“They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.”
That word imperialism is not one you hear in Christian conversation. It’s, in fact, a word that has very negative connotations. It means pursuing possession and honor for our nation, or organization, or family, or even just for ourselves. We want it because we want it!
It was once a driving force for Britain to gain more and more territory. It was once said, “The sun never sets on the British empire.” It was a consuming passion in the time of Queen Victoria. So you can understand the negative shadow that hangs over the word, because often the land acquired obligated people who lived there to work for low and shameful wages, making those in control very wealthy. That is exactly what happened in British history, incredible wealth flowed in made on the backs of people who worked for almost nothing.
So, we see the picture and understand the rough meaning. But there is an imperialism that is totally positive and it characterized Paul’s life. Christian imperialism means living always that more and more people will honor Jesus Christ; more converts, more countries, and more cultures. We find it in Paul’s words “every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess”—that concept could be correctly called Christian imperialism. John Stott says it in one sentence, “Only one imperialism is Christian, however, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ and the glory of His empire or kingdom.” It is focused exclusively on Jesus.
Paul exhibits it, wanting to bring more and more people in more places to obedient faith. So he openly said, exalting “the name that is above every name” in order “that every knee will bow” (Philippians 2:9-10). If God wants that, so should we desire it—and that, in the end produces missions and evangelism. We should live desiring to see people honor His name and call Him Lord. And conversely, we should grieve when Jesus is rejected and ignored and His name profaned.
So then, pause for a moment and realize—the highest motive for evangelism is not obedience of the Great Commission nor is it love for the lost who are dying in their sins. Rather it is this: a burning zeal and consuming passion to see Jesus honored and given glory and praise. That is why we must point out that some mission projects and some evangelistic events are all wrong. They are thinly disguised forms of a crass, cheap imperialism. It’s honor for my church and for my evangelistic association or even for my mission trip’s success.
John Piper calls it “the treasonous imperialism of using world missions as a cloak for pursuing honor”—my denomination, my organization, and my Christian project! See it for what is and realize why prayers are not answered. Do you remember James’ speaking of “asking amiss” (James 4:3)? That’s part of what he meant. It is using Jesus Christ to get what we desire—recognition, applause, anything else you can name. It is to think—“What can Jesus do for me?” instead of thinking, “What can I do to honor Jesus?”
But let’s return to what is positive—John spoke of the early evangelists and missionaries going out “for the sake of the name” (III John 7). Of course, we are confident we know which name that was, it was for the praise and glory of the name above every name, the incomparable name of Jesus Christ!
We have arrived at a special place: conclusively see that the single focus of all Christian evangelistic events is that done for His honor. All other motives must quickly die for they are unworthy. The ultimate goal is to bring glory to the name of Jesus. And that tells us, unless that vision of Jesus Christ consumes our life, we will always be in danger of being misguided in all we do. His honor is the center of everything and the object of everything and the motive of everything—without that understanding, let’s stay home!
And those words of Bishop J. C. Ryle echo from the past, “No man ever errs on the side of giving too much honor to God the Son.” He added, we can’t think “too much of Christ.”
To some, Paul’s words about Jesus Christ seem too radical, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus … for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …” (Philippians 3:8-9) The Living Bible says, “everything else is worthless …”
You will admit the implication of all this is inescapable when applied to our motive for being involved in ministry. For us to do anything in Christian mission that is less than that is a fantastic misreading of the New Testament. The early church had only one motive—giving Him honor. They preached, they persuaded, and they pleaded appealing to people to “be reconciled to God” by honoring Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. (II Corinthians 5:20)
So we need these built-in safeguards to be hedged around us to keep us correctly channeled. Three will help us, so the timely question is, what do we not mean? How do we “tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might”?
I. WE DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF CONFUSING CHRIST WITH OUR CULTURE
The scholarly educator/evangelist Michael Green spoke of the problems created by “culture bound Christianity that has happened all too obviously in the export of European trappings and denominations.” Some people on mission trips seem to be preaching Americanism, the exporting of the “American dream,” rather than the gospel of Jesus.
On one such trip I heard a woman say to her daughter about a poor girl who attended, “Oh, wouldn’t you love to take her to Walmart and give her $200 and an empty cart?” That is a total misunderstanding of our work in cross-cultural ministry. The gospel must be presented without the attachment of a cultural overlay or materialistic purpose. This kind of shallow thought and mixing it with the gospel is a very far cry from Jesus, who was always challenging men and women to leave their cherished self-interest and come and follow Him.
If our ministry in evangelism is to be authentic, we will all make an effort to share the gospel without cultural enticements but with only Biblical implications which call people to take up a cross—the symbol of death to worldly claims. We call people to Christ, which does not have anything to do with the American culture or material comforts. Anything added to the message of Jesus, such as the idea of economic advantages or educational opportunities or immediate, temporal benefits is a very grievous mistake. It is thinly disguised entrapment and offensive to the true message of Christ and His cross.
We must strip ourselves of any creed, code of ethics, and ceremonies or culture—preaching only Christ. Yes, in time Christianity brings a better way of life, but we must never promise those things to get their response. Not “Christ and” and “Christ with” or “Christ for.” This, that, and the other added to the gospel is flat out wrong! Certainly nothing hinders the true progress of the gospel any more than this. We must understand our mission purpose only in terms of Christ and His cross.
II. WE DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF CONFUSING CHRIST WITH OUR CRUSADING
John R. W. Stott speaks like a prophet when he insists, “We must refuse to try to bludgeon people into the kingdom of God. The very attempt is an insult to the dignity of human beings and a sinful usurpation of the prerogatives of the Holy Spirit.” Paul addressed this very issue calling it “… disgraceful, underhanded ways …” (II Corinthians 4:2, full quote below) We cannot engineer conversion with a strong hand; that is to come near to a blasphemy of the work of the Holy Spirit!
All involved in missions and evangelism must make it clear beyond all debate and doubt that we are not involved in a wicked, dishonest assault on human personality. So we draw the line on all contrived and deliberate manipulation, all artificiality, plus cool business efficiency and deliberate human technique to induce a response.
We do not allow a haughty attitude or an aggressive manner that overpowers people. We do ministry in humility without coercion or high pressure or psychological entrapment. It’s never to be brute imperialism and human trickery. Paul said these words about that:
“we … have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
II Corinthians 4:1-2
We are to reject any form of manipulation. The use of dubious means such as threats, scare tactics, and psychological pressure to make converts is to be strictly avoided.
III. WE DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF CONFUSING CHRIST WITH OUR SALESMANSHIP
Billy Graham warned evangelists saying that there are some “with great personal charisma and personality who can induce people to follow them—instead of Christ.” Presenting Christ is not a matter of a well practiced presenting of Christ like the repulsive image of a front man for a carnival sideshow. The mentioning of it is sickening to the true gospel of Christ. It is not all talk and a slick verbalizing of the gospel. We preach the gospel of love while we exhibit love in action. We preach good news but match it with good deeds. Jesus taught this very thing. (read Matthew 5:16)
We do more than talk—yes, talk we will for that is necessary, but God’s Word also became flesh and His glory was displayed. What can we do that shows we care? What social action helps people see that our good deeds match our good news? For “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). We should all share Christ’s deep concern for the personal and social suffering of humanity and with acts of doing our utmost part to alleviate human needs.
Paul spoke of “they do good … willing to communicate” (I Timothy 6:18). He puts the two together, the visual good and the vocal message. Peter said, “… they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God …” (I Peter 2:12)
We must prayerfully and thoughtfully make our presentation of the gospel Biblical and balanced with only Immanuel’s Imperialism our concern and focus.