If the end-times are near, why keep evangelizing?

The question "If the end-times are near, why bother with anything?" is an attitude I have read on blogs by those who mock or denigrate the belief that the Rapture could happen anytime or that the Tribulation is approaching. They claim that Christians who believe in the Rapture and look for signs of the approaching end-times are going to become complacent. Yet I believe this is completely false, and Christians who believe Jesus could return anytime are most likely the ones who are most effective at sharing their faith with others. In this article I would like to provide encouragement to Christians to keep evangelizing and to not give up even if we feel the Rapture is near.

The Church Is Only One Generation from Dying Out

Emil Brunner said "The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith"[1]. The Barna Group says that only "about three out of ten young people who grow up with a Christian background stay faithful to church and to faith throughout their transitions from the teen years through their twenties" [2]. Of course, some may return later in life, but even so, this is shocking and concerning. If the Church is retaining only 30% of our children, then unless there is serious evangelism to bring more people into our churches, we can expect a huge drop in church attendance once the older generations pass on. Christianity will die out without ongoing evangelism and missions, and so it is the responsibility of each generation to evangelize to younger people.

While it could be easy to be complacent and say "Well, this is what we expect as the end-times approaches", what if it is another 20 years before Jesus returns? It is our responsibility to keep witnessing to others no matter how much or little time is left. What a tragedy it would be if Christians gave up on evangelism when there is still time remaining before the Rapture. We should evangelize not just to improve church statistics, but to show God's love to each individual person out there who does not know about God. It is similar to the "starfish story": a young boy goes to a beach and sees starfish washed up on the shore, who will soon die. The boy starts picking the starfish up one at a time and throwing them back into the ocean. An old man comes by and asks "What difference do you expect to make? There are many thousands of starfish washed up on the beach, and you can't possibly help them all." The boy's response is "Well, it makes a difference to this one" [3]. Our motivation for evangelism should be the same - no matter how much time is left before Jesus returns, we can make a difference to individuals by telling them about God's love for them so that they can have faith and be saved. And for Christians who believe in the Rapture, by evangelizing to people now, those who convert will be spared from having to go through the Tribulation.

Our Generation Is Just as Important as The Early Church

In theology it is common to refer back to what the early Church Fathers believed. These are the theologians who helped shape Christian doctrines back in the first centuries after Jesus ascended to heaven. People often assume that what the early church theologians said was more important and reliable than what theologians today say. Some people even say that there is no need for continued theological studies, because everything we need to know has been finalized by the early church (and/or Reformation theologians). This attitude makes it seem like further theological study is unnecessary.

In Jan Markell's recent post on Rapture Ready [4], Jan wrote "I think the church is headed into the home stretch of her history!". This reminded me of how Paul frequently referred to the Christian life as a race (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7, Heb 12:1), and these verses are often applied to individual Christian journeys. However, we could also think of the entire Church age as a race which Christians as a whole are "running", beginning from Jesus' disciples and continuing until the Rapture. It is like a massive relay race, with one generation passing the baton to the next generation through teaching, discipleship, and evangelism.

If anywhere along the line the baton is dropped, the team is out of the race. If Christians "drop" the baton by failing to evangelize the next generations, Christianity will die out. And each runner must do the best they can to help the team do their best. It does not matter whether a runner is the first to carry the baton or the last. In fact, often the best runner goes last, to try to make up time from the earlier runners. Today many strides in theology are being made which are correcting problems that were created by early church theologians who brought ancient Greek philosophy into Christian doctrine. These mistakes created "stumbling blocks" to many people which make it hard for them to accept Christianity (such as the idea that everything that happens is God's will (including evil), or that God predestines people to be tortured forever in hell, or that women are inferior to men).

Additionally, we face different challenges today in our culture than the early church did, and thus we must adapt how we explain the gospel to people today, yet without capitulating and giving up on critical points of doctrine that must be maintained. The early church theologians cannot do that for us, and we can't just repeat what they wrote, because times are different and we encounter people with different worldviews and assumptions than people had back in the early church days. Yet we also have many new opportunities which the early church did not have. Now we have the Internet, which can instantly spread the gospel almost anywhere in the world. We have better knowledge of other languages which makes it easier to translate the Bible into foreign languages. We have Bible colleges where people can go to learn about God, theology, church history, Biblical interpretation, and techniques for mission and preaching. We have better travel which enables us to send mission teams to the most remote areas of the planet. In Western countries, Christians have large amounts of freedom which enable us to evangelize to our neighbors and friends without being persecuted, and we generally have more money to give to Christian charities which spread the gospel in other countries. We should take advantage of all of these amazing opportunities while we have them to do the best we can to spread the gospel. It is as if the last runner in the race has been given the best shoes - so use them to your advantage!

Keep Running, and Pass the Baton

Since we don't know where the Finish line is for the great race that is the Church age, and we don't know how many runners are left to pass the baton to, we must run with all our strength. Have you watched any races where a runner will be in first place, and just as they are approaching the Finish line they slow down, assuming they will win and believing they can now take it easy? Sometimes, another runner will come from behind and pass that person with only a few milliseconds left! So instead, it is a much better strategy to keep running full speed through the Finish line. Jesus said that he would reward his servants if he comes back and finds them hard at work (Mark 13:32-36, Luke 12:35-45). As Christians who are alive today, we have a responsibility to keep running the best we can. The Rapture is the Church's "Finish line", and so, unlike a normal relay race, we do not know where the Finish line is. Therefore we must keep running until the Rapture happens. We also do not know how many more runners there may be between us and that Finish line, and so we can't give up or drop the baton and fail to pass on the gospel to future generations.

We must pick up the baton of faith from previous generations and keep it going. Pastors, professors, missionaries, and charity directors will all die eventually, and if there is no one to take their place then the Church will be at a disadvantage. Those of us who are younger must consider how we will pick up the baton to keep the Church going. This will be different for each of us, according to the spiritual gifts and calling that God has given us. So get involved in your church and start preparing yourself to take positions of leadership. Go get some training at a Bible college if you can. One day, you might be the most qualified person to lead your church, teach a bible study, lead a mission team, or direct a charity! It's a scary thought, but we must rise to the challenge, for the sake of the gospel. If you are older, consider how to build up those who are younger, and mentor them to eventually take over your role.

In the meantime, we must run the best we can, and pass on the baton to as many people as we can. The great thing about Christianity is that we do not have only one baton to pass on. It is more like passing on the flame of a torch, where once another's flame is lit, ours is still burning and can be used to light even more torches. So keep your torch burning bright by reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and keep trying to ignite the torches of those around you. Even if we grab our baton and have only two steps to go before the Rapture, we should be happy that we rose to the challenge, and ran our part of the race the best we could, without giving up or becoming lazy or complacent. Christians who have passed on to glory cannot run these last steps in the race for us, for their time on earth is over - we who are alive now are the only ones who can keep passing on the baton. It's up to us now, so let's give it our all!


[1] www.thomasscirrmacher.net - Emil Brunner pro Mission (1931)
[2] www.barna.org - Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts
[3] www.eventsforchange.wordpress.com - The Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world
[4] www.raptureready.com - Jan Markell: The Pulpits Are Silent