is clear that we need to reevaluate and redefine our ministry models and the extent of the mission field.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus provides us with the proper strategy: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria were all a part of the home nation of Israel. Our Lord’s instructions were that we were to first start our missionary and evangelistic efforts at home and then branch out from there. Jesus’ model essentially teaches us to spread the gospel first in our own cities, then our states, our nation… AND THEN… To the rest of the world.
Our missionary, evangelistic and outreach activities must first start at home. However, today’s present American ministry model seems to restrict the missionary outreach of most churches to the four walls of the church… and then to the ends of the earth. Today, in order to send our missionaries to the outermost parts of the world, we have to walk by countless unsaved people right outside our front doors and in our own communities in order to take the gospel to other nations. Dr. Ron Walborn, the Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York seems to be one of the few leaders that recognizes the urgent need to redefine the mission field: “Many leaders… cringe when someone says, “We are all missionaries.” Although that phrase has been used as an excuse for staying home when the Lord has called us to the nations, it has never been truer than it is today. The model of a local pastor quietly leading community churches in “gospel-friendly” villages is nearly nonexistent. The Western world can no longer honestly be described as “Christian.” Some recent surveys suggest that less than half of church attendees are truly “born again.” The time for missional pastors—leading, equipping and empowering believers through “mission outposts” (formerly known as churches)—has arrived. If seminaries do not raise up these kinds of leaders, we are missing the point and will cease to be relevant.”
I once attended a church where the sign hanging over the door leaving the sanctuary read: “You are now entering the mission field.” Our churches need to once again be seen as “bases of operation.” Our churches once again need to become missionary outposts… and our Pastors cannot be expected to carry this full burden. As congregations, we need to begin provide both the personnel with a heart and a desire for outreach and the resources to accomplish this new mission.
Dr. John Diamond is Director of Peacemakers Outreach and author of The Rise of America and Unifying the Body of Christ: Restoring the New Testament Temple