In 1859 Robert Moffat, the Scottish pioneer missionary and father-in-law of David Livingstone, arrived in what is now Zimbabwe with a view to establishing a mission station; he had already spent nearly 40 years labouring at Kuruman, in modern Botswana. The ponderously slow ox carts had taken many long months to bring him and his party to Matabeleland from Cape Town. Now he had to wait for several more weary weeks before receiving permission from the local ruler to settle near Inyathi. This last delay brought forth the comment: “Satan is making a desperate effort to shut the doors against the blessed gospel”.
In other ways too, Satan continued his efforts to hinder the gospel. And for 20 years these efforts, sadly, were successful. For that period of time, the missionaries – under John Smith Moffat after his father Robert returned to Kuruman – did not have a single convert; yet they persevered in their work in spite of suffering incredible hardships. When they were advised to close down their work, the missionaries replied, “The sword can blot out the Matabele; the gospel alone can save them. The Committee are of the opinion that the present staff should be increased.” And fruit did follow. Satan could not keep the doors shut against the gospel any longer.
Among those who carried on the work in this area of Matabeleland was Rev J B Radasi, the first Free Presbyterian missionary in what is now Zimbabwe. A South African, the scene of his labours was far from his family. But he, and others who followed, persevered in the work of building up the Cause of Christ in this part of the world. One of the congregations in the continuing Free Presbyterian work here is at Inyathi, where Robert Moffat established his mission station.
Was the sacrifice made by these early missionaries necessary, and is the work of their successors today worthwhile? The answer must be doubtful if some modern Evangelical writers are to be believed. About 10 years ago, the North American writer Clark Pinnock was one of those who promoted the idea now often described as inclusivism. “Christian inclusivism”, a report in a recent issue of Christianity Today explains, “is the view that the work of Jesus Christ is the foundation for salvation, but that people do not have to know about it to benefit from it. Therefore many of the unevangelised will yet be saved because they have put their trust in God, as far as they know Him, and are accepted by faith on the basis of the work of Christ.” This idea rather suggests that the heathen would be better left unevangelised; at least they would then not be guilty of the sin of rejecting the gospel. Perhaps Pinnock and the others who follow him do not intend this consequence but, in the light of the Bible, it is surely enough to refute the idea completely.
Most of us are familiar enough with the inter-faith movement, which is based on the idea that all religions are equally valid. People whose roots are in Christianity can only join in this movement because the unique authority of the Bible has been thrown overboard in so many quarters. But it is even more serious when men like Pinnock – who as Evangelicals profess to accept the unique authority of the Bible – advocate that, to quote Christianity Today again, “Evangelicals ought to move on from considering whether anyone outside the Christian religion can be saved to considering whether Christians can actually learn from people of other faiths”.
Following more recently in Pinnock’s footsteps is Gerald McDermott, a college professor in Virginia. Last year he published Can Evangelicals Learn From World Religions? which he has followed up this year by Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, though it is difficult to see how the great American theologian of the eighteenth century can offer any support for the idea of inclusivisim. It is claimed, however, that Christians have for centuries been drawing on “the truth, goodness and beauty” which other religions have found in the world. One example offered is that ancient European religions “influenced so many of our Christian rituals – not least, Christmas and Easter”. An interesting admission! But it only proves how inadmissible such festivals are in the Christian calendar. McDermott also suggests how Christians can profit from, for instance, Buddhism: we “can learn more about their moment-by-moment dependence on God for their very existence”. But apart from the fact that Buddhism has no conception of a personal God, how can anything improve on these words of the Christian Bible: “Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Is 26:4)?
It has been argued that there is little in Scripture on the subject of inclusivisim. If this were so, it would only be because the whole matter is so clear from the general teaching of Scripture that no specific statements need to be made. But there are specific statements, for instance Paul’s questions: “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14). And the Old Testament emphasis is, again and again, on the vanity of other gods and the danger of following them. So we read: “They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods” (Is 42:17). No one who is saved will be “greatly ashamed”.
Accordingly, the Church of Christ must go on with the work of spreading the gospel throughout the world. In particular, it must continue to do all in its power to preach the gospel to those who have never heard it, conscious of the solemn fact that sinners are perishing without Christ. Why else did He say so emphatically: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)? Well did He know the absolute necessity for the gospel to be made known to sinners if they are to be saved.
Our own denomination must seek from heaven the resources to maintain its witness and to send it where it has not yet reached. Zimbabwe in particular needs ministers – men called by the Lord Himself and fitted with the gifts and grace they require if they are to be effective ambassadors for Christ in a dark world. And the other aspects of the work on our Mission in Zimbabwe also need helpers – teachers and nurses especially – to continue the efforts being made, not without God’s blessing, to spread the knowledge of the truth in ways subsidiary to preaching.
Especially does the world need the Holy Spirit to apply the preaching of the gospel. If the Most High does not accompany human effort with power, all is in vain; there can be no success. But, as the Church engages in the work that has been appointed to her, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, the promise of Christ holds good: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt 28:20). And let us pray that, as Christ is present in His Church, and as the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, multitudes in heathen countries, and in those nominally Christian, would submit to the message of salvation and embrace Christ as the only Saviour. Let us pray also that this work will go speedily on until the nations of the world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.