The “modern missionary movement” which began well over two centuries ago saw giants of the faith like J. Hudson Taylor and William Carey going out to proclaim the kingdom of God to unreached nations like China and India.
Their ministries at that time involved many struggles, especially the very difficult challenge of penetrating the spiritual darkness surrounding peoples enslaved for millennia by traditional beliefs, idols, and false gods. These early missionary fathers did not see the immense harvests of souls reaped within a generation or two by the early disciples of Jesus in Acts. Those early disciples faced a challenge similar to that faced by Hudson Taylor and William Carey after they left Jerusalem to share the gospel with idol-worshiping Romans and Greeks with their false gods. But Acts records that they turned the known world upside down. In stark contrast, missionaries sent to gospel-resistant people groups today will see but a handful of souls turn to Christ even after decades of faithful labor. Why?
Today in India Christians (whether born-again or not) constitute a little over 2% of the population. In China the percentage is under 10%.
Now the modern missionary movement has been going on for well over two centuries. Why is its fruit in the two most populous nations on earth so sparse compared to that which we see in Acts—where the known world of the Mediterranean was reached within a generation or two?
In light of what we read in Acts, perhaps we evangelicals should stop congratulating ourselves on how well we think the modern Church has done in missions.
We submit that the primary reason for the difference is the lack of miracles today in the preaching of the gospel as evidence to the lost that Jesus is the Messiah. In Acts, miraculous healings time and time again (though not in every case) led to great harvests of gentile souls for the kingdom of God. In traditional missions today, such miracles are in fact rare. Why is this the case?
Cessationists will posit that miracles have ceased. But thankfully, most evangelical missionaries today do not subscribe to the teaching of cessationism. So what happened to the dimension of the miraculous in missions?
Evangelicals believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We might therefore pose the question: in missions today, where is the Jesus who performed so many miracles in Acts through his early disciples? If he is indeed the same, then why isn’t he performing the same miracles today in missions as he did through his disciples in Acts?
To answer this question let us go to Scripture.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick… 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Then in Luke 10:1 Jesus called the 72 disciples (who were not future apostles) and sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. Later in verse 9 Jesus commanded them to “heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’“ From this command it is clear that Jesus gave to the 72 disciples a measure of this supernatural power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons. If he did not, he would have instead commanded them to pray to God for the sick and then leave the results up to Him—instead to heal the sick.
We may very reasonably conclude that every disciple who is sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God is given a measure of this supernatural power and authority to heal the sick and cast out demons as evidence to the lost that the gospel of the kingdom of God is the absolute truth.
Today, very sadly, this power and authority is not taught either in the Church or to missionaries sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God in Third World countries like China and India. Since they are not properly trained, missionaries today cannot and do not heal the sick miraculously as evidence of the gospel to the lost. Without such undeniable and convincing evidence, there is little reason for many gospel-resistant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers to give up their deeply entrenched false beliefs to follow Jesus Christ.
To be sure, some miracles do happen on the mission field, but they are few and far between. Their frequency pales in comparison to what we see in Acts. This is likely the primary reason why the fruit of the modern missionary movement over more than two centuries pales in comparison to what we see in Acts within a generation or two.
But when missionaries are taught how to use the Lord’s power and authority effectively as evidence of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will see Acts restored in modern missions today—even among gospel-resistant peoples like Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers. We will see the Great Commission fulfilled before the great and terrible Day of the Lord to come soon. Read the report below from a millennial missionary who trained with us in 2016.