Dr. Daniel Vestal: The Global Church

By Daniel Vestal

March 26, 2010

In the past month I have been reminded of the power and potential of the global church to reflect the grace and glory of God. Imagine with me what would happen if Christ’s Church, in all its theological, geographical and cultural diversity, was truly captured by the biblical vision of God’s present/coming Kingdom and then was passionate about embodying/representing/proclaiming that Kingdom.

On a recent trip to Ethiopia I worshipped and preached in a church (4,000 on Sunday morning) that is a part of an evangelical Ethiopian denomination begun by the Sudan Interior Mission. I visited a hospital started by a Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea, staffed by Lutheran doctors from several Scandinavian countries and a Baptist doctor from Florida (Don Pearson from College Park Baptist, Orlando). I visited a home for the disabled and dying operated by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

On a recent visit to Haiti I was told that there are 5,000 NGOs (non-governmental organizations) now working in that disaster-torn country. The CBF delegation traveled with a delegation from American Baptist Churches USA and the Haitian Baptist Convention to explore our future collaboration. Everywhere I went I saw evidence of the global church. And since Jan. 12 we have received financial contributions and offers of help from all over the world.

At a recent meeting of the executive committee for the Baptist World Alliance I was reminded of the breadth and depth of the worldwide Baptist family. A Baptist pastor from the Ukraine, who serves in their parliament, brought a report of what God is doing in that country. Raquel Contreras, president of the Union of Baptists in Latin America (UBLA), is respected in her native country of Chile as a spiritual leader. We heard reports of the continued growth of the church in China and new church starts in the Middle East.

In all of these experiences I have been encouraged by the desire of Christian leaders to learn from each other, listen to each other and work together. Advances in technology and communication have certainly made this more possible. All over the world people have cell phones and access to the Internet, which has great implication for the spread of the gospel. Our CBF field personnel serve alongside the global church, and “partnership” is a strategic word in our vocabulary.

Of course there are great challenges and many problems. We must acknowledge extensive prejudices and entrenched provincialism among us. Militant fundamentalism is a reality both in the Christian community and the Muslim community. “Militarism” and “materialism” (and many other “isms” that will by God’s power one day become “wasms”) plague the global Christian community as well as the global human community. David Bosch, the South African missiologist, contended before he died that much of the church in the developing world has experienced a “loss of nerve” when it comes to mission and evangelism. And if one has traveled in the developing world and witnessed the explosion of the church, one cannot escape the problem of syncretism.

Yet for all these and many other challenges, it is heartening to see a growing awakening to the reality and influence of the worldwide body of Christ. In his most recent book, “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,” N.T. Wright, the British scholar, says that the goal of the gospel is three fold:

  1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism and live out in love.

  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

Now, as never before, there is no excuse for any Christian or any church to think of the gospel simply in individual and personal terms. There is no excuse for the church, in any part of the world, to wrap the biblical story/vision/message in its nationalistic history, identity and aspirations. There is no excuse for any of us to think and act selfishly, pray selfishly or live selfishly. If we would truly be followers of Jesus we must anticipate the day when “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” worship and serve God. And in anticipation of that day we must join in God’s mission that will bring it to pass.


[Taken with permission from "Words from the Executive Coordinator" Newsletter, March 26, 2010, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.]