Special Feature: The Power of the Gospel

By Don Richardson   •   March 31, 2010

The Apostle Paul says that the “god of this age” prevents people from seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV). But when believers faithfully communicate the Gospel, it frees people from the power of spiritual darkness. As the light of Christ spreads from person to person, it can even transform nations and people groups. Throughout history, Christ’s light has shone in believers’ hearts “to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV), and the Gospel has unleashed God’s transforming power all around the world.

The Power of the Gospel in India

India is home to the caste system–a name that dubiously casts an aura of innocence over what is actually one of the world’s most massive systems of oppression. For some 200 million people in India’s lower classes, caste is an occupational prison system without walls. “Untouchables,” also known as dalits, are lowest on the caste system’s social scale. They are left to perform menial tasks such as sweeping streets or cleaning latrines.

Over time increasing numbers of untouchables, though warned by Hindu clerics to keep even their shadow from touching the skin of a high-caste person, are discovering through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they are created in the image of God! Even more, God the Son, who died to atone for mankind’s sin, invites them to share–via repentance and faith–full citizenship in the most glorious kingdom that will ever be: the Kingdom of God. Thousands of new house churches, filled with dalit worshipers, are springing up across India. High-caste Hindus observe this growing movement with concern, but even some of them are accepting the Gospel and through repentance are coming humbly to an understanding of their true value in Christ.

The Power of the Gospel in China

I recall a speaker years ago telling a story, perhaps unverifiable, of a Communist committee appointed to discover ways to weaken the faith of Christians. Apparently, the committee thought that to remain strong, Christian faith required believers to gather secretly every few days for prayer, hymn-singing and Bible-quoting. Accordingly, the committee ordered that Christians be scattered as thinly as possible to different communes or different parts of communes. The goal was to make it difficult for Christians to gather for mutual encouragement.

Inadvertently and at its own expense, the Chinese Communist Party made itself one of the most efficient missionary-sending organizations in history by scattering thousands of Christians who had survived Chairman Mao’s purges of millions. When the dispersed Christians were separated from relatives and dear friends, perhaps never to meet again in this world, they did indeed suffer loneliness and heartache. Nevertheless, China’s Christians were not separated from their Lord or His message. The joy they evinced despite threats from their own government drew more and more unbelievers to Christian faith. From that time onward the number of believers in China grew so exponentially that their numbers are now believed to be some 40 million.

The Power of the Gospel in a Stone-Age Tribe

In 1962 my first wife, Carol Joy, who has since gone to be with the Lord, and I ventured with Stephen, our infant son, into the domain of 3,000 stone-age people known as the Sawi. Cannibalism and headhunting are mutually exclusive worldwide, but the Sawi and five other New Guinea tribes practiced both.

The Sawi were so isolated that they had only recently made contact with other tribes in the area. These groups talked about tuans–peaceful, white-complexioned beings known to trade in medicine, salt, steel axes, fish line and fishhooks. So the Sawi were eager to welcome tuans like us, much to our relief.

For two days and three nights, people from three Sawi villages danced exuberantly around our little jungle dwelling. But sadly, unresolved grievances among the villages festered and soon shattered the apparent goodwill between two of the Sawi villages. Battles ensued. My efforts to master the Sawi language were interrupted again and again as arrows volleyed past our home.

To make matters worse, I made a disquieting discovery: the Sawi honored certain leaders in their tribe as tare duans–masters of treachery. Telling them that Judas had betrayed Jesus with a kiss elicited cries like, “We never thought to seal a victim’s fate with a kiss!” Or, “That Judas is a man one could proudly promise a daughter to in marriage!”

I prayed for wisdom.

For six months I pleaded in vain for the two warring villages–Hainam and Kamur–to make peace. Finally, their violence caused us to consider relocating to another Sawi village. Peace seemed improbable and would require an incredibly costly sacrifice. The Sawi culture demanded ironclad proof of sincerity in order to end hostilities: a father would have to voluntarily offer one of his children to be raised as a “peace child” by a family in the enemy village. Everyone knew that an insincere man could not make such a sacrifice. So, as long as the son remained alive, such a peace was secure. No one could be so evil as to invalidate this great a sacrifice by renewing hostility.

Kaiyo, a man of Kamur, was not only willing to make the sacrifice; he took it to an even higher level. In all the Sawi’s living memory, fathers who gave a peace child had several other children. But so great was Kaiyo’s appreciation for the help Carol and I were bringing to all the villages that he gave his only son–little Biakadon–to a father in the village of his enemies. He did this so that we–no longer distressed by endemic violence–would remain among his people.

A Hainam father reciprocated Kaiyo’s sacrifice by giving one of his children to Kaiyo and his wife. People in both villages, laying hands on the two peace children, verbally pledged their resolve to abide in peace.

Long ago, John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to the Jews as “the Lamb of God.” That day, I proclaimed Jesus to the Sawi as the Tarop Tim Kodon–the greatest Peace Child. This caused the Sawi to change their minds about Judas. As the betrayer of a peace child, Judas was the worst villain a Sawi could imagine. And today, violent practices of the past–cannibalism and headhunting included–are fading memories as a new generation of Sawi enjoy newness of life in Christ.

A church ministers now in every Sawi village. More than half the people profess faith in Jesus. The peace child Kaiyo received now administers a public school in a neighboring tribe’s village. Other Sawi serve as government employees, church elders and evangelists.

As surely as Christ delivers individuals from the power of darkness, His Gospel unleashed delivers human societies from the ravages of slavery, oppression, prejudice and violence. May God lead us to release His message from the restraints our unbelief and disobedience place upon it, so that the light of the Gospel would be free to shine brightly and pierce the darkness in every nation–because hiding the Gospel can have an astounding effect, too.

The Tragedy of a Hidden Gospel

In the early 1600s, when King James commissioned an “authorized” translation of the Bible in English, the translators faced a conundrum. Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:10, lists slave traders among those whom God’s law reproves. Dare they translate it correctly, knowing that many nobles–including perhaps King James himself–were engaged in slave trading or benefiting from its profits?

Would an honest rendering of the Greek term andrapodistes cost the translators their freedom? Or their heads? For whatever reason–fear, bias, pressure from the king himself–that one important Greek word ended up innocuously under-translated as “menstealers,” that is, kidnappers. Ironically, millions of Christians who were utterly disdainful of kidnapping, continued tolerating the most egregious form of kidnapping–slave trading–for another 200 years.

Think of it! If 1 Timothy 1:10 had been translated correctly as “slave traders” in the early 1600s, surely abolitionists like William Wilberforce would have arisen in western civilization a century or two earlier. Slavery might have been abolished before the American colonies formed, in which case there would have been no need for 600,000 Americans to perish in the civil war that belatedly banned it. Alas!

This miscommunication of the Gospel highlights how important it is for believers to proclaim the whole truth of Scripture clearly and faithfully. For only in God’s pure Gospel is the power of salvation revealed. d: ©2010 BGEA

Don Richardson served in Papua, New Guinea, for 15 years, and is a conference speaker representing World Team Missions. He is the author of several books, including “Peace Child.”