I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:20-23).
In being a part of a good ol’ Southern Baptist church and having outlasted several professors at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, I have heard a great deal said on the Great Commission and foreign missions. And before you hear me incorrectly, I believe that that is a good thing. The Southern Baptist Convention sends out more missionaries than any other denomination in the world (even though it is well below our means as Americans), and for that I praise God. However, as is often the case, emphasis on one front often leads to neglect on another, which is one reason why I believe the American Church is in such dire straits as it is.
Our problem is that we do not see the American Church’s state as dire, and even if we do, we do not see it as our fault. We are much more likely to place the blame on the wickedness in the country and on evil politicians than on ourselves. Yet it is not the world’s fault that Baptists are more likely to get divorced than atheists and agnostics (Source), and it is not their fault that we tolerate immorality in our congregations and say nothing against popular antichrists (e.g. Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes). And it is not the world’s fault that ninety-nine percent of the American Church is in love with the world and money, and go to “church” on Sunday for a show rather than to worship the Almighty.
In spite of all this, we send out missionaries all the same. But what we do not realize is that our neglect of the American Church is stifling our global missions. Christ, in his prayer in John 17, prays twice for the unity of the Church, and each time that he prays for its unity it is so that the world will know that God sent Jesus Christ into the world. Earlier in John 13, Christ makes a similar statement: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Therefore, according to Christ, our effectiveness in evangelizing the world flows directly from our demonstration of love and like-mindedness within the Church.
I know what you are thinking: “How does the moral state of the American Church have anything to do with its unity?” Much indeed, for all of our problems in the American Church come from our disunity. As Christ demonstrated in his prayer to the Father that they were united by his perfect submission to the Father’s will, so we would be united if we submitted perfectly to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Head. Yet we do nothing of the sort. Our disobedience to the Word proves it; our denominations prove it; our divorce rate proves it; our total lack of Church discipline proves it; our new cars and big houses prove it; and our lack of love for the Church proves it.
Therefore, our greatest commission as Christians is the unity of Church, for the Great Commission is dependent upon it. If we as a Church do not submit to Jesus Christ in everything and do not love one another as we ought, why should we expect anyone in our country or in the world to submit to the Gospel that we ignore?