• johned@aibi.ph

The Evangelization of Whole Communities

This article owes a lot to the work of C. Peter Wagner and Ed Silvoso whose books "Territorial Spirits" and "That None Should Perish" were instrumental in giving me the basis for many of these ideas which were fully formulated whilst lecturing on Isaiah 40-66 at a local Bible College. While my debt to these men is deep they are not to be blamed for any mistakes in this article - they are solely mine. The idea that communities and structures can experience salvation just as individuals can "walk the sawdust trail" is not entirely new. It was first debated when conversions of whole tribes took place on the mission field. In some cases the leader decided for the whole tribe. In others they simply converted "en block". Missiologists were divided about the "reality" of such conversions some skeptical and others supportive. In the end many saw that the tribe was a decision-making unit in its own right. But a theology was never developed and such decision-making was never seen as offering insights to our own cultures.

(Isaiah 62:10-12 NKJV) Go through, Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, Lift up a banner for the peoples! {11} Indeed the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the world: "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Surely your salvation is coming; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him.'" {12} And they shall call them The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD; And you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.

The Scriptures

In Isaiah 62:10-12 quoted above salvation is constantly described in terms of communities "daughter of Zion" "the peoples" "the Holy People" "the Redeemed of the Lord" "a City Not Forsaken". These communities are just as "saved" as each individual in them. They experience peace (Psalm 122:6), joy (Isaiah 65:18), prosperity (Zechariah 1:17) and health (Isaiah 65:20-23) They know the favor of God and are "witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10-12). The Holy Spirit dwells in their midst and sanctifies the temple (Ezek 43:5-7), the city (Zec 12:10) and the nation (Ezek 39:29) through conviction and purging (Isaiah 4:4) and the production of the fruits of the Spirit (Isaiah 32:15-18, 61:3).

The nation can grieve the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10) which is "within them" (Isaiah 63:11)and gives them rest (Isaiah 63:14).. Ezekiel talks of a "new spirit" being given to the house of Israel (Ezekiel 11:19,20, 18:31, 36:26-28) that results in national prosperity. (Ezekiel 36:26-30 NKJV) The nation is a collection of individuals who make decisions about God but it is also an entity in its own right before God.The Spirit can be poured out on the nation as a whole. (Ezekiel 39:29 NKJV) 'And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,' says the Lord GOD."

The book of Isaiah gives us God's plan for Israel on its return from 70 years in exile for idolatry and gross sin. The returning exiles were to build a Temple, then restore Jerusalem and the "Holy City" or Zion, from "Zion" would go the word of the Lord, first to Israel and from Israel to the ends of the earth and even the Gentiles would come to Zion to worship God. The concluding verses of the book make it clear that God's word and glory was meant to radiate from Jerusalem - a city of the redeemed. (Isaiah 66:19b-20 NKJV) "And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles. {20} "Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the LORD out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem," says the LORD, "as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD.

Lets jump to the New Testament for a moment and consider the implications of a few verses from Colossians. (Colossians 1:16-20 NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. {17} And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. {18} And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. {19} For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, {20} and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

Jesus reconciles all things to himself - whether things on earth or things in heaven. These things include thrones, dominions, principalities and powers (verse 16). God does not just bring back individuals to Himself - but "thrones" and all they govern i.e . tribes, tongues and nations. While God wishes to reconcile individual Australians or Americans to Himself He also wishes to reconcile the "thrones" of Australia the nation and the "thrones" of America the nation to Himself. God wants all power structures acknowledging His lordship. Let's say that you are a Christian in a large firm. There is a large difference between serving in a firm that acknowledges Jesus as head of the corporation and one that is utterly opposed to Him, - perhaps worshipping Mammon instead. Not only do the individuals need redemption but the "corporate culture" needs to acknowledge Jesus and obey Him. One of the aims of Jesus is to totally subdue all human governments to His rule (Rev 19:15). To this end He asks us to pray for kings and all who are in authority.

(1 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, {2} for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. {3} For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, {4} who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

As ambassadors of Christ we are committed with a message of reconciliation which we are to use to build churches, godly cities, godly nations and, eventually, a godly world. I am not saying that our efforts will convert the whole world but that we are to have a focus that is that large and that comprehensive. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NKJV) Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, {19} that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

The Premise

Salvation comes to communities and structures as well as individuals. Salvation starts with individuals who are called out of this present evil age to build communities of reconciliation. These ekklesia reach first of all cities, then regions and nations then the whole world with the message of reconciliation. Each "level" once reconciled becomes and "ambassador" to the next level. For instance individual Christians plant churches, churches reach cities, cities reach nations , nations reach the world.

The Explanation

How does this work? Are there Scriptural examples? Paul's two year sojourn in Ephesus is one such example.We have to piece it together from the account in Acts 19. First Luke gives us a quick summary of events. (Acts 19:8-10 NKJV) "And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. {9} But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. {10} And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." Later on in that chapter the Ephesian revival is briefly outlined.

(Acts 19:17-20 NKJV) "This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. {18} And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. {19} Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. {20} So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed". Putting the picture together we see Paul plants a church which brings a revival and evangelizes a province.

The Consequences For Evangelism

Can we apply this knowledge to our practice of evangelism? I think it should have a profound impact in at least seven areas.

  1. We should not see an area as being evangelized until its structures are made godly. A deep revival or work of God touches the social fabric. Crime decreases, injustices such as slavery are eliminated, works of compassion are begun, a concern for the poor is renewed. The Jerusalem church is a prime example of a revival bringing new structures and ways of relating into being.

  2. Social justice is evangelism of structures. They are not separated. As we seek for Jesus Christ to be Lord of cities, states and nations and to reconcile to Himself universities, banks and schools we are seeking fundamental changes in the way they operate. Mercy and justice will flow as Jesus Christ takes control of these structures. A government reconciled to Jesus Christ cannot ban prayer in schools or fund abortions or deprive the poor of their rights. As we pray for these structures to "experience salvation" and know God's shalom (peace) we are also bringing in social justice, equity and truth.

  3. We need to "think big" in our strategies. The churches of a city must think big and combine to see the entire city won for Jesus. A godly town must think of how they can reach their state or nation. And those nations where the church is strong must draw together to evangelize the world.

  4. We should start to think of winning converts "group by group" as well as "one by one". Winning whole groups would make follow up much easier. When the households of Cornelius or the Philippian jailer converted there were "automatic churches" planted. People would have been experiencing the same things at the same time and encouraging each other together.

  5. Evangelists need to develop the ability to address whole groups in their speech. Terms like "ctizens of Metropolis..", "fellow Australians" are embracing of whole groups. The use of collective terminology is essential if we are to "think communities". As part of this we need the ability to recognize the various groups (Saduccees, Pharisees etc) that comprise our audience and address each one in turn. The opening chapters of Amos or the way Jesus could excoriate the Pharisees as a group while leaving the common people in the audience unhurt are wonderful examples of the adroit use of this skill.

  6. Our faith and our prayer life have to stretch so that we can vividly imagine the salvation of whole communities and believe God for it.

  7. There needs to be a redefinition of what our church structures are about. The local churches in a city are now centers of reconciliation for that city. The national headquarters of the denominations are now there to reach governments and the nation as a whole. No longer are churches just comfort zones for the saved rather they are there to turn dusty, dirty, sinful and idolatrous Jerusalem (it was all these things before the exile) into glorious Zions of God.

That is as much as I want to say right now. The article is already a bit long for the Internet and full of new ideas.. I would appreciate your thoughts, so that as a community of thinking Christians , we can explore what it means to reconcile all things... to God.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.