And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even[ing] was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what l will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen (Matt. 20:6-16).
The point of reference of this parable was the coming offer of the gospel to the gentiles. The Hebrews had been brought into God’s covenant in the days of Abraham. Gentiles had remained outside the covenant, not bearing the mark of the covenant and not seeing their children become heirs of the promises. The Jews were warned by Jesus in this parable that the coming of the gospel to the gentiles would place gentiles on equal covenantal footing with Jews. But the Jews had gained entrance first. Didn’t that count for something? Jesus’ parable made it plain that when God hands out the ultimate reward–access to heaven–it makes no difference who responded to the gospel first.
Jesus was not dealing with the question of distinctions of individual personal rewards beyond soul-salvation. Paul did.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (I Cor. 3:11-15).
The parable of the hired men should warn us: with respect to the question of salvation by grace through faith, there is no difference between (1) the person who is converted young, lives a productive life, and dies in the faith, and (2) the person who is regenerated two minutes before he dies. The last shall be first.
The Hypocrisy of Pietism
The pietist asserts that the Great Commission refers only to personal salvation. It supposedly has nothing to do with social transformation. A correspondent from Oklahoma wrote to me in January, 1992, to instruct me that “Satan wishes men to be diverted from the great commission, that of seeing individuals of all nations following Him, being baptized and discipled for His kingdom. The more time spent on earthly pursuits, i.e. politics, studying vain subjects, social actions and filling our brains with more useless knowledge, the less time there will be to do His work He left for us to do.” This culture-rejecting theology is refuted in detail by Kenneth Gentry in his book, The Greatness of the Great Commission (I.C.E., 1991). But very few fundamentalists have read the book, and if they were to believe it, they would no longer be fundamentalists.
If all souls are equal, but some souls are running out of time, then “souls-only” evangelism should concentrate on the most judgment-threatened members of society. If the Great Commission were exclusively about the saving of souls, then the absolutely crucial form of evangelism would be evangelism to the aged. These people have little time remaining. There is no second chance beyond the grave. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27)? If they do not hear the gospel soon, and respond to it in faith, there is no hope for them. Zero. Young people have a comparatively long time to hear and respond; the aged do not.
The fact is, the “save only souls” view of the kingdom is really not believed, or if it is believed, it is not taken seriously institutionally. The doctrine of tithes and offerings is far stronger than the doctrine of souls-only evangelism. Question: When was the last time you saw a Baptist Sunday school bus ministry to the aged? Dozens of blue buses criss-crossing the city, bringing the elderly from the rest homes to church! Ho, ho, ho. And, I might add, ha, ha, ha.
Why do churches concentrate on evangelizing the young and those under age 65? Because churches know who pays the bills: employed people. The aged are unemployed. They will stay unemployed. People in old folks homes have little money to give, and their children are strapped by rest home expenses. Rest home residents have been sent into the equivalent of the elephant burial grounds; they are unlikely to escape except by death.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)