What About Samaria?*
By Dr. John Davis
"and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
With these words, Jesus defines His great commission to the Church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Clearly from both their order and the example of the apostles, Jerusalem is the starting point. The nearly universal understanding and application given this today says that where I live is my Jerusalem and the territory surrounding me is my Judea. Then comes Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth.
We who are the Assemblies of God have taken this charge seriously from the very beginning. Missionaries have been sent out from us to all parts of the earth where we could gain entry. This is right for, the love of Christ constraineth us, that so far as it lies within us, everyone shall have opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe unto eternal life. To have any other attitude would surely be to disobey both the letter and the spirit of Jesus' commission to us.
However, what about the Samaria? The Samaritans first appear in the Old Testament when they attempt to join in the rebuilding of the Temple but are rejected because they had a mixed religion and were not truly Jewish. Following this rejection they oppose both the rebuilding of the Temple and later the rebuilding Jerusalem's walls. At this point, the Old Testament record ends but history continues with the Samaritans building their own temple to the God of Moses on Mt. Gerizim. However, this temple is short lived as a worship center for when the Jews gain in power a few years later they destroy it completely. The echo of this appears in the New Testament when the Samaritan woman reminds Jesus that her people worship on Mt. Gerizim (where their temple used to be). The general attitude of the Jews toward the Samaritans was one of scorn if not hatred. When we call the story Jesus tells of a Samaritan showing compassion on one who had been robbed and left for dead the story of the "good Samaritan" we have created a contradiction in terms. From the Jewish point of view, there was no such thing as a "good Samaritan". Yet, it is important to note that the Samaritans and the Jews lived in the same province throughout this time in first the Persian then Seluciad, Hasmonian, and Roman rule.
So, how does all this history apply to us and to our obedience to the great commission? Well again if where I stand is my Jerusalem and the surrounding territory my Judea and if the uttermost part of the earth is the uttermost part of the earth, where is my Samaria? How about the Native Americans? They have a different ethnic background like the Samaritans. They have a different religious background like the Samaritans. Likewise, as with the Jews and Samaritans, the Native Americans live in the same political unit where I live. In addition, just like the Jews and the Samaritans there has been a long history of conflict. From Columbus in 1492 to Wounded Knee in 1890 there was fighting and even today many of the bad feelings have never really stopped.
The Biblical precedent is in Acts 8:5 where Philip went down to Samaria and preached long before Peter reached Cornelius representing the gentiles. In the same way, we must reach out to our Samaritans, those who live in our political unit and with whom we have long had conflict. This is not to say that we should not reach for the end of the earth. We must do so or be disobedient to Jesus. However, today many Native Americans have not heard the Gospel and only a small percentage actively follow Jesus. How can we claim to be obeying the great commission if we leave out 1/4 of the area it covers? It is not either or but as Jesus said it both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
*Modified from the original published in American Horizon Jan/Feb 1996