From Power Encounter to Love Encounter

<A related, follow-on article is Power Encounter, Love Encounter, and Pandemic Love.>

In Missions there is often 3 types of “encounters” discussed. Charles Kraft, in particular, has a lot in this area and include:

  • Truth Encounter

    St. Boniface and Power Encounter

  • Allegiance Encounter
  • Power Encounter

Truth Encounter is the challenge of God’s truth against the various lies that are encountered in this world. Allegiance Encounter is a volitional challenge. As Joshua stated in the Bible, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This encounter involves making a choice to stand with God or with the enemy. Of these two, I would place Allegiance encounter as the more important. Salvation or conversion is an affective or volitional act. Correct knowledge is important but secondary.

This leaves power encounter. This is where the power of God is put to the test against the powers of darkness. Many missiologists consider this to be very important, but I THINK all would have to agree that the challenge of power is secondary to truth and allegiance. In fact, generally power encounter is considered simply preparatory for truth encounter and eventually allegiance encounter. In a sense, power encounter always happens in salvation since the power of God must be exercised to give freedom from the bondage of sin and the powers of this earth. However, that necessary form of power encounter is behind the scenes. It is not an encounter that happens on a “missiological” level. On a missiological level, the necessity or value of power encounter is less certain.

I used to be in favor of power encounter, and I suppose I don’t wholeheartedly reject it, but I have had growing qualms. I do have to add the caveat that some cultures may need power encounter more than others. Just as the Ancient Greeks valued truth and reason (making truth encounter, perhaps, more necessary), Animists are commonly focused on the spirit world as a source of power (both as a desirable and an undesirable thing). Perhaps missiological power encounter is more valuable here. Additionally, in TRULY unreached people groups, power encounter may be important to “open the door.”

In 1st millenium Frisia and Germany was St. Boniface, the “Apostle to the Germans”. A method he used was a form of power encounter. He would enter a pagan village, go to the sacred space, a holy tree, and cut it down. The argument was that if the gods Woden, Thor, or others of the Germanic pantheon, were so powerful, certainly they would have stopped St. Boniface from cutting down their tree… or at least smite him after the fact. This is power encounter through desecration.

This is not the only form of power encounter, and one could certainly argue that this wasn’t really a satisfactory test for power encounter. First, God’s power wasn’t really tested (unless one assumes that God was actually protecting St. Boniface from the other gods). Second, it may not be really testing the power of these gods but rather their allegiance to the sacred space. Just as Elijah, jokingly, suggested that Baal was asleep or too busy to get around to burning the sacrifice offered in that famous scene on Mount Carmel, inaction is not necessarily proof of lack of power. It could be lack of will or allegiance.

Regardless, however, history does point to an ugly side of power encounter. In the case of St. Boniface, desecrating a place without the concurrence of the local people appears to be without justification in the New Testament. 1st century Christians lived in a pluralistic society. They had plenty of opportunities to desecrate local pagan shrines. Yet they did not (Okay some did. There were reports of early Christians standing next to idols blaspheming pagan gods and spitting on the idols… but this does not appear to be a normative behavior). Additionally, history shows that when the Norsemen (Vikings) invaded Christian lands years after St. Boniface, they often targeted Christian structures such as churches and monasteries. This focus may have simply been due to the greater wealth and lesser defenses compared to other structures. Yet one could interpret their behavior as a reverse power encounter. And what would such circumstances demonstrate? Does God lack the power to prevent such desecration? (Some would obviously respond “Yes”.) On the other hand, it could be viewed as an allegiance encounter. God chose not to respond to the desecration is these “sacred spaces.” The end result is ambivalence. The fact that St. Boniface was eventually killed by pagans adds further question as to the insight gained from this experiment in power encounter.

The Bible also shows ambivalence to Power Encounter. The two greatest examples of power encounter in the Bible are Moses’ challenge to the sorcerers of Pharoah, and Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal. While Moses challenge proved to be a tactical victory, it did little to nothing as a cross-cultural mission encounter. With Elijah, the text also seems to express ambivalence regarding its effect. Jesus also did heal the demon-possessed. That could be looked at as a form of power encounter– battling with the forces of darkness, showing God is more powerful than the agents of evil. However, it is certainly not a classic form. First, the audience presumably already believed that God (Yahweh) was more powerful than the demons. Second, He often appeared to minimize that aspect of the encounter… such as minimizing the news regarding the healing, and requiring the demons to keep quiet as to His identity. It seems better to say that His healings were evidence of His relationship to God, partly, and His compassion for the suffering (love encounter).

With the propensity of charlatans of all sorts to peddle their wares… be they for God or against God, power encounter can point people away from God as much as point them towards God. Fake faith healers are likely to sour people to the truth, and may even lead people to question if God can actually heal.

Unfortunately, power encounter has often been mixed together with odd teachings like spiritual mapping. This does not make power encounter wrong of itself, but it does mean that power encounter often gets wasted on (what I believe to be) useless activities, such as attacking spiritual territories and strongholds. This seems to be more of a syncretistic Christo-paganism than genuine Biblical missions.

I would like to suggest that Love Encounter be moved into the top three, displacing power encounter at least one slot. Jesus did do miracles that were a form of power encounter. Jesus also shared truth that challenged the world’s truth. Jesus also challenged people to pick a side… follow Him or the world. Yet, in many ways, it was the love and self-sacrifice of Christ that most clearly challenged and contrasted the self-serving, shallow love and values that the world offers. In many cases, the love encounter with Christ was the most important to bring life change. I believe that this has not changed. There are times where Power Encounter may be beneficial. But Love Encounter is always valuable.

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In Search of a Real Missionary

Preaching from a Waggon (David Livingstone) by...

David Livingstone, 19th century missionary in Africa.  Image via Wikipedia

The following is an excerpt from Successful Mission Teams: A Guide for Volunteers by Martha Van Cise  (New Hope Publishers, 1999) Excerpt from pages 145-147.  A good book, definitely worth owning.

“When my husband and I were serving as full-time missionaries in Haiti, we took a group of volunteers to a remote area in Northern Haiti. Another missionary, who had spent nearly 30 years in the country, accompanied us because he knew the area and the congregation.

During the team’s stay, volunteers put up walls for a new church, gave their testimonies in church, and gathered each evening for a devotional and songfest with the local people. On one occasion, the team visited an American missionary couple who manned a transmitter for a Christian radio station. By the end of the tour, team members were excited about sharing missions in their home church.

On the way back to Port-au-Prince, …, one middle-aged woman said, ‘This has been a wonderful experience. I guess that I just have one regret. I brought several packages of gelatin to give to a missionary family, but I never did get to meet a real missionary. I really had my heart set on meeting a real missionary.’   …

Another visitor returned home to report the truth about what was happening in a mission organization. ‘Those people weren’t spiritual,’ he said. ‘Some nights the missionary families got together and watched videos that had no religious content in them at all.’   …

Some team members feel responsible to evaluate the performance of mission organizations and missionaries and report their findings to anyone who will listen.

Assessment of mission work made by team members are often inaccurate because regular field activities must be curtailed in order to care for the team. Furthermore, team members who who are trying to photograph the work of the missionaries forget that everything which is accomplished on the field cannot be photographed.  …

Few missionaries will ever measure up to the ‘real missionary’ image some volunteers bring to the mission field. In the past, missionaries could live up to the ideal image because their contact with supporters was limited to one or two hours during speaking engagements while on furlough. When supporters move in with the missionary for ten days, however, the true missionary is revealed. The realities of modern-day missions and missionaries often disillusion volunteers.

If mission teams are to be an effective link between the home church and the mission field, team members must go to the field with a realistic understanding of the modern missionary movement.”

Money and Missions, Reprise

Corrie Ten Boom, in her book “Tramp for the Lord”, speaks of how she used to ask for financial support for her work. However, at a certain point in her ministry, she believed God told her to stop asking for money. She goes on to say that she got two letters close to the same time from others who told her that “God told them” that Corrie should not ask for financial support. So she stopped doing this, and God continued to provide for her work. It is not my interest to say whether her method was correct or whether God literally gave her this message (she tended to like to appeal to the mystical side of faith). It doesn’t matter because God used her the way she was and how she was working (be it based on divine message or from personal conviction).

Cover of "Tramp for the Lord"

Cover of Tramp for the Lord

One possible reason for not believing that the message came from God is on page 87 (1974 edition) of the same book she says,

“God takes his prohibition of asking for money very seriously, just as He means it seriously when He says He will care for and protect us. However, if we seek to raise our own money then God will let us do it—by ourselves. …. But we will miss the far greater blessing of letting Him supply all our needs according to His own riches.”

This passage suggests that Corrie Ten Boom believed that her decision is conforming to a universal law of God, rather than a personal message.

But what is the truth? Can a missionary ask for financial support?

Against…

  1. Stories like Corrie Ten Boom and George Mueller could be used as evidence against asking for financial support. (Of course, both did freely express their needs and vision to others and left the actual request unspoken. One might argue that there is not a lot of practical difference between expressing need and asking for help versus expressing need and leaving the request for help unspoken but clearly on the table.)
  2. Clear abuses in fund-raising by so-called “tele-evangelists” and mission organizations demonstrate that at least some fund-raising is deeply flawed, if not simply evil. Certainly greed can be poison to a missionary and his/her work. Such groups often develop a parasitic relationship with Christians resulting in harm to local churches and other organizations, as well as a bad reputation to the broader pluralistic society. <I had a relative who gave regularly from her meager pension and social security to several religious and political groups. After she died, my father and I literally had to go into her back room with shovels to dig through the piles of ridiculous requests for money, from a woman who was partly senile and could barely afford to pay her own bills.>

For…

  1. The Bible clearly has some places where support was asked for. The Old Testament practice of tithing was essentially a tax (a financial demand) for both civil government and religious leadership. Paul asked for financial support from churches to support Christians in Judea. The requests were quite direct. There are other examples in the Bible that appear, at least, to disallow the generalization of the mandate (of Ten Boom or Mueller) not to ask for financial support.
  2. Most missionaries (including those who might not ask for financial support) feel free to ask for prayer, time, and work from supporters. Should one separate money from these other needs? If we should not ask for money because God will supply all our needs, it seems like it would also be inappropriate to ask for prayer, time, or work from others because that would likewise be circumventing God’s provision.

Personally, I haven’t, up to this point at least, asked directly for money from others (except our supporting church… and only after they have asked us first). But I think it is ill-advised to generalize or moralize a rule regarding asking for money. I would like to suggest a middle ground of sorts.

  1. One should not set a universal rule regarding this issue. If one missionary has a conviction not to ask (directly) for financial support, that is fine. If another feels it is perfectly appropriate to ask , that is fine as well. I believe God can bless both and approve of both.
  2. One should always be careful about the sins of hubris and greed. Far too many have fallen because they began to choose money as their Master rather than God.
  3. Missionaries should ALWAYS be ready to express both needs and vision… regardless of their own opinion about asking directly for money.
  4. Missionaries should not be too quick to see money as distinctly different from other forms of resource support.
  5. Support should be linked more to partnership (building a relationship of joint work) with supporters rather than looking for cash cows. Missions may need money, but it needs people far more.
  6. All giving by Christians for God’s work should be given wisely. If that is so then missionaries should help others give wisely, not seek people to make rash, unwise decisions.

A good book that focuses on raising support (but not just in terms of money) is “People Raising:  A Practical Guide to Raising Support” by William Dutton. It was written in 1993 (not sure if there are updates), so it is a bit out of date due to technological changes… but many of its principles are still extremely valid.

Missions Starts in the Home

Missions is an educational pursuit.  Consider the verses Deut 6:4-9

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

I have no interest in trying to do a solid exegesis of this passage, but consider the wording and the imagery and see how it connects with a number of topics in eduction theory.  Consider the following:

Systems of Learning:

Feeling:   Love God with all your heart

Thinking:   Love God with all your soul (mind)

Doing:   Love God with all your strength

Modes of Learning:

Auditory:   Hear, O Israel, Talk about them

Visual:   Symbols, Write them

Tactile/Kinesthetic:   Impress them, tie them, bind them When                     sitting/walking

Learning Theories

Cognitive Information:  God is one. Talk about it. Memorize Commands.

Behavioral Behavior: Mark head, hands, and doors as reminders. Obey commands

Humanistic Feelings/Values: Change value system. Have individualized instruction and incorporate it with everyday behavior. Express Love.

The Christian educator needs to integrate knowledge, values, attitudes, skills in such a way that the learner will have a change of heart, head, and hands. Creative teaching is a must to reach out effectively to all learners. Use multi-media for instruction. Recognize that learning is not just knowledge, not just understanding, not just skills, but values and attitudes as well.

Money, Missions, and the Deadly Spiral

When one’s priority is to keep up with the expectations and values of those around you, it affects your time and money. You buy a bigger house and a nicer car (or two cars). You involve yourself more expensive recreations and social functions. These put you in debt and fill up your time. To keep up with the cost of your lifestyle you may need to work longer hours or even pick up a second job. If married, you may find that both of you need to work outside of the house. You see less of your kids so you spend more money on them to ease your conscience. These put further constraints on your finances and your time. You would like to give to God’s work. You would like to serve God, but you don’t have the time or money now. Maybe someday. It is a spiral of cluttered lives, all focused on meeting a cultural standard… not God’s standard.

The Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” Prosperity doctrines commonly say that God blesses with wealth those He loves. But the Bible describes many of those who God blesses with poverty. Money is not really the issue, it is one’s focus on God. Money can give one independence and opportunities, or it can be a huge burden that limits you actions. Much of that is based on priority.

To be proactively available, one must use one’s money (whether poor or rich) to increase freedom not decrease it.

  • Poor use of money can lead to pride (Proverbs 30: ). That can lead to ruin (Proverbs ).
  • Money can tempt one into new forms of evil. A certain amount of poverty does keep some without self-control from fully yielding to their vices.

To work towards financial and temporal freedom, one has to do several things:

  • Refocus one’s priorities toward God.
  • Control your vices. I define vices as habits that eat up time and money. They are not wrong of themselves, but can lead to evil.  Whether one believes alcohol is wrong in itself, it certainly becomes wrong when it leads to loss of control—physical and financial. Likewise, collecting comic books is not bad of itself, but also becomes bad when it begins to gain control of one’s time and money.
  • Simplify one’s life. Focus on what is most important and do it. We are each given 168 hours a week. Take out a generous amount of time for sleep and the hours you have left are what you have to live your life. Don’t get bogged down in things that don’t really matter. Dump things that complicate life. Leave behind habits that clutter your life. As Ben Franklin said, “If you love life, then love time. For time is the stuff that life is made of.”
  • Dump debt. Some Christians will tell you that debt is inherently wrong. They will go to passages like in Proverbs that say, “Owe no man anything.” I would say that if you are paying your debts according to an agreed schedule, then you, indeed, owe no man anything. However, debt is a burden that must be dealt with. If you do not control it, it will control you. Debt that invests in the future (such as a business loan or a school loan) may be profitable at times. A credit card can help in minimizing the need for carrying a great deal of cash on travel. However, debt is often caused by frivolous desires and bad priorities. It more often hinders your availability.
    • Shed all high interest loans.
    • Pay off credit cards monthly. If you have a credit card, have one that does not have special fees or usage requirements.
    • Car loans and house mortgages are a fact of American life. But try to pay down these loans at least to the point where you could sell your car or house easily for enough money to pay off your debt and have some money afterwards.
    • Keep your assets somewhat liquid. If you say to God, “I will go wherever you want me to go, whenever you want me to be there” but your assets are tied up in things that keep you from going anywhere anytime soon, you have made your statement a lie.
    • Save. Don’t save to hoard, or to blow on some big, new, frivolous thing. Save to maximize you ability to take advantage of the opportunities that God makes available to you for service. Some money should be put towards retirement (not all service to God has a good pension plan). Some should be kept available for use as God gives opportunity now. Savings is ultimately an investment.
    • Give. This is not the antithesis of Saving. It is the reverse of the Deadly Spiral. If our priorities are to meet false standards and priorities, we spin out of control in an orgy of wasted money and frenzied activity. If we recognize that we are stewards of God’s gifts, we look at money as investment in God’s kingdom. That means we save some as an investment in the future God has for us. That means we give some now back to God. That is not a legalistic thing. Ignore artificial standards of good giving. God loves a cheerful giver. Having the right view of money helps one be cheerful. Give to the church, give to the needy. God blesses those who give. But I am not convinced that God blesses those who give to be blessed by God. Those who cannot give cheerfully of their money, are not likely to give cheerfully of their time to God.

It is a falsehood to say you will go anywhere God wants you to go at any time, if you have not prepared yourself to do it.

 

Missions and Government

We have certainly seen the challenges of having too close of a friendship between Church and Civil Government. In the US, it shows itself in strange ways:

-Tax-exempt status for religious organizations (including churches) is related to not taking sides in elections. It seems strange that churches think it is acceptable to disconnect themselves from such a major part of life. On the other hand, churches in the Philippines are allowed promote candidates and often perpetuate the naive belief that electing people of a somewhat similar theology means electing a good leader (I think we have more than ample evidence to the contrary).

-Marriage. It has been the error of American churches to connect the Christian rite of marriage with the legal status also called marriage set up by civil government. In the redefinitions of marriage and divorce in US civil code, much of the tension that is occurring seems to flow from the idea that if the US government accepts a new definition for marriage, the church must (again naively) adapt itself to it. Now in the Philippines, this feeling is not as strong. Because of the unusual laws the Philippines has in some aspects, many churches make allowances that deviate from civil society.

-Some groups try to solve this by developing a concept of separation of church and state. In practice, this appears often to mean the “marriage” of secularism (an unorganized “faith” with many characteristics of a religion) with state. There is a question whether one can truly “divorce” civil government from religion. Maybe such attempts simply create a new state religion.

One could go on and on, but why?  This is about Missions and Government. The relationship has long been a challenge. At times, such as in the time of William Carey, government opposed missions because it might “make the natives restless”. At other other extreme (such as in Spanish colonization) there was often a “cross and sword” form of missions.

Today, many of the challenges still remain, although in few cases (outside of perhaps some officially Islamic countries) does government actively support missions of any faith. The challenges remain.

1.  In some nations, missions is illegal. In a few, even being a national Christian is illegal. Yet in these nations, Christian missions exist, Christian missionaries work undercover… illegally. Nationals are led to Christ and discipled… illegally. Historically, some countries would not allow the Holy Bible to be printed or brought into the country. Many countries still provide great hindrances to this. Christians would take on the role of smuggler. Are Christian missionaries justified to break civil law?

2.  In pretty much all countries where Christian missions is allowed, rules are set up to limit or guide missions work. This includes missionary visas, and rules regarding reporting and conduct of non-government organizations and churches. Violation of these rules can result in pulling of visas and licenses. Some missionaries believe that anything the promotes their short-term agenda is good even if it results in government repercussions. Others work very closely with the government even when it means hugely limiting their work.

What is the answer? I don’t know. I believe in testing the extremes.

Extreme #1. The government is rejected as a source of guideline and constraint for Christian missions. This appears to be be wrong. First, the Bible shows missions commonly occurring with some concern about government rules. God’s rules are given preeminence, but not to the negation of government authority. One can look at Jesus’ acceptance of civil authority (with some strong caveats) as well as that of Paul (including, of course, Romans 13). Second, whether one likes it or not, civil government is able to enforce some level of constraint whether one rejects these constraints or not.

Extreme #2.  The government has full authority. The church and Christian missionaries can only act on their God-given mission only to the extent that civil government graciously grants such permission. This appears to absolutize Romans 13 to the extent that a hierarchy of power is provided with no divine check or balance. However, one role of religious institutions and people in the Bible is prophetic reform. That is, to be the voice, hands, and feet of God in opposing evil and promoting good. The government’s right to crush this role must be opposed. This is even more true if the government is the source of that evil.

If the extremes are flawed, the truth should be somewhere between these points. Just as there is no solid systematic theological foundation for missions, there appears to be inadequate theological structure for the relation between the institutions of the church and civil government. (In truth, we are not alone. Speaking with some Muslims, it is clear that many or most of their understanding of this relationship is simplistic and inconsistent as well. Perhaps even more so.)

But we need to get a better grasp on this issue to effectively be light and salt in this world.