Dry dusty roads led into the village. Worshipers gathered. As a missionary guest that day, I preached at that church. Lively music and dancing are typical of African worship. This day was no exception. It came time for an evangelistic invitation. A sub-chief walked the aisle for a decision. That was all well and good, even celebrative. The only complication to this man’s expression of faith was that he brought his five wives with him to make this decision. What does a foreign missionary do?
Polygamy, a long-standing issue in most African settings, is characteristic of African Traditional Religious belief systems that pre-date the advent of both Islam and Christianity. These ideologies persist in the fabric of various Christian traditions, whether denominational or not, in African churches today.
Solutions are not simple fixes. The convention we were part of had already developed a policy to help normalize reaction to this issue. The convention’s historical practice was to ask the man to choose one of the wives and “put out” the remaining ones. There were usually children involved, and this act created serious and ongoing social crises. The wives who departed the family network usually were as destitute as widows. People in the rest of the culture viewed these women as still being the wives of the man who wished to join the church. That limited their likely options for any sort of familial support in the aftermath of such disruptions. More often than not, they were soon resorting to prostitution to provide basic needs for their children and even to eat. As supposedly new believers, this was no healthy discipleship program.
At the time, a recently developed policy recommended first in-depth counseling with them all in order to understand their own personal decisions regarding Christ. If confident in their decisions to yield their lives to Christ, one could proceed with discussion of church membership. After all, Christ’s blood covers the sins associated with polygamy too. Finally, they could be presented for church membership on the grounds that, in a group, they each gave testimony of their salvation; confessed having entered the practice of polygamy due to cultural norms without knowing about Christ or that this was sinful; and agreed to end the practice of polygamy with that generation and to never seek nor accept leadership roles in the local church. They would ask for the congregation to assist them in teaching their children not to continue polygamous practices when they would eventually have families.
In parallel with these happenings, I had a very sharp African seminary student in my biblical ethics class. He asked me if an article he had read was true, namely that in America we have a problem of men marrying many women over time or sequentially. “It does, unfortunately, seem to happen in some families,” I replied. My own mother and father married each other three times and divorced each other three times. When my dad died, he was on his sixth marriage. The student said then, “Sir, in America, you have the same problems, then, that we face here. The main difference is that, in our cultures, it is common to have all the wives simultaneously.”
Eventually, I found academic articles that characterized our North American marriage and divorce cycles as “serial polygamy.” In the end, lest we get too prideful and ethnocentric in judging other cultures, we should look at ourselves. Could a man walk the aisle to present for membership this Sunday, and the pastor be asked to conduct him through the membership process, though essentially the gentleman is a “polygamist,” having had multiple marriages? It is not a question of one culture being more fallen than another. Instead, it is that we need mutually to assist one another with “beams” and “specks” in our eyes for better glorification of God’s design for the family.
The local churches, denominations, ministries, and the prayer movement in America cannot be separated from evangelism. Consider this: If prayer and the desire for evangelism are genuine, they happen simultaneously.
Are local churches, denominations, ministries and the prayer movement in America praying for others to come to Jesus Christ? Are you praying for others to come to Jesus Christ? Do you call out specific names to God each day?
America needs Jesus Christ more now than ever before. Our hearts should be broken over the lostness of America and the world. Mocking it helps no one. Ignoring it does not make it go away.
Every genuine Christian needs to pray for others to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
3 Specific Ways to Pray for Others to Come to Jesus Christ
1. Pray for the scales to fall away from their blinded eyes.
We cannot deny the reality of what Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Only through God opening their eyes and minds to the gospel will the unsaved see and hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to pray for them and appeal to God for this to happen.
When people do not know Jesus Christ, they are blinded to the truth of their great need for salvation. Intercessory prayer that is intentional and continuous can see God remove the scales of blindness over their eyes and help them to see themselves as God sees them: Lost and in need of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we believe God can do anything with anyone at any time, then we can offer up prayers for the lost perpetually. I have seen God answer these prayers in my own life and through the life of my church.
2. Pray for God to engineer their circumstances to convince them they need Jesus Christ.
Our God is Sovereign and desires for all persons to come to Jesus Christ. He can engineer circumstances to help convince them that their number one need is spiritual, and the answer is found in Jesus Christ alone.
I believe we can pray like this because God wants all people to turn from living their own way, doing their own thing, and come to Him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
Therefore, I pray that our great Sovereign God will engineer circumstances in their life that will show them their deep and desperate need for Jesus Christ.
3. Pray for God to send someone to tell them about Jesus Christ.
As you pray for them to hear about Jesus Christ, be willing to tell them yourself. In fact, ask God for the open door to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them and others. You might be the “someone” that others are praying for to tell their friend or family member about Christ. Be faithful to ask God to use you to share Jesus with others.
What God is Saying to America and the World Today
I do not know all that God is saying to America and to the world today, but one thing I am confident He is doing: He is calling every American and every person in this world into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
May we be faithful to pray for all people to see our need for Jesus Christ and come to a personal relationship with Him.
Dr. Adam Harwood
Associate Professor of Theology
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
*This a portion of an article taken from the Journal For Baptist Theology and Ministry and is used by permission. It was first published here at SBC Today on August 10, 2015.
The goal of this article is to address the question: “Is the gospel for all people or only some people?” The answer to this question undergirds one’s theology and practice of evangelism and missions. By the word “gospel,” I am referring to the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins (1 Cor 15:3–4). By asking whether the gospel is for all people, I am not asking whether it should be announced to all people, but whether it concerns all people. One’s view of whether the gospel is for all people or only some people is revealed by one’s answers to the following questions: Continue reading