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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.

2 Comments

  1. Leslie Puryear Leslie Puryear

    Exactly. Your point is crystal clear. Declaring God’s glory does not necessarily mean declaring the gospel. In contrast, declaring the gospel always glorifies God. It’s time we returned to an emphasis on evangelism.

  2. Dr. Harwood,

    You state you aren’t employing a false dichotomy, and technically I agree, but it seems you might be getting close. I agree entirely with you that we are to declare both God’s glory and the Gospel. The problem lies, however, in the assumption that the two are unrelated or otherwise unrelated. Rather, the Glory of God is inextricably related to the Gospel.

    Take for instance 1 Tim 1:11, where Paul calls Timothy to remember the usefulness of the law in guiding us in personal holiness, leading us to repent of all sin and false doctrine and rather to hold fast to sound doctrine which is “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

    Must the Gospel be proclaimed, heard and trusted for salvation? YES! Otherwise let us toss out Romans 10 and never again recall it. But to assume that somehow we can proclaim the Gospel apart from the Glory of God, or that the Glory of God has no relation to the Gospel is just theological silliness. The Gospel of Jesus Christ leads us to salvation, but it is for God’s Glory (Phil 2:5-11).

    Salvation of sinful men is not the endgame of the Gospel, but a gracious effect of it unto men. The end, the goal, the purpose of the Gospel is the demonstration of God’s Glory through the majesty and exaltation of Christ both in the heavens and in the hearts of men. The message of salvation through Christ’s substitutionary atonement is essential and necessary for sinful men to hear and trust in order to be saved. But those same sinful men, however, must also recognize that God does not save for our own sake and our own benefit alone or even primarily. Rather, he saves sinful men for His Glory. Which is why Paul can proclaim that the Gospel is good news of the glory of God, demonstrated in his love, grace, mercy and justice at the cross.

    I may be accused of playing semantics at this point, but I believe a biblical theology of the Gospel and God’s Glory demonstrates what I’ve put forward.

    Kindest Regards,
    Stephen Baum

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