Just like any other field of study, missiology has jargon. One of these technical terms is unreached. The Joshua Project, which seeks to define the task of world missions, has identified an unreached people group as a group of people with a common language and culture that has less than or equal to 2% evangelical Christians and less than or equal to 5% professing Christians. There is nothing biblical about this definition, but it is a helpful one for its utility in bringing clarity and definition to the unfinished task of world missions.
The reason this term is important is because such a group has too few Christians to effectively share the Gospel with their own people. Also, when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all ethne, these sorts of people groups are most likely what he had in mind rather than geo-political nations.
It’s important to note that as an evangelical institution, the Joshua Project focuses on the percentage of evangelical Christians within a specific group. For those who identity as Anabaptists or “kingdom Christians”, should we be thinking in these same terms, or should we swap out “kingdom Christian” for “evangelical”? There are virtually zero people groups with more than 2% “kingdom Christians”. Simply put, are people groups with large numbers of Protestant or other non-kingdom Christian believers unreached if they have no kingdom witness?
This is a very common assumption. There are some who believe that Catholics and Protestants have a false gospel and are therefore just as unreached as Hindus or Muslims who have never even heard the name Jesus.
Of course, this brings up so many more questions. Who really qualifies as a kingdom Christian? Should we consider Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Christians our brothers and sisters in Christ? What if some are more passionate and dedicated than many Anabaptists? What determines which issues are primary to the Gospel and which are secondary? These are all important questions with implications on the topic at hand, but we don’t have time to get into them at length in this discussion.
My goal is to demonstrate that there is a special apostolic work among those who have never heard anything about King Jesus and do not have access to the Scriptures that is distinct from the task of making disciples generally and promoting the historic faith among errant Christian traditions.
In Romans 10:13-14, Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” There is general revelation about the Creator and his law that is available to all through creation, however it requires special revelation mediated through a preacher for salvation to be achieved.
In Romans 15 he goes on: And in this way I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already known by name, so that I would not build on another person’s foundation; but just as it is written: “They who have not been told about Him will see, and they who have not heard will understand.” For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions..”
Why did Paul say he had no further place in certain regions? Certainly it was not because everyone in these regions was already converted. Paul understood that there is a special apostolic work of taking the Gospel to areas where Christ is not already known by name. This is a distinct task from that of evangelists working to continue growing the church in reached areas.
But what if the Gospel that has been proclaimed is a false Gospel? What if the Jesus being known by name is not the true, peaceable Jesus of the Scriptures but rather a nationalist, immoral figment of the imagination? While there is much work to be done to correct these false narratives with a kingdom worldview, this is not the same as the apostolic work of reaching the unreached.
First, among people groups with high percentages of Protestants and other Christian groups, the Scriptures are readily accessible. We demonstrate a lack of faith in the power of God’s written revelation when we doubt its efficacy to lead seekers to the true Jesus. Remember what Abraham said to the rich man when he begged that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers of their impending judgment? “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them…If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” If a genuine seeker has access to the Scriptures, we might say, “They have Jesus and the apostles. If they will not listen to Jesus and the apostles, neither will they listen if…” The Bible is raw material that the Holy Spirit can use to draw sinners to God.
Second, it is quite likely that among heretical Christian institutions there are many genuine disciples of Christ who are faithfully preaching the Gospel and attempting to reform their churches. To say that only kingdom Christians, Anabaptists, or people within our approved denominational confines are true Christians is the height of arrogance and sectarianism.
The notion that Protestants, Catholics or other Christian groups outside of “our group” are unreached is dangerous because it derails the church from a clear focus on taking the Gospel to the remaining unreached people groups and accomplishing the task of world evangelization in our generation. The vast majority of Christian resources are spent on parts of the world that already have Bibles and churches. Meanwhile, millions have still never heard any news of the King who laid down his life so they can be delivered from their sins and experience eternal life. May we be strategic with our efforts so that one day worshippers from every nation and tribe will worship around the throne!