Should Christian Missionaries Declare God’s Glory or the Gospel?

Recently, I attended a missionary-appointment service. I was encouraged to see young people sent out by churches with the goal of getting the gospel to unreached people. These new missionaries are leaving jobs, churches, and family to invest their lives in another culture so that people can hear about Jesus. I rejoice for these workers God has raised up for the harvest (Matt 9:38).

However, I am concerned about the language used during the event about being sent “to declare God’s glory.” This was the theme of the event, and it was repeated in the printed literature, testimonies, and the sermon. The phrase was lifted from Psalm 96:3, which states: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (ESV).

The Bible Knowledge Commentary summarizes the message of Psalm 96 in this sentence: “In this psalm about the reign of the Lord, the psalmist called on people everywhere and all the elements of nature to praise God because He is greater than all pagan gods and because He will reign in righteousness and truth.”

To declare God’s glory is to talk about His greatness. God is great, and He is more than worthy of all praise and glory. The Scriptures mention God’s glory (here and elsewhere) as well as the command for believers to glorify God in their body (1 Corinthians 6:20). I affirm the call for people to declare God’s glory. However, the aim of Christian missions should be clear. Christian missionaries should declare the gospel; to only declare God’s glory would be an inadequate message because only the message of the cross is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

Which message has the power to save, the message of the cross or the message that God is glorious? Consider some of Paul’s comments on the matter:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

People are saved when they respond in repentance and faith to the message of the cross, or the gospel–not when they hear that God is glorious.

An objection might be raised that I am creating a false dilemma. Scripture mentions declaring both God’s glory (Psalm 96:3) and the message of the cross (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

In reply to that objection: True. But only believers can call to God and glorify Him, as described in Psalm 96. Also, no biblical text states that people are saved because God’s glory is declared. In contrast, the Bible identifies clearly the message which sinners must hear in order to be saved: the message of the gospel.

It is understandable, though not excusable, that some believers might confuse the concept of God’s glory with the gospel. But it is mystifying that a Christian mission organization would send out its missionaries with instructions to declare something other than the gospel.

IMB & Holding Lottie’s Rope

This week, International Mission Board (IMB) Trustees will meet in New Orleans, where I live; IMB President David Platt will speak at NOBTS, where I work; and a new group of missionaries will be commissioned at First Baptist New Orleans, where I am a member. As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I have done my small share of praying, giving, and going through the ministries of the Cooperative Program (CP). For this reason, I consider myself a stakeholder in the success of every CP-funded SBC entity, including the IMB.

As a stakeholder, I followed with great interest the IMB’s recent announcement to shrink its missionary force due to the past 6 years of spending more than $210 million beyond its receipts. When shrinking a mission force for financial reasons, it seems there would be benefits to leaving the most experienced missionaries on the field, since they already know the language, culture, and local ministry contacts. The leadership of the IMB faces difficult decisions, and I pray God would give them wisdom as they seek to be good stewards of both opportunities and resources.

I was encouraged to see that an initiative has been launched called “Holding Lottie’s Rope.” The goal is to connect churches with some of these seasoned missionaries who plan to continue serving on the international mission field. Who is eligible to receive this financial support? Those who accepted the IMB’s volunteer retirement package, but who do not sense the Lord has called them to leave their mission field. It is an interesting mission-funding model. The details can be found here.

I support the work and direction of the IMB. I also support the strategy of “Holding Lottie’s Rope.” May God continue to bless these efforts by Southern Baptists to reach out to all people with the message of the gospel.