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« Life…According to AOL | Main | The New Social Landscape and the Church »

The “Manifest Destiny” of the Church

American history buffs know the phrase “manifest destiny” well. Coined by John O’Sullivan in 1845, it envisioned a whole American continent defined by the Atlantic Ocean in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west. He believed that this radical expansion would not be determined by convenience or personal politics, but by divine right. The idea caught on and electrified a nation not yet a hundred years old, sending pioneers, soldiers and entrepreneurs from the settled lands of New England to the wild and dangerous territories of the West. “Go west, young man!” cried the billboards and ads of newspapers and magazines. “From sea to shining sea” became a familiar refrain in a patriotic song. Artists romanticized the westward movement, depicting angels guiding the population on its march to the Pacific. It was meant to be. Despite the bloodshed, hardship, warfare and brutality, the United States of America bears the deep and lasting imprint of people who sold out to manifest destiny with heart, mind, body and spirit.

Today, many critics reject the notion of manifest destiny. Indeed, the wrongs committed in its name throughout this era of our history cast untold shame and disgrace over the country. I do not excuse their dishonor; the end does not justify the means. At the same time, it must be argued that a vision, a dream, and an ideal that burned in the soul of a nation spawned one of the greatest movements ever experienced by a group of people. Misguided or not, America ’s citizens reached out to take what they believed was rightfully theirs.

In terms of the church, we are not misguided to fully embrace the idea of manifest destiny. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The command to preach this gospel to every nation fuels the missionary zeal of the church. We have a conviction that every creature has a divine right to be saved. That motley band of disciples who started this march to the ultimate coast of the church’s destiny cowed to no man, king or high priest. Suppressed by authorities, they spoke out anyway in the name of Jesus. Imprisoned, they witnessed to their guards and saw them converted. Leaders executed, they chose new leaders and expanded their horizons. We can feel their infectious fervor in this verse: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word…and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:29-31.

What is the manifest destiny of the church? Simply this: Revival! Every pastor and every church should set its sights on claiming new spiritual territory. Every Sunday School class, Bible study group or church cell ought to push out its borders. Every person stolen from the church by Satan needs to be reclaimed for Jesus. In a larger context, every country has a right to hear the gospel. Every district has a right to revival. Every county deserves a truth-proclaiming church. Every town needs a witness, a word, an outreach and an effort to spread the gospel. Paul said, “For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure …but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, 16 To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand.” Acts 10:14-16. Just do it! No believer should waste time second guessing his or her expansion orders. We have a divine destiny to fulfill.

Only fear, confusion and accommodation to the status quo stand in our way. When we gear our mindset to maintenance rather than expansion, we buy trouble for ourselves and we get disconnected from Christ’s vision for the church. Remember Israel ? God painted a spectacular view of their divine destiny to inherit the Promised Land, but when they arrived at the borders, they could not break out of their wilderness mindset. “We can’t. We won’t. We don’t want to.” These negative words became the mantra of people who stood to gain infinitely more than the status quo. They had learned to live with the hard rocks and barren deserts and could not dislodge their wilderness image even for their divine promise. They preferred their known evil over their unknown good.

Satan dolefully shakes his head at us, telling us we’ve gone far enough. “You’ll never win the world. Be happy with what you have. Lock yourself up in your limited vision.” Don’t buy it. The church of Jesus Christ has an ultimate goal ascribed to it. “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem , and in all Judaea , and in Samaria , and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8. God protected us in our wilderness, but he equipped us for expansion. Let us grasp revival and growth as our divine right.

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