In 1998 there was a celebration in, India. It was the occasion of the twenty-five year, silver anniversary, of the Mission hospital. The president of the Mission Board, came as the keynote speaker. There was also an array of guests related to the history of the Hospital who came for the occasion. One of those who came was W. John. He was the pioneer missionary who actually purchased the land for the hospital to begin the ministry.
There is just something about the pioneer types. W. John was staying at the guest quarters at the hospital during the preparations for the celebration. It just so happened that a cobra snake made the mistake of slithering over the compound wall from the granite quarry behind the hospital. W. John in True Pioneer spirit killed the Cobra with a stick!
Actually, the pioneer missionary spirit is not really about killing Cobra snakes. It is about preaching Christ where He is not known. I asked W. John how the missionary work began and progressed in India. His answer was in the form of an analogy. He said the work began like a river. A river flows where the resistance is less. If the river encounters a rock or some resistance the river flows around that place. Soon a channel is cut and the river is flowing.
This method makes sense to me. Why stop at a hard resistant place when there are easy flow channels right next to the hard place? I thought it was right to do the ministry in India like a river, flowing where the openness was found. But, at that time, I also thought that we do not need to continue to flow exclusively down the same river cut decade ago. It is right to cut new rivers now!
In Romans Chapter 15:19-21 Paul used a different analogy for his work. Instead of a river, Paul uses the analogy of laying a foundation. He laid new foundations. Paul cut new rivers. He preached Christ where Christ was not known.
Read Romans 15:19-21
19 – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:
Vs 21 “They who were not told of him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
I) Paul’s Pioneer Journeys
Verse 19b So from Jerusalem all the way around Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
When Paul wrote these words he was about to complete his third missionary journey and visit Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27). By the time he wrote these words he had traveled extensively. There was still more traveling for him to do, but much of his missionary career was complete. He was speaking as a veteran.
There are many people who travel extensively in our day. I travel often and I have silver frequent flyer status on two airlines. I see these same tags commonly affixed to the bags of those rushing about in the airports. Some travelers even have the gold tags. These gold tags tell me that, as much as I have traveled, many others have traveled much more. If there was a first century frequent traveler gold card, I am sure Paul would have earned them for several major ship carriers.
Let’s check out some biblical background on how Paul traveled extensively to build new foundations. Our focus verse gives only a brief reference and we have just a hint here of how Paul journeyed all across Asia and into Europe. After Paul’s Damascus road experience he spent several days in Damascus. At once he began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. Paul was proving that Jesus is the Christ. This did not go on for long when a plan was hatched to kill Paul. Day and night men lay in wait at the city gates to kill Paul. To escape the situation Paul was let down through the opening in the wall in a basket. Paul mentioned only in Galatians that he traveled to Arabia before he ever went to meet the disciples in Jerusalem (Gal 1:17).
Paul’s First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:4-14:28)
For Paul it was not uncommon for persecution to arise and for him to be expelled from the region. In Iconium after a great number believed and a plot to stone him arose and Paul fled. At his next destination they caught up with Paul and did stone him and left him for dead. Paul recovered and left there the next day, but then returned there strengthening disciples. In between Paul’s first and second missionary Journey he was sent from Antioch to Jerusalem regarding a dispute and from Jerusalem back to Antioch with a reply.
Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:39-18:22)
When Paul went on his second missionary journey he began by visiting the former places from the first journey. That was only the beginning of his second journey travels. He actually reached the Illyricum that he mentions due to his Macedonian call. In Phillipi Paul was imprisoned. This led to the jailer and his household coming to Christ. In Thessalonica a riot broke out and Paul was sent out during the night. By the time Paul was half way through his second journey in Corinth the Lord spoke in a vision, “keep on speaking, do not be silent.”
Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-21:7)
On his third journey Paul traveled and strengthened his disciples from his first two journeys, but in reaching new areas in Ephesus a riot broke out because of Paul and it became very dangerous. Paul’s traveling companions were taken under siege and Paul and his companions left for Macedonia as soon as the uproar ended. In Greece there was a plot against him. Somewhere about this point Paul described all these journeys with this half verse (Vs 19b). So from Jerusalem all the way around Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. He had much more intense travel ahead with an upcoming trip to Rome.
In considering Paul’s travels I wonder what he would do and where he would go today? I wonder what Paul would think today about Sentenal Island? This island is the home of the Sentenalese tribals. This tribe is considered the remotest people in the world. They are a Paleolithic tribe with a population of only 250 on the Andaman Islands. They do not interact with anyone outside of their Sentenales tribe.
No one is permitted to go onto this Island. Sentenales speak their own language and this language is not understood by anyone outside the island and they do not understand any other languages. It will take a spirit of Paul for such a tribe to hear the Gospel. Paul did more than travel around and write a travel book. He went with a Gospel purpose to the frontiers. To where Christ had never been preached.
II) Paul’s New Frontiers Spirit
Vs 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.
In this verse Paul really lays out the central purpose of his ministry. It is to go to the new frontiers with the Gospel. He did not simply track down folks who had heard the apostles preach and try to work on that. Paul went to new places and built new foundations. The nature of his ministry was not to build on another man’s work, but to build new foundations. Paul remained true to what the Lord called him “to carry Jesus name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15).
Ralph Winter recently wrote about new foundations in this way, “Anyone can open a door and walk through it, but only a locksmith can deal with a locked door. Missions is “locksmithing” new groups. Once the lock is open (a very special skill), expanding the number of churches is by comparison a relatively simple task. (November-December 2002 Mission Frontiers USCWM• http://www.missionfrontiers.org/
There will always be a need for the pioneers, like Paul. His ministry came from the moving of the Spirit of God in his life. When we are sensitive to the Spirit we will find He moves us out into new areas. You can to this day find new areas that have never been touched adequately with the Gospel.
The Anthropological Survey of India team concluded that India consists of nearly five thousand distinct communities. With this many communities the majority of the Christians of India come from only about 150 communities. The frontier spirit of Paul is in need today as much as ever.
In many ways there has been a revival in the frontier missionary spirit Paul refers to here. One of these new initiatives has been the emphasis on the 10/40 window. This is because that in this window there are countless opportunities to lay new foundations. That certainly does not mean that there are not frontier opportunities outside this window. One mistake we make is to think so geographic. I refer to this as the missiological fallacy.
Let me give an example of this missiological fallacy thinking. In India there is a perception that the frontiers lie in North India. This is the perception because there are more churches in South India than in North India. Therefore the reasoning goes that if you go to North India you are a pioneer like Paul and if you are in South India you are building on another mans foundation.
What happens is people go to North India and work with tribals or other communities that already have a viable church. North India has had fantastic mass movements of the gospel. Most of the movements that Donald McGavran documents in his book The Founders of the Indian Church are movements that occurred in North India. There are frontiers in North India, but not every ministry in North India is a new foundations ministry.
To further illustrate let’s take Kerala in South India. Could this be a call for the pioneer missionary? Kerala is twenty percent Christian. But the forward caste Nayar are one of the most unreached people groups. The Muslim Mappila are even more unreached. The high percentage of Christians keep the pioneers away from Kerala in part because of this missiological fallacy.
Some missioligists have put the peoples of the world into categories of A, B and C. World C are christianized world B are amidst an evangelized people. The World A people are cut off from the Gospel. They are the frontiers. We are told that even though this World A has one-third of the worlds population they have only one percent of the mission resources made available to bring the Gospel to them. This world A person can exist anywhere. A Rajput of India is a World A person even if he is residing in Dallas. Reaching this person in Dallas is a Romans 15:20 frontier ministry
We must see the hidden peoples that lay underneath the Christian surface. A new foundations ministry is a calling to align your life to this vision expressed by Paul! It can be anywhere and in many ways. In one sense there are always the foundations from those who went before us. Paul to some degree built on Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses even here he is quoting Isaiah, when he made his new foundations proclamation. The key to this pioneer ministry is to take the Gospel where it has never been heard. It may be a new foundation but the Cornerstone is still and always will be Jesus Christ.
III) The Day will Dawn
Vs 21 “They who were not told of him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
We have unfailing promises of God when we go to the unreached peoples. It will happen. God is not going to run out of time. His plan is for some from every people group to come to know him.
Pioneer work is God’s work. Paul spells it out in Vs 17 – 19. It is not by our strength we go to new areas. It is because of the power of God. This ministry is only because of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
He quotes Isaiah 52:21. This verse that may have been his life verse: “They shall see who have never been told of him, and they shall understand who have never heard of him,” Paul went to the unreached based on the promise of God. The unreached will hear and turn to Christ. This was his confidence to go to all men everywhere. This promise of God was the basis of hope for Paul that thrust him out to those who have never heard.
I remember one very specific occasion when I was considering a change in ministry emphasis that would be more in line with Romans 15:20 and Paul’s new foundations approach. I was looking to change from encouraging existing churches to focusing on the Hindu Lingayats. The Lingayat community has over ten million people but, at that time, only a handful of known believers in Christ among them.
I went to visit a mission leader to ask his advise about such a bold move for my ministry focus. The response the mission leader gave me was, “do not do it.” His reason was that if I continued as I was doing, to encourage the churches, I will see professions of faith, baptisms and new churches started. He said the Lingayats are hard hearted and resistant to the Gospel. There will be no professions of faith, no baptisms, no new churches started among them. This move he warned would result in a fruitless ministry.
OK, I asked his advice. But, I could not accept his answer. The Gospel ministry is a call to the impossible. If I went to my own kinfolk in my own home town to do the Gospel ministry, not even one person could be born of the Spirit in my strength. This is impossible with man. But with God this Gospel ministry is possible. If we are going to do the impossible why should it be only the easy impossible? Why not go for the exceedingly difficult impossible? We must remember how Paul did the work in new areas. In verse Vs 19a he states that it is by the Spirit of God.
Now as for the ministry among the Lingayats God is blessing. It is a joy to, as far as possible build new foundations and preach Christ where he is not known. There are about fifteen districts in South India where the Lingayats are the dominate community. In all of them there are new professions of faith among the Lingayat. We are seeing baptisms and we are seeing churches among them. This is by no means a fruitless ministry. In contrast we are seeing abundant spiritual fruit among the Lingayats.
Now recently I was encouraging a colleague in North India. He was struggling about whether he should focus his ministry on an unreached people group, where no one was working. I told him how a Christian leader did not encourage me. I also told him to expect the same advice. That same day he came to me and said he asked a Christian leader. Well I asked him, what was his response? He said the leader told him that that people was hard hearted and resistant to the Gospel and would result in a fruitless ministry. I told him in my view that was confirmation of a call to work amongst that unreached people group.
We should pray that God will raise up workers who will preach Christ where He is not yet known! May God give you the grace to, preach the Gospel where Christ is not known. That those not told of him will see, and those who have not heard will understand through your ministry.
Paul had an ambition “to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named.” That was his call and his passion. This steadfast purpose guided his life and his gospel strategy. He challenges us to the frontiers by his words and example. He went to the peoples who had never heard the gospel. We now need pioneer missionaries to take the Gospel to the truly frontier people groups.
Paul is a man for the Gospel frontiers. He looks to the uttermost regions where men have never heard of Jesus. His ambition is to preach the saving name of Christ where he has not been named. Paul does not look to build on another’s foundation. Paul is a pioneer for the new foundations. Paul is a man who cuts new rivers. Will you?