Now facing its third millennium, the Christian church faces a moment of great historical importance and opportunity. The modern missionary movement is now over two centuries old. Looking back over those years, it is clear that God mobilized His people to make great strides in taking the gospel to many parts of the world.

This missionary movement has seen the evangelization of millions of persons representing thousands of ethnic and cultural groups. The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects. Over the last several decades, new areas of the world have shown a remarkable response to the gospel, and the continent of Africa may now be the center of the world missionary enterprise. In fact, the last half of the twentieth century saw an enormous evangelistic response throughout the Pacific Rim and the African continent.

Today, the Christian church faces new challenges. Without exaggeration, we can point to the twenty-first century as a new era in Christian missions, and recognize it as a vast new opportunity.

Looking at Christian missions today, we may be seeing the birth of a new missiological movement. This new era in missions will build upon the accomplishments of the last 200 years, but it must also be adapted to the new realities of our world context.

The most important dimension of any vision for world missions is a passion to glorify God. From beginning to end, the Bible declares that God is glorifying Himself in the salvation of sinners, and that He desires to be worshipped among all the peoples of the earth. The impulse of the missionary conviction is drawn from the assurance that God saves sinners, and that He is glorifying Himself by creating a new people through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have the glad opportunity to glorify God by declaring the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth.

As John Piper has stated, "The deepest reason why our passion for God should fuel missions is that God's passion for God fuels missions. Missions is the overflow of our delight in God because missions is the overflow of God's delight in being God." In missions, we share God's delight.

Modern Movement

Pioneers such as William Carey gave birth to the modern missionary movement. It was Carey's sense of evangelistic passion, set upon a clear foundation of biblical truth and confidence in the gospel, that compelled him to leave the safe confines of England and go to India. The full harvest of William Carey's ministry will be known only in eternity. Most Christians are aware that he served for many years without a single convert. When many missionaries would have returned home or moved to greener pastures, Carey stayed and invested himself in India. He translated the New Testament and built bridges to the people of that great nation.

Since Carey's time, thousands of missionaries have left homes and families to take the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth. Reviewing the history of the missionary movement, it is clear that great gains were made for the gospel. At the same time, every generation has left its own imprint on the missionary task, and each generation is blind to some of the cultural baggage it takes along with the gospel. At the height of the missions movement in the Victorian era, it often seemed that missionaries were just as intent on Westernizing native peoples as in evangelizing them. A new awareness of the global context and respect for native cultures should lead us to be careful to preach the gospel rather than Western culture.