Sometimes it seems as though the church has taken a cue from modern technology, living in a simulated world, where we go through the motions of faith, with our chairs stuck firmly to the floor.
While it would be easier to reach the world through some evangelistic equivalent of the flight simulator, the operative word in the Great Commission is "go."
In places such as Africa, it is a no man's land of riots and civil wars. Converts face a menacing world like the first Christians faced. If Christian joy comes from persecution, thousands in today's emerging countries know the original thing.
But, are we here in the Western world actually going and experiencing, or are we merely going through the motions? When Jesus came, He went everywhere with His disciples. Some may think that through our prayers we can send the Lord to save the nations, but the reality is that we must go for Him (see Is. 6:8).
Until the Son of God came to earth, the only nation with knowledge of God--Israel---believed they had Jehovah enshrined behind the curtain of the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem. But, when Jesus died, that curtain was ripped from top to bottom.
This supernatural event served as public notice from God that He was "out and about," not confined to a temple. He belongs to the whole world.
Many prepare for evangelistic work by attending seminars and conferences, filling their notebooks, listening to sermons and Bible studies. They are dedicated to gathering knowledge. But, as perpetual students, they may never leave class to practice what they've learned.
For instance, a young man once told me that he belonged to a youth group that held "indoor open-air meetings," simulated street events, complete with heckling actors. Churches may make a show of interest, busy with activities, meetings, sessions and business---keeping things going, but ultimately standing still.
Israel's army under Saul made plenty of noise, brandished their weapons and looked fierce, but only one teenage youngster named David ended up doing the fighting.
One church I heard of called itself "a center of continuous evangelism" but saw only one convert per year. We may take up the pose, keep the church machine in vigorous motion, while the agenda of the board has no item relevant to Christ's agenda--the Great Commission.
However, we must remember that the fire of evangelism cannot be ignited through artificial or humanly orchestrated means.
THE 'CROSS FIRE'
In ancient Israel, the altar fire had been lit by an act of God. But two sons of Aaron offered "unholy fire" in their incense burners, and "fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them" (see Lev. 10:1-2). Artificial fire such as this does not please the heart of the Father.
God must kindle in us the eternal love that burned on the altar of Calvary. Today, the message of the cross is entrusted to the church. All the church's seats may be full, people attracted by multiple interests, social popularity, splendid services or even selected Bible teaching--meanwhile, Jesus hangs on the cross without their particular attention.
Church zeal can be false fire. As Paul told the Corinthians, he preached with "love unfeigned"---passionate reality (2 Cor. 6:6, KJV). The cross is stamped across Scripture's pages, and preaching without the cross is not the gospel.
Paul expressed his Christianity by saying, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). There is no substitute for the cross, whether miracles, phenomena, music, eloquence or positive thinking. The most significant event in all history, Christ's crucifixion, is too shattering not to matter.
While I suppose every church in the land holds the cross of Christ in special regard, what does it mean to them? A preacher once suggested that "Christ died because He believed in us---that we were worth dying for." This ideology reverses the truth of the cross!
The cross is a spectacle that brings us to tears, shames us and stands as an example of selflessness and integrity. Isaac Watts, in his hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," writes that "Love so amazing, so divine/demands my soul, my life, my all."
But is that why Jesus gave His life---just to shame us, challenge us or bring grief to our eyes? No, this love was demonstrated to save us, when we could not save ourselves.
WHY WE EXIST
Paul spoke of the "offense of the cross" (see 1 Cor. 1:23). The offense is the proclamation of Christ's blood spilled for our sins. This offense ceases when Jesus is preached as merely a victim or martyr. Instead, He embraced death, taking up our cause at such frightful cost.
It is not that we are saved when we see the cross. Instead, we are saved when God the Father sees the cross--the transaction of redemption. Jesus said, "This is my blood ... shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28).
When the cross is preached in terms that decorate it with sentiment, it is stripped of its saving power. Paul did not preach to the Romans about the Jesus they had just executed merely to make them feel sorry about it. He preached it as the hope of their salvation.
When Peter charged the Jews in Acts 2:23 that, "and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (NIV)," he didn't reproach them, but declared that Jesus' death had intrinsic meaning--cleansing power for the forgiveness of sins.
Ultimately, the cross reminds us of why we exist as the church and the price that was paid for us and for those who have not yet heard. We are here on earth to spread the message of the cross, to move from the simulated reality that the Christian life can often become, to be "out and about" as Jesus was, burning with a consuming fire for the lost.