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.