Missions in Samaria

Acts 1:8 speaks of missions outreach beginning in Jerusalem and expanding to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Of course, this statement simply could be looked at as descriptive… what has actually happened in missions. Additionally, it could be looked at as thematic… providing the structure for the book of Acts. One can also look at this passage as prescriptive… providing a structure for missions. If the last of these was the case, one could say that missions exists as:

Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palest...
Samaritan group ca 1900. Image via Wikipedia

-Jerusalem. Local or E-1 missions

-Judea and Samaria. Regional or E-2 missions

-Ends of the earth. International/cross-cultural or E-3 missions

If one looks at these places as describing different types of missions, it DOES affect how mission work is done. Some missionaries in the Philippines taught local people that Jerusalem was family, Judea/Samaria was neighbors, and ends of the earth is regional outreach. 30 years later, the churches planted by these missionaries still don’t see value in international missions.

But if we see Acts 1:8 as prescriptive, not merely descriptive or thematic, should one separate between Judea and Samaria? Both are regional. The obvious difference is that Judea was populated by people that the Apostles would be fairly comfortable with. Samaria, however, was populated with people who were not appreciated. The term Samaritan was used not only to describe people from Samaria, but also “bad” Jews. Jews disliked the Samaritans as a group but tended to deal with them by ignoring them.

Perhaps we look at Samaria as describing the people near us that we ignore. Perhaps they are ignored because we have stereotyped them. Maybe because we don’t appreciate their qualities. Maybe because we don’t understand them… or are made uncomfortable by them.

Often Christians are not good at recognizing their own Samaria. It’s logical. If Christians thought about them, they wouldn’t be Samaritans to them.

In Baguio City (where I live) a number of church leaders have told me that they wanted to reach out to the upper classes… the professionals in the community because they are ignored. While I might agree that Evangelical churches here have typically targeted the most responsive group, the working poor, the professional class clearly isn’t Samaria to them. If it was, churches would not be targeting them. Internationals are not the Samaria in Baguio. Many Internationals are specifically targeted by churches in outreach.

To me, there are two fairly obvious Samaritan groups in Baguio. One of them is the Muslim groups that have moved up to Baguio from Southern Philippines. I have heard a number of local Christians talk about how “the Muslims” are trying to take over Baguio. Having spoken to the head imam here in Baguio a few years back, it is true that they are training up dozens of young men with hopes that they will spread their faith in Northern Luzon. However, most of the Muslim families who have moved to Baguio have come to improve their economic status and to avoid the violence of Southern Philippines, not “take over” Baguio. When local Christians fear and distrust a group, they get ignored. Strangely, the few who do reach out to the Muslims in Baguio, often find them surprisingly responsive.

A second group that is often ignored by Christians in Baguio are the night entertainers (or “GROs”). These include, but are not limited to prostitutes. While some mission groups reach out to them, churches are quite uncomfortable with them, because of job, behavior, psychospiritual problems, and (often) appearance. It is hard for Christians to accept people without affirming their behavior. A third group are the desperately poor.  The desperately poor often provide a drain (financially) on a church so they are not sought out.

I am not picking on Christians in Baguio. Every church has its Samaria. I am blind to groups myself. I wouldn’t know who they are… or they would not be blind to me. American churches tend to be blind to illegal immigrants. They may talk about illegal immigrants in negative stereotypes, but what about reaching out to them to help them and integrate them into the church?

All Christians (definitely myself included) need to consider who and where is their Samaria.

Historiography and Missions

How does one’s view of history affect… well… pretty much everything?

This is not self-evident. I come from the United States where there is a lack of emphasis on history. Of course in elementary and high school, “History” classes were replaced by “Social Studies.” I don’t mind “Social Studies”… sociology and cultural anthropology are both very important. But I still remember that a number of my fellow classmates in Social Studies class did not know which came first– the American Revolutionary War or the American Civil War (despite the fact that one could figure it out by logic alone). But even in the US, people are affected by their view of history. Americans tend to be Progressivists. This term is used many different ways, but in this case it means that history can be seen essentially as linear and getting better over time. As such, the future is seen as more important and more interesting than the past. A politician can often get elected by stating, in many different ways and forms, “America is great now, and getting better.”

But the American way of looking at the world is not the only way. People picture history different ways. Here are a few of them.

1.  Circular/cycle. Traditionally, many see history in terms of cycles. Cycle of life, cycle of seasons, cycle of dynasties. This view tends to show the world as not making long-term changes. History keeps returning to its starting point.Ancient peoples commonly saw history in terms of cycle. But of course, it is not just ancient peoples. Many still do today, such as the Hindu view of history. This view is unlikely to go away. After all, some aspects of time clearly have a cyclic form to it. Birth maturation, death.  revolution and rotation of the earth, seasons, phases of the moons, all have a circular aspect to them

2. Linear. Often the Judeo-Christian viewpoint has been seen as the source of the linear view of history. Things change and transition from a beginning, to a middle, and eventually to an end. Related to this would be a progressive viewpoint (the world is getting better) and a regressive viewpoint (the world is getting worse).

3.  A combination of the circular and the linear could result in a helical structure. The world (clearly) undergoes important cycles but there are long-term changes that are linear. One could add a progressive or regressive slant to the helix to show the feeling that there is still a trending towards the better or worse. A traditional Marxist view of History sees class struggle in cycles but with the inevitability of progress.

4.  Another view could be the paradigmatic view. That is that things trend in one direction until a game-changing event occurs and history goes in a new direction. In Christian circles, events like Pentecost, the Edict of Milan, and the 95 Theses might be seen as events that set in motion a new paradigm. Similar to this is the view of history as a series of eras.

5. Grand narrative. Some can see history as part of a grand narrative or unifying story. Within Christian circles, the eschatological history would fit into this. Paradise – Paradise lost – Building of conflict and tension leading to the climax of Christ’s resurrection- Working out of the resolution – Paradise Restored. However, other groups can have their own grand narratives. Muslims have one, as well as Marxists.

6.  Conflict. One can see history in terms of grand-scale conflict, be it Zoroastrian dualism, Huntington’s clash of civilizations, or Marx (again) in clash of social classes. In less violent terms, one can see it in terms of dialectic conflict (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). Or one can see things like Chaos theory’s Lorenz Attractor, where order and apparent chaos interact through cycles of behavior with respect to “strange attractors.”

Lorenz Attractor

7.  Man versus Machine. Some hold to the “Great men” theory of history. Individuals come along and change the world. At the other extreme, history can be seen as the result of sociological processes outside of the control of individual people. An extreme of this would be the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

There are more, but this seems like a fine place to stop. The question is, does one’s historical perspective affect one’s mission work?  I believe so. Missions in the early 20th century was influenced by a post-milleniallist doctrine that was linked strongly to a progressivist linear, even triumphalistic, view of history. The world is getting better and better, and we are civilizing and Christianizing the world to let others enjoy the benefits of this progress. As we know, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and “The Bomb” (among other things) dampened this view. Civilizing the populace no longer seemed like such an important part of mission work.

I was raised in a church that tended to see history in a regressivist linear manner (with a Christian grand narrative overlaying it). The world is falling apart and getting worse and worse. This will continue until things get so bad that Christ must come and restore Paradise. If the ship is doomed to sink, there is no point in trying to plug holes and fix the engine. The only thing worth doing is getting people into the lifeboats. Social ministry, sadly, is often hurt by a regressive linear view.

Some branches of Christianity focus on great personages… whether they be popes, saints, apostles, healers, or televangelists. Assuming that “great men” are the ones that get things done and create change, how might that affect how these groups do missions?

These are just a few examples, but which is the best viewpoint? I have been told that the linear view of history is “the Christian view.” But is it? The Bible is full of emphasis on cycles. Perhaps focus on eschatological history is the most Christian, but there is the risk of making the time we live in as unimportant… just filler until Christ returns. I have read Christian church history and Christian missions history viewed paradigmatically… but is that more accurate, or over-simplified? Perhaps many views of history are important, and may be consistent with Christian thought.

Finally, what do missionaries do when they meet people from other cultures with a different view of history. American missionaries are often progressivists… optimists. Many cultures are not so. Does having a different view of history from respondents adversely affect one’s mission work? Must missionaries convert the local culture to their historical perspective? Does a missionary need to change his/her historical viewpoint (or at least act like it) to be effective?

Good questions, I think… but few answers, from me at least.


The Cross and the Sword? Part II

“… all who were not baptized must receive the rite within a month, that those who declined to comply should be banished from the company of Christians, that any who relapsed into paganism should be reduced to slavery, that pagan worship was to cease, that such Christian practices as monogamy were to be adopted, that churches were to be built, that the neophytes must attend church on Sundays and feast days, that provision must be made for the support of the clergy, and that the converts must observe the Lenten fast, make their confessions to a priest at least once a year, and partake of the Communion at Easter.”  A description of a treaty between Teutonic Knights in the 12th Century and conquered pagan Prussians. Quote of K.S. Latourette. ( in A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill, London: Penguin Books, 1990), pg 95

The above quote seems strange today. Most of us, I assume, are uncomfortable with the idea of forced conversion.  Probably a majority of us would be uncomfortable with the idea that adjusting rules and lifestyles counts as genuine conversion anyway. But into the late 1700s (and later in some other places) many “Christian” countries felt that faith could be legislated and tied to territory. Even today, places like Saudi Arabia and the Maldives still hold this viewpoint.

However, in the 12th century, this was not such a strange thing. The heads of the Holy Roman Empire and   Roman Catholic church had granted the Teutonic Knights (The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem) rights to conquer Prussia and later Lithuania. The goals were territorial, political, and religious. We see in these wars the problem of combining religious and monetary motivations, without religious ethics. It creates a desire, all too much based on power, glory, and wealth, to kill and destroy in the name of God.

Missiologically, the missions were highly successful. Prussia and Lithuania were effectively “Christianized” and Christianity (Prostestantism in Prussia/Germany and Roman Catholicism in Lithuania) remain the dominant religions in these countries to this day (if one ignores the religious aspects of Secularism). A similar tactic failed (missiologically, at least) in the Holy Land Crusades. There are fairly obvious reasons why. The European campaigns were against nearby tribes lacking cohesion. The Holy Land Crusades were far more distant, and, while the leaders in the Middle East had long since ceased to be highly united, they were less fragmented than the tribes in Northern Europe.  Additionally, Animism (unless one considers Hinduism as a highly diverse and structured form of Animism) has not fared very well intellectually against Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, while still retaining some Arabian tribal animistic thought, is made more intellectually cohesive utilizing certain Jewish and Christian elements in its teachings. As such it was more resilient than most animistic belief structures. The Inquisition was used effectively to root out more durable faith systems in places like Spain, but it took longer.

Okay… why am I talking about this. Am I suggesting that we should return to this form of missions (“cross and sword” or gunboat missions)? Absolutely not. THE POINT IS THAT NUMERICAL SUCCESS IS NOT NOT NOT A GOOD JUDGE OF MISSION METHODS.

I have come across too many methods and missionaries who do mission work, where justification for what is done is “It Works.” Doing evil CAN be missiologically effective. Doing long-term harm CAN be short-term successful. Creating a group of people financially dependent on the church or missions group will create numerical success (as long as the money flow remains) but is that good missions?

My goal is not to have all missionaries doing the same thing. I believe that Christian missions is (and should be) methodologically broad. But I recall a story from 20+ years ago of a church that rented a gymnasium and invited people there for Friday night fun. When everyone was in the room, they chained the doors shut and began intense evangelism.  I never spoke to the church. I am sure they saw things differently. But the community saw it as tantamount to kidnapping and imprisonment. Some people say, “If only one person comes to Christ, this,” whatever this may be, “was worth it.” But you know… that’s not true. If you have created hate in a community and have driven people away from Christ, the cost is too great.

Christian missions (and the Christian church) really needs to evaluate what we do and how we do it, to ensure we are in line with the will and character of God. Quantitative success is no success at all without this.


The Trinity in the Great Commission

I recall back in 1984, the first time I had bumped into the argument over Baptism… specifically whether one should baptize in the name of Jesus Christ or in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” It is amazing at how intense the emotions rise in some people on an issue that seems… well… fairly trivial to me. Of course, for those who believe in a modalistic theology, I suppose I could see why it might be an issue. However, for those of us with an orthodox Trinitarian view of God, I fail to see why one should get stressed. But some do. Some argue that the Trinitarian formulation in Matthew was a later redaction (editing). I wouldn’t know… but I can’t really see that as the case.

Jesus Sending Forth His Apostles

But it got me thinking about looking at the Great Commission from the perspective of the Trinity. The following are 4 of the major recordings of the Great Commission (I am not including the Mark passage since it (curiously) does not explicitly mention God.)

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
 “This is what is written, the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” Luke 24:46-49
“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me. I also send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-23
“It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8  (All passages in CSB version)

Looking at these passages, consider the prominence of each member of the Godhead…

  1. God the Father:  1 in Matthew, 1 in Luke, 1 in John, and 2 in Acts
  2. God the Son:  3 in Matthew, 3 in Luke, 2 in John, and 1 in Acts
  3. God the Holy Spirit: 1 in Matthew, 1 in Luke, 1 in John, and 1 in Acts

Now, suppose one combines these points into a Great Commission relating each of us to the Godhead. We might get something like this:

We are to be:

  •           Empowered by the Holy Spirit, promised by the Father, and sent by the Son
  •           Made confident by presence of the Son, sent by the Father
  •           Accepting our calling from the Son to go into the world.
  •           Giving the message of God to others
  •           Being witnesses of Christ
  •           Baptizing believers in the name of the Triune God
  •           Training up people in the teachings of Christ
  •           Doing all of this until the end, as decreed by the Father

To me, this is not a bad description of our calling based on the Great Commission. It also has the benefit of not being unbalanced in our relationship with God.

Theology in a Cartoon

This cartoon I got from the following article, The Hubris of “Normative” Theology, listed below.
It points out the problem of people thinking that after 2000 they finally got theology right. Of course, I am not suggesting a complete relativizing of theology. But to assume that one theological stance is correct and everyone and everything else is wrong is doubtful.

One way groups, who want to feel superior in their theology but don’t want to appear to appear to be  recent innovations, is to suggest that they are a return to “old truth.” Many groups of all flavors do this. I am Baptist and Landmarkism sought to show the “trail of blood” of Baptists all the way back to the Twelve (and some even say to John the Baptist). Pentecostals claim to rediscover the NT church. Apostolic churches and the “ancient” churches seek to find a link back to St. Peter or one of the other apostles. Even groups that drift further afield from Historic Christianity do this. Both Mormons and JWs believe they are a return to a church that disappeared shortly after Jesus ascended.

Ultimately, the body image of denominations and theology in the article listed above seems to hold some merit. I have no interest in the experiential/emotional form of religion of many groups (and its accompanying theology), nor in the heavily pietistic or contemplative. That doesn’t mean they have no place in Christ’s kingdom, but they should not deny my place in that kingdom either. I do believe that some theologies are so divergent from God’s revelation that they cannot be looked at as being Christian… but we need to be open to a bit of “Generous Orthodoxy” (from Brian McLaren) in areas that were the dividing line between the orthodox and the heterodox is not so clear.

Related Article:

  • The Hubris of Normative Theology? (globaltheology.org)
  • Missions Mentoring

    I’ve been reading “The Fine Art of Mentoring: Passing on to Others What God has Given to You”by Ted W. Engstrom (1989). It got me thinking regarding mentoring in the context of missions. Engstrom talks about three types of mentor relationships. He speaks of them in relation to St. Paul.

    Paul with Siconius and Timothy

    1. Barnabbas Relationships. This is the “classic mentor.” Paul was trained, empowered, and encouraged by Barnabbas to serve as a missionary (apostle). Later on the two of them split, where Barnabbas trained, empowered, and encouraged John Mark, and Paul did the same with Silas. The split between Barnabbas and Paul may have been unfortunate in that it was handled poorly. However, maturing of this sort of relationship and reproduction of new relationships is healthy.

    2.  Timothy Relationships. This is the “classic protege’.” Every learning person can and should be a teaching person. Just as Timothy was mentored by Paul, Timothy was to mentor “faithful men” in his church.

    My wife is a clinical pastoral counselor, and supervises clinical pastoral training (CPE). This is essentially a mentoring role. However, in CPE, to supervise means one has to be under supervision. In other words, to be a mentor, one has to have a mentor. It’s a good idea.

    3.  Epaphroditus Relationships. One’s mentor is usually older and one’s protege’ is usually younger, but one should also learn and grow with peers. The Proverbs reference of “iron sharpening iron” is relevant here. Paul described Philemon in terms of equals,

    • dear friend

    • fellow worker

    • loving brother

    • partner

    Yet Paul seeked to guide Philemon and seeked help from Philemon. Recognizing another as an equal should not mean that one believes there is nothing to learn from that person. In fact, accountability is important as well as sharing insights.

    All three relationships are part of the mentoring experience. In fact, one really should be learning from mentors, but also from proteges and peers.

    Unfortunately, churches and the mission field are often not good at this. Some organizations set up “accountability partners” or disciplers. However, a true mentor is more personal. A good mentor shares a basic philosophy of life with you, and in some ways is a model of who you want to be. It requires chemistry, not just mandate.

    There are many people I respect, yet I do not share a philosophy of life or ministry with. There are many I think are doing well what God has called them to do, yet are not doing something that I would desire to emulate.

    In the end, I guess in missions, I don’t want to see formal “mentoring programs.” That is because mentors are too tied to one’s personality and individual calling, to be fit into a programmatic structure. What I would like to see is a cultural change, where mentoring relationships are encouraged and cultivated in church and mission communities.

    It’s a challenge, and I am not sure when and if this will happen. I am not even sure how comfortable I would be in that sort of culture. I am, admittedly, a task-driven person, and a strong 3-level mentoring community needs people-oriented members. But I think that all would gain from an intentional mentoring climate. Within the missions realm, I have had probably three people who could be described as my mentors. One of them no longer is… but the other two still are to some extent. Distance communications of today allow mentoring for even solo missionaries in remote locations. I would hate to think where any missionary would be without good mentors.

    Tago Ng Tago Theology

    Theology is the bridge linking God’s unchanging revelation with man’s changing situation. As such, theology changes with time and location. Therefore, I really don’t get too impressed with people who describe themselves as Calvinist, Arminian, Pentecostal, or other theologies that fit a moment in the past… but are not necessarily connected to the present.

    Bamboo Pipe Organ. Las Pinas, Philippines

    The title of this post is “Tago Ng Tago” Theology. “Tago ng tago” loosely translates from Tagalog as “be in hiding” or “always hiding.”  The term describes Filipinos who went overseas (OFW) to work , but did not leave when they were supposed to. Therefore, they live as illegals hiding in that country. This is a major part of the Filipino self-identity (in my mind) with over 10% of Filipino nationals living overseas in one form or another. The Filipino dream is to raise up a child to get a job overseas and send money home. There is perhaps no other country on earth so international… so globally minded as the Philippines.

    It seems strange that despite the strong place Christianity has in the Philippines, there is little real Filipino theology (within orthodox Christianity at least). In the past, there has been some original theology done by Catholic theologians in the Philippines, especially linked to martial law, but not much since. Most theology in the Philippines (again, not counting heterodox works) simply borrows from outsider works. Innovation seems to be more in line with switching who one borrows from. I am not Filipino, so it is not my place to say what good Filipino theology should be. But here are some things to think about. First think about a couple of other theologies…

    1.  Mestizo Theology. This is a Latin American Theology and looks at Jesus as one who bridges the gap, in like manner to the way the Mestizo bridges the gap between the people in charge and the people oppressed. Some focus on Jesus not merely as a Jew, but a Galilean Jew. As such, He is an outsider… disenfranchised. One can see how this might resonate with many Latin Americans today.

    2.  Dalit Theology. The Dalit are the people of India held down by caste. Jesus is the Liberator, the One who speaks good news to the poor and downtrodden. God leading His people from the oppressors in Egypt to take them to the promised land is important to their understanding of Him.

    So, if one looked at the TNT (or more generally, the OFW, overseas foreign worker) phenomenon, is there something in God’s revelation that would be resonant to the Filipino Diaspora?  Here are a few passages that would seem to me to be relevant.

    a.  Abraham. Abraham was called to leave his home to a place of God’s leading. This place may be looked at as Promised Land, but it was also a place of struggle, fearing death from local governments, owning no land except to bury his wife. Yet He was called upon to trust God and trust that following Him would lead to ultimate blessing and being a blessing to others.

    b.  Joseph. Forced to leave his people, he was compelled to work for strangers. But God ultimately remembered him, blessed him and gave him the opportunity to be a blessing to his family.

    c.  Moses… a stranger in a strange land. He also was forced to leave his people and live in the desert for many years. Yet because of His decision to follow God wherever He led, Moses was ultimately successful in freeing his family and people from slavery.

    d. Exodus. The people of Israel sought the promised land, yet were forced to struggle in the wilderness, living by faith and hope for the next generation.

    e. Babylonian captivity. Judah singing songs by the rivers of Babylon, praying to once again see Zion.

    f. Jesus. Jesus, citizen of heaven, lived in obscurity in a hostile land. Sought by the government, He had to hide in Egypt and was later rejected in Nazareth. He had to spend much of His ministry in Galilee, because of trouble with political and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Not understood and not appreciated– ultimately, He was captured by the government and killed as a seditionist.

    It seems to me that seeing Christ as one who left behind all to do what He needed to do in an unforgiving foreign land (for His family) relates well with the TNT experience. The Filipino experience in this setting is one of SUFFERING, ALIENATION, MARGINALIZATION and HOPE. So little of the imported theology connects with that situation here.

    The term “tago ng tago” seems to fit the role of many global Filipinos, even those that are not illegal status. The term suggests, in a general sense:

    -Being foreign or in foreign territory

    -Being either unwanted, or ignored.

    The ignored is also important. In places like the USA, where over 2 million Filipinos reside legally, they are often ignored as a people group, because their appearance is not highly distinctive, and their family names are often confused with Latin Americans. The sense of being foreign and ignored (hidden, not in hiding) can be a great challenge for many Filipinos. In other places, like Hong Kong, many Filipinos work legally but are considered inferior because they do the jobs that legal residents there consider “beneath them.” Many others live and work in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most racially and religiously bigoted places on earth. The strange sense of being foreign, needed, and yet not valued, is a difficult challenge.

    Within this sort of model, Jesus is more than one who has experienced the same things that many Filipinos go through. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd risking His life to save the lost/hidden sheep. Jesus is the man who purchases the field to find the hidden treasure. Jesus is the forgiving father who welcomes home the son who went away. Jesus is the one who creates a new family, a new home, a new hiding built on a sure foundation.

    <Note… I am not discussing the morality of living illegally in a foreign country… I am discussing its reality>

    Anyway… some things to think about. Maybe someone else can think more about it. I don’t think my background or talent will allow me to go beyond vague thoughts.  For some general thoughts on Asian Theology, see This Article.

    Learning Missions and Growing

    Classroom 010
    Image via Wikipedia

    “Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless s/he is a very exceptional teacher. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes one to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.”  – Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

    While I certainly disagree with Bertrand Russell on many things, this is a good quote. In missions this is very true. It is amazing at how much disagreement and questionable teaching there exists in missions education. As one starts being trained in missions, one starts out simply soaking in the wisdom of others. However, as one progresses (especially as tempered by experience) one’s attitude should change to being more critical. I have come to greatly respect some missiologists, while have high doubt of some others… including some of the top missiologists within the Evangelical tradition. Does that mean that I am right and they are wrong? Of course not. In fact, I may find myself reversing myself later.

    The point is not to always be right… but always seeking what is right… or at least the best among ambivalent options.

    I guess, if I write down the missiologists (or ministry leaders/church leaders/theologians that speak to missiology) that speak to me in my understanding of mission– a snapshot of the moment– I would include:

              -John R. W. Stott

              -Roland Allen  (I used to feel otherwise… I changed my mind)

              -St. Barnabbas (the Barnabbas from the Bible)

              –David Bosch

              -Paul Hiebert

              -Glenn Schwartz

              -Reggie MacNeil

              -Bryant Myers

             -Stan Rowland

    As time goes on, I am sure the list will grow, and will shrink. I won’t list those that I don’t feel have value… or those in which I feel have a more mixed record. That list very well may change as well. I feel like (living in the 2/3 world) and seeing the explosion of 2/3 world missions, that I should include missiologists who are not from the Western world. I really don’t have anyone yet (I guess I could add Samuel Escobar and Lamin Sanneh to my favorites list… maybe I should… they certainly have important things to say).  My tendency to focus on Western missiologists may be because of my missions training (which was done here in the Philippines but mostly using materials that came from the West). Some of it may come from the general lack of introspection and evaluation that I feel I see in 2/3 world missions (often repeating the mistakes made by Western missionaries 50 years ago). Maybe I am just biased (being a “Westerner”).

    Regardless, I hope to not take my own views too seriously. I am one of my teachers for the future me. I should not fall so in love with my own views that I am not open to learn and grow.

    No one should take me that seriously either……

    Missiological Implications of the Symbolic Understanding of the Lord’s Supper

    Image via Wikipedia

    This article is related to another one that looks at the missiological implications of the symbolic understanding of baptism. A look at the function and structure of symbols is shown there as well.

    <Note: Like with baptism, I take a more Baptist understanding of the Lord’s Supper (or Communion or Eucharist). Thus I understand baptism as primarily symbolic rather than sacramental. The doctrines of transubstantiation and consubstantiation are part of a number of Christian traditions, but the symbolic view, strictly followed, sees the blood and body of Christ related to the bread and wine by metaphor only. However, I think most all Christians would agree that there is a strong symbolic aspect to the Lord’s Supper. As such, hopefully there are thoughts here worthy of consideration by all. But since the Lord’s Supper, along with Baptism, is one of the biggest divisive issues in the Christian faith, I cannot promise you will find this edifying. Also, since experts have argued over this stuff for centuries, don’t expect to be “wow’d” by this post. Just some thoughts to think about.>

    The Lord’s Supper has its roots in the Passover Meal. Unleavened bread and three or four cups of wine were part of the meal. The Passover meal pointed back to the blood sacrifice of the lamb prior to the Exodus. Jesus’ is described as the lamb of God, and the institution of the Lord’s Supper with Passover appears to be quite intentional. So one symbolic purpose is:

    1. A remembrance of Jesus as the redeemer of His people.

    But it does not appear that Jesus and the early Church limited itself to only this symbolic understanding. Some others include:

    1. Looking forward to the return of Christ. In fact the formula linked the past with the present and future. “Do in remembrance of Me” is linked to doing this proclaiming His death until He comes again.
    2. Shows our union with Christ and with each other. The eating of “blood” and “body” of Christ symbolizes this union with Christ, and doing it communally symbolizes the union of believers— often described as “the body of Christ.”
    3. God as provider. The symbolism of Christ as the bread of life and as living water (drink) show Jesus as one who takes care of our needs.
    4. Additionally, the Lord’s Supper is so intertwined with Christian history that our involvement connects us to fellow believers throughout history. As Islam may be drawn together by Ramadan and, to a lesser extent, the Hajj, Christians connect worldwide and through history by the Lord’s Supper.

    If one takes a symbolic look at the Lord’s Supper, how might that affect its practice within the missions setting?

    A. In the Cordilleras of the Northern Philippines, grapes are starting to be grown, and bread is available (although wheat must be imported). Wine and bread may have been the normal staples for 1st century Judea, but they are not that in the Cordilleras. The natural equivalents here could be coffee and kamote (yam). Another possibility might be bugnay wine and rice. Symbolically, switching makes a lot of sense. It does not hurt the symbolism… in fact, connecting it to normal staples makes clear the role of Christ as one who providess, even within a different cultural context. Perhaps the only area where the switch of ingredients harms is in the final one. The connection between the believers in the Cordilleras with Christians around the world and through time could be hurt by the change. This seems silly, but the use of unfermented grape juice by some Christians and the use of fermented grape juice has (strangely) led to divisions within the church (at least on an emotional level). So there is question on what is the ideal choice. But it seems clear to me that one should not be overly limiting in the components.

    B. Who can join in the Lord’s Supper? Tradition puts a great limitation on who can take communion. But even within groups that view the Lord’s Supper as symbolic, not sacramental, there is often still a great deal of limitations. Some limit communion to those within the local church (curiously, some of the great traditional leaders within my denomination were deeply committed to “closed communion.”) Others may allow for communion with people of other churches as long as they from churches within the same denomination, or of common faith (on some level). This gets touchy. The symbolism makes sense within the context of believers. So having non-believers join in the Lord’s Supper spoils the symbolism. However, rejecting fellow believers because of being a member of a different church or denomination (I am assuming theologically orthodox denominations) fails to fit the symbolism of union with Christ and fellow believers throughout the world and throughout time. Since the Bible tells us how we may know we are His children, but does not tell us how to know if others are believers, I believe we must be generous in determining who is eligible for Lord’s Supper. While it may be justifiable to hold off new believers from baptism somewhat until they understand the symbolism of the act, it seems to me the value of the union of believers through Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper suggests that rapid incorporation of the believer with the communion of believers through the Eucharist is appropriate.

    C. How should the Lord’s Supper be done. I was raised up with precut bread and grape juice in individual cups. Later on the church switched to precut wafers (because leavening at times symbolizes sin). Others share a common cup and common bread broken on the spot. Clearly, breaking bread is more historical, and the original unity of both cup and bread show Christ’s unity and the unity of the believers with each other better. On the other hand, the concern about disease has caused some to be worried about sharing a common cup. In the end, this is a matter of conviction. Having precut bread and separate cups does not destroy the symbolism… but it may be useful to find ways to show the unity. For example having separate cups but filled publically from the same ewer.

    D. Who can lead the Lord’s Supper and where can it be done. Sacramental understanding of the Eucharist leads to only a very limited number of people who can offer communion. In some places, adjustments are made (like on warships where lay people are trained to provided specially blessed bread and wine), but major limitations on who and where remain. Even where a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper exists, often it is felt that it must be offered by an ordained minister, served by that minister or by ordained deacons, and must be done in a traditional church setting. In the mission field there may be no ordained ministers, and the gathering of believers may be a small group in a house. If one holds to the symbolic understanding, the officiator and the server don’t really need to be ordained. Likewise, the place does not matter that much. What matters is that it is a community of believers. Of greater question would be whether there is value in doing the Lord’s Supper with one individual. With a sacramental understanding, it may be valuable to provide Eucharist for one. Symbolically, there are a couple of ways it could be looked at. On one side, the communal idea of the Eucharist is lost with serving on person. On the other hand, for shut-ins for example, serving Eucharist may help demonstrate that they are also part of the body of Christ.

    E.  How often to should Lord’s Supper be done. Within sacramental traditions, the Eucharist is done frequently. Priests may carry out Eucharist many times a day and laity are encouraged to attend frequently… even daily. With the symbolic understanding it does not need to be done as frequently… but how often. In truth, I don’t know. Sometimes there is a fear to do it too often because of Christ’s warning of “vain repetition.” But the key is the adjective “vain.” Repetition does not have to be vain. However, if the symbolism is not explained and reminded, the Lord’s Supper is likely to degenerate into vain repetition. I was in a church plant here in the Philippines where we did Lord’s Supper about once a year. Why? One reason may have been that many of the members came from a sacramental tradition, so there was fear that people were involved with the Lord’s Supper because it was thought to be a “dispenser of grace.” I think that the main reason was that the leadership (including myself) had lost the symbolic relevance of the Lord’s Supper so we did not value it. However, because of the significance of the Lord’s Supper (symbolically and historically), the end result was that we were too lazy to teach its appropriate role in the life of the church. So I don’t know the appropriate frequency, but clearly, the symbol of the Lord’s Supper must be taught and reminded. The educative value of the Eucharist should never be forgotten.

    I don’t suppose this answers much. However, I believe that in the mission field, flexibility is necessary but not so as to destroy the symbolic value of the Lord’s Supper. As with all symbols, it should link the meaning with