“The scene is one of the most breathtaking in all of Scripture. An itinerant Galilean carpenter stands surrounded by twelve very ordinary men. At the moment, the leaders of nations are plotting to destroy him as a dangerous heretic. He stands in an area which illustrates the conflict and power of religions more than any other place in the world – Caesarea-Philippi, north of Galilee.
At least fourteen temples to Baal lay scattered about the area, reminders of Canaanite paganism. Nearby is a deep cavern where the Greeks said their god, Pan, was born. The entire region is symbolic of Greek mythology. Adjacent stands the great temple of white marble built to the deity of Caesar by Herod the Great, emblematic of Roman emperor worship. And the Jews believed that their sacred Jordan River originated from beneath this very mountain. Behind Jesus stands a gigantic rock formation, with a cave which is deeper than we are able to measure to this day. It was called the “gates of Hades,” and was widely believed to be the doorway to the underworld.
It was and is an intimidating place. I’ve stood at this spot, and I remember it well. But here Jesus uttered words which astounded his followers: ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). Hades would not attack the church – this small band of men would attack Hades. And neither Hades, the pagan religions, nor the power of the Roman and Jewish rulers would prevail. Jesus’ church would assault the very gates of hell with the gospel – and win. The church was Jesus’ strategy for reaching a lost world.
And this strategy worked, amid some of the greatest ecotones in history. As Jewish and Gentile cultures clashed, the gospel thrived (Acts 10-11). As East met West, the church grew and prospered (Acts 16). When the gospel came to Rome itself, it took root and flowered (Acts 28). As the Roman Empire crumbled and fell, the church mushroomed in power. The strategy worked.
Across the centuries of ecotonic clashes, the church has remained Jesus’ answer to world evangelization. In a millennium of Dark Ages the gospel spread, and the church grew. In the midst of Enlightenment attacks it experienced Great Awakenings. The Industrial Age saw the greatest missionary expansion to point in history.
And our century, with two world wars and the greatest rate of change in human history, has witnessed unprecedented growth in Christian missions. According to church growth expert George Otis Jr, about 70 percent of all progress toward evangelizing the world has taken place since 1900. Seventy percent of that growth has occurred since World War II.
Now, in another ecotonic time, the church is still Jesus’ strategy for world evangelization. Change is nothing new. Only Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He still intends to reach the world through his church.”
James Dennison, from Missiology; An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions. 1998