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Great Commission Resurgence: The Gospel and Deaf Ministry

I am convinced we need men with a vision for what can be called “A Great Commission Resurgence.”

With these words, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, fired the first shot of what I believe to be the next and greatest of all “Baptist Battles.” Indeed, after the Conservative Resurgence which rescued the Southern Baptist Convention from liberalism, this battle may be the most important of all. Having won what has been called by some “the Battle for the Bible,” what do we do with that victory? Akin makes no bones about it: we must dedicate ourselves to the task the Great Commission.

What is a “Great Commission Resurgence?”
In his address Answering the Call to A Great Commission Resurgence, delivered at the Building Bridges conference last November, Akin lays the foundational principles for a Great Commission Resurgence, stating that “the time has come for us to focus on the great task the Lord Jesus left us as He ascended back into heaven.” For too long we have neglected this task. It is time for this task to “resurge” in our churches.

For something to surge it must have a strong, wavelike, forward movement. The very first “surge” of the Great Commission began, quite clearly, in Acts chapter 2 when the disciples, in obedience to Jesus’ command, waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Receiving this empowerment, they immediately went out and proclaimed the Gospel. The result was that very day 3000 people were saved. Since Apostolic times this surge has noticeably lessened. However, church history shows clearly that at certain points there has been a resurgence, a rising again or revival, of the Great Commission. In our history we can clearly point to the Protestant Reformation and the Great Awakening as examples of such a resurgence of the Gospel. As Baptists we can point to William Carey and the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention (which was formed on missions as its primary purpose) as prime examples of Baptist participation in Gospel resurgences. I am hard-pressed to name examples prior to the Conservative Resurgence beginning in 1979; perhaps those more knowledgeable than I can provide these examples.

In Deaf ministry, the founding of the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf in 1948, also centered around missions, is a prime example of Deaf participation in these resurgences. In fact, the mission statement of the SBCD is “to reach Deaf persons for Jesus Christ by serving as a cooperative network for Southern Baptist churches and agencies to fulfill the Great Commission by providing training, advocacy, worship, fellowship, missions awareness and mission involvement.” Other Deaf Christian conferences/conventions have a similar mission statement. We can see, therefore, the foundation for Deaf involvement in a Great Commission Resurgence has already been laid.

What Is The Gospel?
Before we can ask what such a resurgence would look like, we must first remind ourselves of the main idea of such a resurgence. We must first seek to answer the question, “what is the Gospel?”

A basic description of the Gospel appears in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 –

Now, brothers and sisters, I want you to remember the Good News I brought to you. You received this Good News and continue strong in it. And you are being saved by it if you continue believing what I told you. If you do not, then you believed for nothing.

I passed on to you what I received, of which this was most important: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say; that he was buried and was raised to life on the third day as the Scriptures say; and that he was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, Jesus was seen by more than five hundred of the believers at the same time. Most of them are still living today, but some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all he was seen by me—as by a person not born at the normal time. (NCV)

To this we would add the commands of the Gospel; namely the command to repent of our sins (Acts 17:20) and to receive Christ and live for him and by him from now on (Colossians 2:6-7). As Baptists we would also add the command to be baptized once these things have been done (Acts 2:38) as a sign of what has taken place and of one’s commitment to live for and by Christ.

So we understand that the Gospel is the message of Christ’s saving work and the command to repent of our sins, believe in Christ, be baptized as a sign of our repentance and faith, and to commit one’s life to living in Christ.

We must believe that the message of Christ is more important than anything else, even our very lives. It must be more important than our jobs, friends, homes, families. It must be the one thing that makes our lives worth living. We must believe the commands of the Gospel must be lived out in every aspect of our lives. We must live our lives continually repenting of sins we find in ourselves, trusting in Christ to overcome those sins we find, and committing ourselves to Christlikeness in those areas of our lives from then on.

Before a Great Commission Resurgence can take place in Deaf ministry, we must first recover this clear, solid, and biblical understanding of the Gospel in our Deaf churches.

The Gospel and Deaf Ministry
I have become increasingly convinced the Gospel has been lost, not only in the hearing churches, but in Deaf churches as well. That is going to upset many Deaf readers of this blog. If the Gospel is truly our foundation, my only response must be this: I don’t care if it upsets you. Instead, I am going to praise God you are upset!

You see, in many Deaf churches we do not preach Jesus anymore. Instead we preach self-help and how you can feel better about your life problems. For example, I’ve heard (and have preached myself) way too many sermons on gossip and negativity in the Deaf community from Deaf preachers. I’m sick of it. My pastor must be as well, because this Sunday he asked our congregation which was more important to us: the Gospel or gossip. What a challenge! Instead of focusing on the unimportant and pitiful little problems we have in this life, our churches need to get back to the main thing: Jesus and his Gospel.

In many Deaf churches we don’t preach the Bible anymore. Instead we find a “Christian” book that is easy to understand and relates well with Deaf people and preach through that. We don’t stop to ask if the book is biblical, or if the Bible already teaches the principles in the book. Or we preach on topics, pulling different verses from around the Bible that may not really have anything to do with each other or the topic we choose. We don’t stop to wonder if a book of the Bible or a chapter of a Bible book would be deeper and more clear than 10 verses from 10 different places in the Bible. As a result, many Deaf people are being led astray by people such as Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and others. Even worse, many Deaf people are ignorant of what the Bible teaches because they have not been taught to go through their Bible verse by verse! And it is mainly the fault of Deaf pastors who will not open up their Bibles and teach from the Bible alone on Sundays. If we pastors do not make what the Bible has to say number one in our preaching, it will be no surprise if our people do not read their Bibles. We must get back to the main way we learn about Jesus and his Gospel: the Bible alone.

Deaf ministry needs a Great Commission Resurgence. When less than 2% of all Deaf people have even heard the Gospel, something is horribly wrong. But unless our Deaf churches make the Gospel the center of their lives, that percent will get smaller and smaller, until 0% of all Deaf people have heard the Gospel.

If the idea that your church has lost the Gospel really bothers you, I praise God for that! Getting mad sometimes is the only way to get a problem fixed. I invite you to pay careful attention to this series and to join the discussion. Leave comments on the posts. Talk with your pastor friends about the Gospel. Preach the Gospel to your people. Above all, make the Gospel and its commands the center of your ministry!

Join me next time as I look at how the Gospel impacts us individually and as a church.

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