What is the Great Commission?
The Great Commission is the instructions of Jesus, post resurrection, to take the gospel to the whole world. The Great Commission is recounted in Matthew 28:16–20:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” New International Version (NIV)
It is also included in Mark's gospel (traditional ending) and Luke's Gospel in slightly different forms.
Preterists believe that the Great Commission was fulfilled in the first century by the living disciples of Jesus who heard these words. This belief in prior fulfillment which was developed during the counter-reformation, however, is problematic because huge areas of the world remained unexposed to Christianity until the Age of Discovery. Until the Spanish reached the America's, for example, there was no knowledge of Jesus among the indigenous tribes. Similarly the Aborigines of Australia had no contact with Christianity until the last several hundred years. Many other areas of the world can similarly be said to be dark, or to have been dark until recently, as far as Christianity goes.
Some entire nations still remain outside the reach of Christian teachings even today.
Most Christians today are Futurists (at least in regard to Matt 28:16-20) who believe that the Great Commission still applies to them today. Many believe that these words of Jesus are very direct instructions to disciple, baptise and teach about Jesus everywhere.
What Constitutes A Nation?
An age-old debate even before the rise of the modern nation-state is what exactly makes up a nation. While some places, like Canada, are clearly a nation, other places like Western Sahara are not so clearly a nation. Many of today's countries are artificial constructions of imperial powers created with straight lines on maps in the last 100 or so years. These arbitrary lines reflected political and economic interests, desires to provide buffers between powers, and even flat-out mistakes in mapping.
Another, equally valid, concept of a nation involves grouping people who share common ethnic characteristics, language, culture and perhaps beliefs. These cultural nations can span across international and internal borders or may represent specific groups of people within a given country but not everyone. In Canada, for example, the native population has adopted the nation concept to describe groups of their tribes.
From a Christian mission perspective, in the 1800s and 1900s efforts were focused on entering entire country nations. A country was "entered" when some local residents became Christians. The problem with this idea is that the meer presence of Christians who can not communicate with other nations within the country (due to distance, cultural, language or social barriers) leaves large and small groups of people oblivious to the gospel.
Today, Christian missionologists have largely shifted to the small "n" vision of nations. This means reaching into ethnic minorities and language groups that were previously not prioritized. However there remain a handful of big "N" Nations where there are no or very few evangelical Christians today and minimal efforts to reach them.
In a world where religious freedom remains out of reach of hundreds of millions, even billions of people, here are a sampling of the countries where Protestant evangelism is nearly impossible:
- Holy See/Vatican
- San Marino
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
These 4 small Nations and one French territory are essentially 100% Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic faith is an unseperatable part of the culture and in the Vatican the Church is the culture. While there are no real religious freedom or legal persecution issues in these 5 places, practically the communities are very resistant to outsiders introducing a new faith.
- Morocco & Western Sahara
- Saudi Arabia
In these eight Middle Eastern and African countries the population is nearly 100% Muslim and the governments severely restrict the practice of any other religion. Generally converting away from Islam results in prison or death, or at least severe economic and social consequences. In most of these countries becoming a Christian is downright dangerous, making mission work by Christians very hard.
Somalia is a special case because not only is the government against Christianity but so are the various rebel groups. The lack of law and order in this failed nation-state makes it dangerous to live there at all even if you are Muslim. Christian aid agencies do work extensively in the country of Somalia though.
Many other Muslim states are very hard for Christians to work in, but these are the ones that even Seventh-day Adventists have not managed to penetrate yet.
- North Korea is a dictatorship that has made worshiping the Great Leader and the Dear Leader Kim the religion. There are no other options. The population is highly controlled, as are visitors.
- Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas that is not tolerant of Christianity. Christians (and many Hindus) have generally been forced out of the country. Getting into the country as a Christian missionary is impossible at this time.
There are certainly other countries in the world where it is difficult to live as a Christian and where there are very few Evangelical Christians. A good resource to learn more about dark countries where it is hard to learn about Jesus Christ is Open Doors.
Until circumstances change (and they do change - look at Mongolia, South Sudan, and the countries of the former Soviet Bloc) Christians can only practically work from afar to reach the difficult to reach nations through more creative means including:
- Short wave radio
- Internet ministry
- Reaching expats and immigrants from these countries who live abroad
- Working in refugee camps
- Prayer that the Great Commission will be completed soon