My gate is warped

I have an aging wooden fence with a funny gate. The wood is warped, so when you open the latch, the gate springs open. Fortunately, it is attached with hinges to the rest of the fence, so it can only spring so far. It cannot leave the fence or the yard; it cannot attack. Despite the warping, this gate, as all gates, is passive by nature.

Think back with me to the book of Matthew. Jesus had begun preparing his followers for His approaching death.  They had to understand that His death would be neither beginning nor end to God's plan, but rather a transfer of responsibility to His followers so they could complete what had be begun.

Here’s a longer passage from Matthew 16:13-18, so you can catch the context.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Now that you’ve seen the whole conversation, focus on just one sentence: I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it, or as expressed more poetically in the King James Version, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

We can’t understand this statement in the same way Jesus’ listeners did. In Old Testament times the foundation of an empire was generally the strongest of several cities, and an empire often took its name from the main city.  This was the case with Samaria, Babylon, and Rome.  The disciples understood that. 

If one empire wanted to conquer another, this could only be accomplished by capturing and either occupying or destroying the central city of that empire.  In a time when arrows, spears and rocks were the strongest offensive weapons, the best protection was a solid wall, so these cities were surrounded by great walls.  The only intentional gaps in the walls were gates so that people could come and go.

City gates were strong and imposing.  But, like my warped wooden gate, they are also passive.  They do not move to attack.  They just stand there.  When Jesus said, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” the picture was not one of hell attacking His church but of the church attacking - and conquering - the stronghold of Satan.

In other words, the church was and is not meant to be passively defending itself against the world, but actively moving out from where it is.

The church should be moving on the attack. Just as ancient armies would attack one city after another until breaching the final stronghold, the church should be consciously and visibly breaking into some of hell’s strongholds, anticipating and foreshadowing the final victory.

As encouraging as that may be, it is not the end of the story.  If you go back to the passage with which we began, Jesus made it quite clear that He was not going to do all the work.  He was giving the responsibility and authority to His church.  He would provide the heart and power; it is up to the Church to provide the feet and hands.

Who is the church, but you and me, and all those who are following Christ.

And what are these gates of hell? Any person, group, government, nation, geographical area that stands against the church and the Lord we represent. We have the power of Christ in us, the active enabling of the Holy Spirit, and the command to break through to these strongholds of Satan, not to destroy, but to bring them into the kingdom of God.

Seems to me that’s called missions.

Inroads to Islam

    Islam was born in the deserts of Arabia over 1300 years ago.  As a new religion it poured out like a tidal wave, engulfing the Middle East and North Africa, washing over Southern Asia as far as Indonesia and even crashing on the shores of Western Europe.  Instead of the church breaking down its gates, it looked for a time as if Islam would sweep Christianity from the face of the earth.

    Although Islam’s expansion slowed, stalled, and even receded from Europe, it seemed to stand as a unyielding fortress against the church.  As the church rediscovered its own mandate to spread the gospel, some missionaries labored for years in Muslim countries, seeing only a handful of converts, if that many, in their lifetimes.  That became the normal experience.  Christians did not really expect Muslims to come to Christ.

    Then some Christians began asking the right questions. Instead of why don’t they understand?, the better question became if Muslims are not responding to the offer of salvation as we were presenting it, might there not be a better way to make that presentation? One such movement of questions began in Bangladesh, where one missionary couple began seeing Muslims convert to Christianity.

    As other missionaries followed this lead, they saw more Muslims come to Christ in Bangladesh over the following ten years than all who had converted in the previous 100 years!  What started as an innocent question to a missionary decades ago has become the basis for most modern ministry to Muslims.

    As I traveled in Central Europe some years ago I met a Bulgarian pastor.  During our conversation he took out some photos of a preaching point outside of his own pastorate.  He explained that this was over an hour's drive from home, but he traveled there weekly because he was planting a Muslim convert church among ethnic Turks.  In amazement I looked at him and blurted out, "I've never heard about this."  He simply smiled and replied, "I know, and that's the way it should be."  He didn’t want to draw outside attention to this ministry, because he didn't want to draw Muslim --  or Christian -- opposition.  At the time I talked to him, he had over 70 converts already organized into a functioning church.

    Over the past 50 years the church has taken another look at Islam and realized that it is not as solid and forbidding as once thought. Today there are more missionaries than ever working among Muslims.   Patrick Johnstone wrote in Operation World, that recent years "have been a time of more Muslims coming to Christ that ever before in history.  These are the beginnings of what we believe could be a flood -- if it is to be demonstrated Jesus is Lord even over Islam."

    I personally believe today’s militant Islam is, in part, a reaction to the success of the gospel in penetrating the gates of this stronghold. We can react with fear or make it a political issue, but then we lose sight of the fact that this is an example of the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

     The gates, walls, or whatever represents this world’s strongholds of resistance to the kingdom of God cannot stop the truth of the gospel carried by those who faithfully follow and obey Jesus Christ.

Please note: As we present this series of examples of the church triumphant, you might have noticed that we are not sharing specific names or places. This is a conscious effort to protect real people who might still be at work in these situations. If you would like to know more details, you may contact Mandate directly on our comment page.