BISHOP J.H. KING, WORLD MISSIONS, AND HOPE FOR THE UNEVANGELIZED
Dr. Tony G. Moon
Bishop Joseph Hillary King served as General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church longer than any other person in the denomination’s history (1917-1946). Throughout his ministry he was firmly convinced about the supreme importance of world evangelism. In fact, before he became executive head, he oversaw the foreign missions work of the young denomination (1911-1913). He always viewed the Great Commission mandate to “make disciples of all nations” as the number-one ministry priority of the movement.
But Bishop King was aware that every day in this world people die without being humanly exposed to the New Testament gospel. This grieved his heart. As a deep thinker and serious Bible student, he sometimes reflected on the afterlife destiny of those who “have never heard.” His musings on this subject are among the most interesting and moving in his writings.
In late 1913, Bishop King wrote his most substantial theological work, From Passover to Pentecost. In it he expressed the hope that “heathen” lost in the “mist” of superstition and non-Christian religions would, through a sincere and earnest pursuit of the true God, find salvation in the Lord Jesus. He hoped that, even though they had never heard the gospel message about the “historic Christ,” somehow God would get through to them in this life:
Millions know nothing of [the atonement]…. There may be those who
have the essential Christ that know nothing of the historic Christ. They may have
pressed, in heart, up through the mist of heathenism, and prayed to … God…, and
in this way touched the Christ and found peace. We do not know this to be true, but
we infer the same from … the Word.
He was not dogmatic about this. He based this hope on implications he drew from John 1:9 and Romans 1:20 and 2:14-15. My impression is that he was not just hopeful, but prayerful, about it.
In a 1936 Pentecostal Holiness Advocate editorial, again Bishop King seems to have been grasping for hope for the unevangelized. He wrote that the Ninevites were spared God’s judgment, not because they participated in the Jewish sacrificial system (which, of course, they did not), but because they sincerely prayed and repented in response to Jonah’s preaching. “…God can save people today in a manner contrary to the way we prescribe or point out.” This was an instance, King wrote, of “God’s departure from His own way of accepting souls…. The Lord … taught Jonah a lesson to enlarge his view of His mercy….” In 1916 and 1932, although not dealing directly with the problem of the unreached, King put it this way: “Prayer forged in the furnace of suffering, forced from a heart of agony, and bursting from a soul pressed with unutterable pain, is sure to find the ear of God.”
Undoubtedly, one way Bishop King believed God’s Spirit sometimes breaks through to the unevangelized is through visions and dreams. In his autobiography, he relates a story about the grandfather of “the modern apostle of Ceylon” who was converted when angels appeared and preached the gospel to him in a vision—he had never seen or heard a Christian missionary in his life! In the history of Christian missions, there are other accounts of people being saved without the human agency of evangelists or missionaries.
The command of our Lord to evangelize the nations has not been revoked. It should still be the number-one global ministry priority of the church. What about those who have never heard the gospel? Currently, there are some 6,434 unreached people groups in the world, comprising some 2.62 billion persons, most of them in the 10/40 Window. That is almost forty percent of the world’s total population. We must continue to invest maximum finances and human resources in the all-important cause of winning the lost worldwide, and we must continue to pray passionately for the success of that endeavor.
What about those who will never humanly hear the gospel? Some 57.9 million people die each year globally, multitudes of whom have never heard the name of Jesus from human lips. Perhaps Bishop King’s hopeful reflections should inspire us to pray about world evangelization from an additional perspective. Maybe our intercession should focus as well on imploring God’s Spirit to work in the lives of the unevangelized in such a way that they would earnestly pursue the living God, pray, repent, and “touch Christ,” even without the agency of human witnesses.
 Rev. J. H. King, From Passover to Pentecost (Senath, Mo.: F. E. Short, 1914), 78.
 J. H. K., “Jonah’s Gourd, No. 2,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate, November 19, 1936, 1-2.
 Rev. Joseph H. King, Select Sermons (Falcon, NC: The Falcon Publishing Co., 1916), 32; J. H. King, “Jabez and His Prayer,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate, August 25, 1932, 4.
 Bishop Joseph H. King and Mrs. Blanche L. King, Yet Speaketh: Memoirs of the Late Bishop Joseph H. King (Franklin Springs, GA: The Publishing House of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1949), 223.
 Wholesome Words, “Worldwide Missions,” http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/greatc.html (accessed October 31, 2007).
This article appeared in a slightly different form in the Feb. 2007 issue of IPHC Experience magazine. It is partially based on an academic paper Dr. Moon presented at the 2007 Society for Pentecostal Studies conference. An expanded version of that essay has been published in the October issue of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology under the title, “J.H. King’s Theology of Religions: ‘Magnanimous Optimism?’” Dr. Tony Moon is Professor of Christian Ministries at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, GA, USA. He has also served as a pastor, Conference Church Education Ministries Director, and church planter.