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The Uttermost End

I prefer to think of myself as not averse to change. I have to confess though that there are times when I just prefer things with which I was raised. The King James Version of the Bible is one of those things. I was raised with the King James Version and even though I recognize that it probably is not the best translation and the old English terminology long ago outlived its value, there are times when it just seems to be more poetic than other versions. For example, the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer just do not seem as meaningful to me unless I hear them from the King James Version.

Today’s scripture reading is one of those times. In Acts 1:8 as read earlier, Jesus charges the disciples to be witnesses for him “to the ends of the earth.” The King James Version, however, charges them to “be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” I love that word “uttermost.” To me that really places emphasis on the goal. Jesus seems to be telling them to put your traveling shoes on and keep witnessing to everyone you meet until you have reached the most extreme parts of the earth. Make sure that the message of the cross reverberates as far and wide as it possibly can.

So paying due homage to both translations, I want to talk today about carrying the Gospel to the “uttermost ends” of the earth and what is happening in Christ’s Church at the uttermost ends of the earth. That seemed pretty easy when I read the passage from Acts and decided that would be my theme. But then it hit me, “Where the heck are the uttermost ends of the earth?”

The location of the “uttermost ends” of the earth has changed over time.  But the paths of missionaries certainly have led them toward the uttermost end of the earth as they knew it. For Paul, the uttermost end was Rome. The spread of early Christianity essentially followed the Roman empire along Roman roads. The quest to carry the Gospel to the uttermost ends first followed around the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East.

From the Mediterranean and Middle East, missionaries turned their eyes north in looking for the uttermost ends and spread the Gospel north into Europe and east into Russia. And that was where the Gospel took root for over 1000 years.  But after the Christian world sank into the Dark Ages, few sought the uttermost ends and missionary activity diminished.

The advent of the Age of Exploration also brought an expanded vision of how the Gospel could reach to the uttermost ends. Missionaries traveled the same courses as the explorers, carrying the Gospel into the coastal areas of North and South America, Africa, India, and the Far East. In the more recent centuries, they followed roads into the interiors of the continents and reached more areas of the Pacific. As our TUMC members Dick and Kathy mentioned, Hawaii was the uttermost end of the earth at one time. Sierra Leone also was an “end” during this great missionary push as members Julia and Jonathan related.

In the late 19th and into the 20th centuries, central Africa and South America, China, and Pacific islands became the areas that lit the zeal of missionaries to reach the uttermost ends of the earth with the Gospel. And in the last couple of decades of the 20th century what have been characterized as “10/40” missions began to emerge. Those are missions to primarily Muslim countries between the 10th latitude north and the 40th latitude south, east of the prime meridian.  Ironically, those are many of the same areas that were the first places that were thought of as “the uttermost ends” and the first places where Christianity took root. Those also now are proving to be very difficult missions and are producing martyrs, sometimes in large numbers, on almost a daily basis.  Indeed, we in the West have not paid much attention, but it has been reported that more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in the aggregate of all preceding centuries. And that is pretty much where we stand now.

My guess is that as I talked about carrying the Gospel to the uttermost ends you developed a mental image of remote missions in Africa or Asia or some distant island in the Pacific. Am I right? The “uttermost end” you visualized lies probably somewhere in the Third World. So if that is where we consider the “uttermost ends” to be to which we should carry the Gospel, what does the church look like there today?

I cannot even begin to explore that issue here today in much substance. I commend to you this book, “The Next Christendom” by Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University.  Without going into much detail, it is sufficient to say that Jenkins demonstrates in great detail the explosion of the Christian faith in the Third World. For example, did you know that Uganda is now 75% Christian? Already the largest Christian communities in the world are in Africa and South America and sometime soon, if it has not happened already, the idea of Christianity being predominantly a “Western” faith will be an anachronism.

When our family was in Rome several years ago, before I really had explored this issue in any great detail, we were struck by the nuns and priests that we saw walking in St. Peter’s. The elderly were predominantly white and presumably European and North American.  Those of the younger generation were overwhelmingly Asian, African, and Hispanic. As in the past, the message of Christ is adapting to cultures and people and meeting them where they are. The power and freedom in that personal message is sweeping and capturing hearts and minds in the Third World and, what is also becoming known as, the Third Church.

So let me ask you, assume you are a member of a Nigerian or Ugandan church on fire to be a missionary to the uttermost ends of the earth. Where do you think you should go? Where would you look for large populations of people who do not know Christ?  Why, Europe and North America of course!

Jenkins reports that England today has over 1500 missionaries from other countries, many of whom are from Africa.  They consider Great Britain to be a “green and pagan land.”  About 1/6th of the Catholic priests serving in the United States are from other countries. Ireland is importing priests from Africa. The pastor of the largest congregation in Kiev Ukraine, a 20,000 member church, is a Nigerian. And this just scratches the surface as to what is happening!

Have you heard of the Redeemed Christian Church of God? If not, don’t feel bad. I had not either until I read Jenkins’ book. It is Nigerian and is pentecostal or evangelical, depending on how you use the terms. They characterize themselves as a “Book of Acts” church. It starts three churches a day somewhere in the world and is in many US metropolitan areas, including Rockville and Harrisburg near to us.  In 2001 it held a “Holy Ghost Congress” in Nigeria that was attended by over 2 million people! It is building a 10,000 seat church near Dallas. It takes the command to go to the uttermost ends of the earth seriously. As the church’s pastor of the largest church in England has said,

“There is a prophetic mandate on Nigerian Christians. God has given us a word that our ministers will go out and shake the world.”

 What a wonderful description of our challenge as Christians. “Go out and shake the world.” Are we doing that as Methodists? If we are, why don’t we see Methodist churches springing up instead of Redeemed Christian Church of God churches? Where are our plans to build and fill 10,000 person churches? We’ve been losing membership in the United States at the rate of approximately 1 million members per decade for each of the last couple of decades. I believe it is now on the order of something like 50,000 members a year. And that is at the same time that churches from Africa are sending missionaries here and planting effective churches. And thank God that they are, but when people who do not know our culture can travel ½ way around the world and successfully plant churches where we cannot, and grow those churches while our own churches are shrinking, we have to ask ourselves if we are really serious about witnessing for Christ. Doesn’t sound to me like the world, or at least the US, feels like we’re shaking it. We may be wiggling it here and there, but as a denomination in the United States we have to ask ourselves if we really are serious about proclaiming Christ outside the walls of our churches. A friend of ours who lives in the South refers to we Methodists as the “frozen chosen” because, from her perspective, Methodists are stuck inside their churches and more concerned about what is happening in the pew next to them than taking Christ into their communities. Clearly her perspective is that few Methodists are looking toward the uttermost ends of the earth.

We earlier considered that the uttermost end of the earth was someplace far away and remote. But if a church in Nigeria is sending missionaries here to plant a church in Harrisburg, PA, virtually in our backyard, then it may not be quite so far away or quite as remote as we may think. Indeed, I think the “uttermost end of the earth” might be very close……as close as the neighbor who lives next door to you, as close as the person who sits beside you at work or school,…. or  even as close as your own heart.  You see, I don’t think the uttermost end of the earth is a place at all. I know that when I’m trying to live without abiding in Christ, and that’s more often than I care to admit, I feel like my heart is at the end of the earth. I think the “uttermost end of the earth” is any heart that is not filled with Christ. When we think of it as some far off place, it is easy to rationalize why we cannot fulfill Christ’s mission to witness to his message. Only a very few can travel to those extreme places. But if the uttermost end of the earth is the person who sits next to you everyday but who does not know Christ, then we each have to ask ourselves whether or not the reverberation that started that Easter so long ago will stop with us. Or will we pass it on?

Wherever there is a person who does not know Jesus, there is the uttermost end of the earth. Wherever there is a heart that is empty, waiting to know the grace and love of Jesus, there is the spot where we are called to witness for Christ. So, our exploration of the reverberations of Easter ends where it began… our hearts. We must first let the Christ of Easter into our hearts. If you have never given your life to Christ, then that is the place to start. There are no magic words or rituals. You simply have to turn to Jesus and tell him that you want him to be the Lord of your life. If you have Christ in your heart, however, you do not have to go to a remote island in the Pacific in order to proclaim him to the uttermost ends of the earth. You need only tell your story to someone who needs to hear about him. Just start and you may be surprised how close to the uttermost end of the earth you have always been.

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2010


  1. Marilyn on March 2, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Good word, Tom.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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