Below is a link to a nice review on the importance of historical theology. In Evangelical Circles (Baptist, Anabaptist, Conservative Evangelical,Pentecostal, Charismatic, etc.) there is a huge lack of historical theology. We tend often to fall into the trap of some other groups (Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc.) that try to connect themselves with the NT church and then ignore the next 1500, 1700, 1900 years of church history.
To truly understand who we are we need to see the Christian Faith through understanding God’s work in history. After all, a defining characteristic of the Christian (and Jewish) faith is the recognition of God working in history. That history does not stop in 95AD.
Of course, if Historical Theology is worthwhile to see God’s work in history, one should study Historical Missions Theology since it is equally important to see the Missio Dei in history.
Consider two different imaginary retail companies for a moment. The first company is Baguio Lighting Solutions (BLS). The other is Dagupan Lighting and Glass (DLG). Both companies want to sell lights of one form or another. But they have different methods to do so.
BLS is in a big building without windows. Sales people walk around downtown Baguio City and aggressively approach passers-by giving them flyers and telling them why they need to have proper lighting in their houses and lives. If people show interest, they are brought into the store and the lights are turned on to show their products.
DLG, on the other hand, is in a building with lots of windows. The lights are prominently displayed and, particularly at night, the beautiful lighting displays attract a great deal of interest. Salesmen apply less of a high-pressure approach but are always ready and able to talk about and show features of different lights to those who express interest.
Which method is better? Well, that is really hard to say. As far as selling lights, it could go either way. The hard-sell approach definitely works at times. Consider this the Proclamation approach. A lot of talk without much demonstration. On the other hand, the soft-sell approach also works at times… especially if the store is located in a good place. Consider this the Demonstration approach. A lot of demonstration with a little talk.
In Christianity, I believe that the Demonstration approach is the better approach. That is not to say that there is no Proclamation. Some have gone to extremes where a good Christian life is demonstrated with NO proclamation of God’s truth. This is not good. We need always to be able to answer questions regarding what we believe and who we trust (I Peter 3:15). But far too many go the other way. They go into the world sharing God’s truth while keeping the light of God’s love and care hidden “under a bushel”.
Let’s get back to the parable a bit. If both BLS and DLG can be successful with their individual methods, why should one choose one method over the other? I believe the answer is (in part) the number of people who are turned off by a method of proclamation without demonstration. In Christianity, expressing the Word of God without demonstrating the love of Christ looks AKE, CONTRIVED, SELF-SERVING.
It was interesting. I was planning to write this post and then saw a news item about Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow. Both are (although Kurt is retired) successful quarterbacks in American Football and both are committed and outspoken Christians. Tim often is clearly evangelical and evangelistic in his speech. That is great, but Kurt offered some advice. See “Super Bowl Hero Kurt Warner Gives a Little Spiritual Advice to Tim Tebow.” From this article, regarding Kurt,
I’d tell him (Tebow), ‘Put down the boldness in regards to the words, and keep living the way you’re living,” Warner told the Arizona Republic. “Let your teammates do the talking for you. Let them cheer on your testimony.”“I know what he’s going through,” Warner told the Republic, “and I know what he wants to accomplish, but I don’t want anybody to become calloused toward Tim because they don’t understand him, or are not fully aware of who he is. And you’re starting to see that a little bit.”
Proclamation is important but should (usually) follow a positive response to demonstration. Christian love should be demonstrated. It should be demonstrated in public, in private, in one’s head, heart, hands, and voice. Caring and serving others (as an expression of love for God and our fellow man) should be foundational to our proclamation… not an add-on.
Some consider social ministry as secondary or even counter-productive. But it is foundational to proclamation.
Added six more files to the Presentations Page. I should add more. But these are a good start. I added two on the area of learning theory, two in the area of Christian social ministry, and one on two on missions in the Philippines.
I have suggested before that Counter-cultural contextualization (to me at least at this moment) best describes proper missional contextualization of the Christian message. The goal is to contrast the Christian message to the surrounding culture, but without being “anti-culture.” Counterculture suggests a critical agency to use the culture, esteeming the good, while challenging that which is false.
Tied to this is the idea of the “subversive fulfillment” of symbols and cultural characteristics. The idea that the Gospel comes as “subversive fulfillment” of a culture was put forward by Hendrick Kraemer, where the Gospel fulfills the needs found in cultures while also challenge much of the worldview and underlying beliefs. The same can be said of symbols and concepts. The following is a quote by Willem A. Visser ‘t ‘Hooft in Accommodation: True or False (South East Asia Journal of Theology, 8, 3, January 1967, 5-18).
Key-words from other religions when taken over by the Christian Church are like displaced persons, uprooted and unassimilated until they are naturalised. The uncritical introduction of such words into Christian terminology can only lead to that syncretism that denies the uniqueness and specific character of the different religions and creates a grey relativism. What is needed is to re-interpret the traditional concepts, to set them in a new context, to fill them with biblical content. Kraemer uses the term ―subversive fulfillment‖ and in the same way we could speak of subversive accommodation. Words from the traditional culture and religion must be used, but they must be converted in the way in which Paul and John converted Greek philosophical and religious concepts.
Clearly there is the danger of failure to be subversive or counter-cultural. In this case, non-Christian concepts and symbols simply get a Christian veneer or label. On the other hand, failing to seek to fulfill culture creates a ghettoized faith. One is reminded of the Jehovah’s Witness religion where anything that is labelled as having “pagan roots” is rejected. Since almost everything has pagan roots at some point, one can quickly be straight-jacketed by such a principle. One is also reminded of some churches within the Church of Christ denominations who only allow behavior specifically commanded or explicitly permitted in the New Testament. Both viewpoints in the end tend to bless a specific culture, whether it be New Testament Greek Christian culture, or the culture of the founder of the religious movement. It is not always certain where good subversion starts and stops. For example, in the Philippines a long-standing cultural trait (as identified by some people at least) is “Passivity” or “Lack of Initiative.” I sometimes call this the “datu mentality.” A datu is a tribal or community leader who makes the decisions for the people and the people passively respond. So how does the Gospel provide subversive fulfillment in Filipino culture. Would the result support or attack this passivity? It is hard to say.
Here in the Philippines, a large religious group is known as INC (“Iglesia ni Christo”) which is founded in Christianity, although it has a heterodox Christology. The group definitely maintains the datu mentality with a very rigid hierarchy and power structure, with a highly compliant membership. Another group is the followers of Apollo Quiboloy. Claiming to be the “new” Son of God, he likewise maintains a structure consistent with the datu mentality. Among more orthodox groups, a somewhat popular church system here is known as “Government of 12” or G-12. It, likewise, maintains a rigid hierarchy, with a theology that maintains ecclesiastical and divine power centered at the top. While some of the teachings of this movement are certainly quirky, it is far more Evangelical than the other two mentioned. So is it good or bad or something in between? Using this example as a case, does subversive fulfillment of culture support or attack the datu mentality? I don’t know. Personally, I think it attacks it. Here is why:
a. The Bible does teach that each individual has direct access to God through Jesus, so there is no need for a religious datu, at least for the purposes of divine grace.
b. A passive membership with a strong central leadership has been found (in group dynamics) to produce groups that are less creative, less innovative, and more prone to corruption. Few would think this is a healthy result.
c. While the datu mentality is recognized as a Filipino characteristic, many Filipinos recognize it as a a problematic trait and a cultural weakness. Just like consumerism is commonly recognized by Americans as a cultural weakness, many cultures recognize areas that may be fulfilled through the change wrought by the Gospel of Christ.
So this is one opinion, but clearly many don’t feel this way. However, you can see the problem. When does the Gospel change the culture and when does it support a cultural trait? It is not, and should not be, easy. A nice article to read in this area of critical contextualization and subversive fulfillment is “Gospel, Culture, and Cultures: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Contribution” by Mike Goheen,
Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. While there is disagreement as to when this epistle was written we know it was quite early. Some place it back to around 130AD. Some place it closer to 200AD. I personally think that the parts of the epistle noting the newness of Christianity does suggest that it is an early document. However, the self-description of the unknown writer as being a disciple (“mathetes”) of the apostles does not necessitate an early date. Regardless, this is a very early understanding and apology of the Christian faith.However, I would like to look a part of this letter from the aspect of contextualization of faith. I believe Chapter 5 describes nicely what some would call “Critical Contextualization.”
CHAPTER 5For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life. Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers.Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh. Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor. They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect. Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility. (Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation)
What does this passage say about how Christians lived (culturally) at that time… or at least how they perceived themselves to live?
A. They were culturally similar to those around them. Christians:
Were not distinguishable from the populace in locality (no ghettoization or cloistering)
Were not distinguishable in speech (used the local dialects)
Were not distinguishable in customs (carried out normal lives like those around them)
Were similar to others in dress
Were similar to others in food
Were similar in “other arrangements of life”
Lived lives as responsible citizens of their respective countries and communities
Married and raised families like others
Obeyed local and regional laws
B. They also had cultural differences. Christians:
Saw themselves as sojourners, strangers wherever they live… citizens of heaven
Did not do things such as infanticide or sexual infidelity,
Sought to not just obey local laws, but to surpass them.
Blessed, respected, and loved others, and rejoiced in the face of persecution
Elsewhere in the epistle other differences are shown such as their rejection of idols. However, it is pretty clear that the early Christians felt that true Christianity was lived out in the culture around them. They appeared to follow a “critical contextualization”:
That which is clearly evil in the culture (based on Christ and the apostles) is rejected
That which is virtuous in the culture is followed, and even surpassed
That which is not clearly evil becomes part of the culture of the local Christians
Love is the guide in areas of doubt
I believe as missionaries and as Christians, we see a desire to separate ourselves from the culture around us on one side and another tendency to be culturally indistinguishable from the surrounding culture. I believe this early church writing clearly has something here for us today.
Ecclesiastes 3:3 states that there is “a time to tear down, and a time to build up.”
At first glance this seems trivial, a statement of the obvious. But there is a deep truth within this simple statement. The key point is not knowing about building or tearing down, but knowing what time it is.
The Bible speaks favorably of the leaders who know what time it is. In I Chronicles 12:32, it speaks well of one group.
“And of the children of Issachar, there were two hundred chiefs, men who had expert knowledge of the times and what it was best for Israel to do, and all their brothers were under their orders. “
WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS.
One of the great stories in the Bible was the building of the wall in Jerusalem. The wall had been torn down by the Babylonians decades before. For about 120 years the walls remained torn down. But then along came Nehemiah and recognized that it was time to build up the walls of Jerusalem again. The enemy surrounded them, hemmed them in, even lived among them. It was time to build the wall to protect them from this enemy. They built the wall in just 52 days. It was an amazing accomplishment. If you read Nehemiah chapter 4, you will find an incredible story of how the wall was built. Men and women from all walks of life stopped everything else they were doing to come together to build the wall. They took turns resting for progress to go on continuously, and kept swords nearby to so that the enemy could not stop the work.
There is a time to tear down, and a time to build up.
The wall was expanded and improved over the next few hundred years. The walls became a point of pride with the people, and a structure to give confidence to defy the ruling powers. Around AD30, the church was founded within those same walls of Jerusalem. Approximately 40 years later, Roman legions came to crush a rebellion and tore down the walls. From that day to this, Christ’s church has not had a central home. A church in Charlottesville is no less home than a church in Jerusalem, in Rome, in Uganda, or in the Philippines.
There is a time to build up, and a time to tear down.
Walls have their place. Walls have their function. But walls have problems…
A. Walls are not very effective. Walls are meant to divide. To separate the good guys and the bad guys, US and THEM. Our territory and their territory. But walls aren’t very good at it.
If walls could keep evil away, they certainly would be valuable. But this is rarely true. The Great Wall of China was and is one of the greatest architectural wonders of all time. A big wall too tall for the enemy to go over, too thick for the enemy to go through, to long for the enemy to go around. It should have been the ultimate example of the success of walls, but rather is the ultimate example of the failure of walls.
Many times, invaders made it through this wall and attacked China. The enemy did not have to go over the wall, but they could. They did not have to break through the wall, but they could. They did not even have to go around the wall, although they could. All they had to do was bribe the guards to open the gates, or use subterfuge and open the gates themselves. You see the enemy was not simply on the other side of the wall, the enemy already was inside the wall even before the invaders arrived at the wall. (I have heard different views about this… but it is pretty clear that the Great Wall was not useful enough to justify its cost in money, resources, and human life.)
Watching the news in the Philippines, it seems to me that the US border with Mexico has become a hot topic in recent years. Different politicians talk about building taller and better walls. Set up more sensors and patrols. Yet whatever is done, people flow past the border by the thousands. Walls don’t work very well. There is a fairly simple reason for this. People are smarter than walls. History gives little comfort to those who trust walls.
There is a time to build, and a time to tear down.
B. Walls don’t change as times change. The walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt but most of the city is now outside of the walls. The city kept growing and the walls did not. The Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall in England now are inside the borders of the countries they were originally meant to defend. Territories move but walls don’t . Intramuros is an ancient part of the city of Manila in the Philippines. It is a walled city within a megacity. For centuries the walls were there to allow Spaniards to freely enter as well as Mestizos (those who were half Spaniard). But they were also there to keep those of full Filipino blood outside the walls. After several centuries, times changed and all peoples of the Philippines could come and go. Times changed but the walls remained.
There is a time to build, and a time to tear down.
C. Over time walls tend to become museum pieces… curious artifacts of a curious past. The Great Wall of China has proven a much better tourist attraction than it ever was a wall. On Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, they had a young man go over the wall with a skateboard. Not particularly effective as a wall, but effective way to lure visitors to China. The Berlin Wall is now a piece of Cold War history. Matter of fact, if you want you can go to E-bay and buy a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall has become much more popular once it became useless. Right here in Virginia, you can drive down to Hampton and see Fort Monroe. The old fort has a beautiful wall or casemate, surrounded by a real moat. The wall and moat have no functional value anymore. The fort has expanded beyond the walls and those walls would not stop even the most pathetic military invasion today. The wall has now become a museum, the Casemate Museum. You can walk inside the wall and see a lot of American military history. You can see where the old cannons were. You can see where Jefferson Davis was imprisoned. The walls around Fort Monroe make a great museum… but a lousy wall.
Museums are not so bad. If you want to make museums, it makes sense to build walls and forget to tear them down.
But there is a time to build, and a time to tear down.
Churches like to build walls. We see the evil around us. We fear dangerous teaching, immorality, and evil motives. We say, “We need to protect ourselves from sin and suffering that we see around us. We need to build up walls to ensure that our people, our families, our children are safe.”
You know, I can’t tell you that this is always wrong.
There is a time to tear down and a time to build up.
But the problems that exist in building walls apply to churches.
Walls are not very effective. Walls rarely keep the world out of the church. Often they are actually more effective at keeping the church out of the world. They separate churchmembers from communities. But is that a worthy goal for a church?
Walls don’t change as times change. Walls that churches have built may have made sense at one time. But the world changes. Communities change. Neighborhoods change. Issues change. The walls that were built 40 years ago may not fit any more. Some walls have lost their purpose.
The walls of churches often become museum pieces. Sometimes this is literally true. All over the world there are beautiful church buildings that have been turned into museums, or homes, or restaurants. The great basilica of Saint Sofia in present day Istanbul, was the crowning glory of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was captured by the Turks and turned into a mosque. In the 20th century, it was turned into a museum. If you visit Turkey, you can tour it. The church building is no longer where a church is. It is the empty shell… the husk of what was once a church. The church built beautiful walls and died within them.
Sometimes churches build figurative walls in the community and don’t become museums. The walls they create produce the metal bars of a zoo. These churches, in an attempt to protect themselves from the dangers of the surrounding communities have built high strong cultural walls. Every Sunday the community can watch an odd collection of individuals go into the church wearing strange clothes and doing strange things and leaving a couple of hours later. An odd menagerie of curiosities… perhaps to be investigated by outsiders as anthropologists might investigate the strange behavior and customs of a stone-age tribe. Interesting yes! Inspiriring no…
There is a time to build up, but there is also a time to tear down.
I would like to offer a suggestion. That is…
I believe I know what time it is…
NOW IS THE TIME TO TEAR DOWN WALLS.
The people of Israel built tall walls to keep the enemy out. That is fine. But that is not what is called of us. As Christ’s church we have different orders. Our order is not to keep the enemy out. We are called up to
Be light that is not covered or hidden for the world to see. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Be salt that will provide flavor for the whole earth. (Matthew 5:13)
Be as lambs going out into the world amongst the wolves. (Matthew 10:16)
Be evangelists that go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-21)
Some suggestions on tearing down walls:
Move the church outside of the confines of the church building. Let the world become the walls of the church.
Interact with the community. The people in the community. The families in the community. The social and governmental institutions in the community.
Discover what their felt needs are.
Seek to meet their felt needs AND their real needs.
Do not live in fear. Be strong and courageous. Tear down the walls and boldly go forth into the world and be part of God’s transforming plan.
Suppose you are a young teenage man (or you can choose teenage woman if you prefer… I will choose the teenage male). There is a popstar who you think is just awesome. She looks beautiful on TV. She has a great voice. Her songs really speak to you, and you just know that such soulful singing expresses a beauty that lies within. But, sadly, you live in Nowhere, Kansas. The girls there have stringy hair and pimples. People you meet are grumpy and mean…, or fake. Your friends are untalented, uninspiring, and with little vision for the future.
So you go to college, get your degree, and get into the production side of the music industry. In a few years, an amazing thing happens. You get to work on the technical side of an album of the popstar that you loved when you were in High School. It was amazing… wonderful… at first. But then you start noticing problems. Like the women back home, she has blemishes as well. She looks so ordinary without makeup and Photoshop. She doesn’t sing so well without good audiomixing and Auto-tune. You also discover that the beautiful words she sings are from the mind of another. She just sings them, and her thoughts and words are not nearly so inspiring or commendable on their own.
Hopefully, by the time you have had your youthful fantasies smashed, you have already learned that the world (and the people in it) are much more complicated and ambiguous than you first thought. It would be horrible to get such a huge “reality check” before you are ready.
This story/parable is a model of Religious Exoticism. A person is raised up in a certain religious setting. It may be okay when one is young, but as one gets into High School and College, one begins to notice problems. Your church (or some other religious body) is full of hypocrites. They don’t live up to high beliefs. They seek to justify their pettiness with religious bumpersticker language. They, frankly, are a bit embarrassing to be around. BUT… then you run into people from some fringe religious group. You had never even heard of the group (or at least met an adherent) when you were young. But now you run into them in college, or on the Web, or TV, or bookstore or wherever. They seem nice and friendly. They express spirituality in a new and fresh way. They are sooo non-hypocritical. Their words are deep and like fresh water to your jaded soul.
This is religious exoticism… the fascination with religions or religious beliefs that you are generally unfamiliar with. (It is the religious equivalent of Xenophilia, the idea that other cultures are wonderful while your own “stinks”.) It is commonly driven by a dissatisfaction with the religious structure one is presently in. It is pretty common. The New Age movement (along with Neo-pagan groups) have grown in the US drawing from people in Christian religious groups who have felt turned off by the actions and beliefs of many of its members. Religious exoticism can draw people from Christianity, but it can also draw people to Christianity. Here in the Philippines, college is often a place where students come into Evangelical churches (as opposed to some countries where college is where one “loses one’s religion”). The attraction of Evangelical Christianity is that it is so different from what they knew before. In Muslim lands, quite a few become attracted to Christianity because it is different from the faith and society they were surrounded by. That is one reason that many Muslim converts are not interested in the contextualized church (C4 or C5). They were looking for something decidedly different from the culture and faith structure they were in.
On the other hand, the (perhaps) more common attitude is Religiocentrism. I am not speaking soteriologically here (not talking about attitudes regarding salvation). I am talking about religious bigotry where “our” faith and religion and its members are good, and everyone else is evil, selfish, and nasty.
We often see both forces come into play. After the 911 tragedy there was an outbreak of religiocentrism where all Muslims were lumped together as violent terroristic jihadists. I had a friend who was a Lebanese-American Christian who told me, immediately after 911 that he was going to have to shave his beard. I thought that was funny. But then soon after, some in Arizona killed a Sikh man because they mistakenly believed his clothing and turban identified him as a Muslim. This is very ironic considering how many centuries the Sikhs were mistreated by their Muslim rulers. Anyway, my non-Muslim friend did shave his beard. He was right. Some Americans looked at him and saw a Muslim man (although he wasn’t) and felt that he must be a bad man (which he wasn’t).
Countering this religiocentrism, Muslims in America began marketing their faith as the “Religion of Peace.” Some of course would see that as funny with Al Queda, Hamas, and other violent groups espousing Islam as their faith. But that is ignorant. (Would Christians want to be judged by the worst examples within their faith. Living in the Philippines I cringe every time I hear an American describe the US as “a Christian nation.” From over here we see the filth, materialism, and violence exported by the US. It is no surprise that many Asians think that Christians are morally lewd and violent.) So rejecting the Muslim label of “Religion of Peace” because of the worst examples of their faith is simply religiocentrism… a form of religious bigotry. It is quite possible that others did take the label seriously, however. Perhaps some found Islam inviting because it is the “Religion of Peace.” This also is flawed. Islam does espouse peace, but so does most major religions. Islam certainly does not place a higher value on peace than most other religious faiths. Additionally, their founder was not a particularly peaceful man, and the four great leaders after him were not men of peace either. History shows Islamic societies as being no more peaceful than other groups. To simply accept a statement from another religion without examination because one is unhappy with certain aspects of their own faith community is religious exoticism. This is also a form of religious bigotry.
We see it elsewhere as well. Many will remember back in the 1960s and early 1970s with the growth of the Nation of Islam among African Americans in the US. Some rejected their birth name (slave name?) and took on an Arabic name. It was not so much an acceptance of a better faith structure as it was rejecting the racial bigotry and slave history of Christians in the United States. The fact that Arab traders practiced slave trading of Africans with at least as much gusto as their European counterparts was either not known or not focused on. The fact that there is a tendency towards pro-Arab racial and cultural bigotry in much of Islam was, likewise, not known or focused upon.
Of course it is not just between Christianity and Islam. Many Americans are convinced that Buddhism expresses a special type of peace and non-violence. Buddhism, like most religions including Christianity, express peacemaking as a virtue, but Buddhist societies have been as much prone to violence as other societies (activity in recent decades in Sri Lanka and Cambodia are obvious examples). The stereotype of Buddhism as a peaceful religion is built off of a level of ignorance… unable to see the blemishes from a distance. Neopaganism movements also seem to draw from an extremely limited understanding of pre-Christian pagan beliefs.
So why did I say that reliocentrism and religious exoticism are two sides of the same coin?
1. Both are built on ignorance and stereotyping.
2. While neither can truly be solved, they can be weakened through interfaith dialogue.
By the way, I am not a relativist. I am a Christian because I believe in Christ and His message to all. Because I believe in Christ as my Lord, Savior, and example, I recognize that Christianity as a religion has many many many problems… because a religion is made up of people…. people with many many many problems. Because of this understanding I believe we need to honor Christ by recognizing our own weaknesses truthfully. Such recognition also requires us to see the strengths and weaknesses of others and other faiths based on truth.
Honestly recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in other faiths can help us recognize our own strengths and weaknesses better. That is good.
In Great Britain, Royal Forests, dating to the time of William the Conqueror, were set up to provide hunting lands for the king and invited aristocracy. In some areas, particularly Southern England, vast swaths of land were designated as Royal Forests during the 11th to 14th centuries. Hunting and “chase” animals were protected from commoners. This led to a great deal of resentment particularly in times of famine, where local game could be of great help to starving families. Two major offences were “poaching” and “trespassing.”
I am not British, nor am I a historian. To me, however, the concept of the Royal Forest makes me think about certain types of mission work.
Think of God as King, and the Royal Forest as His realm. The animals in the forest are His children.
Poaching would be Christian missionaries trying to snatch God’s children to draw them into their own denomination.
Trespassing would be working in and among Christians.
This is especially relevant here in the Philippines. The Philippines is sometimes described as the only Christian nation in Asia (inaccurate on several levels). About 85% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic. Perhaps another 5% are orthodox Christians of one form or another. 10% of Filipinos are non-Christians or heterodox Christians (Muslim, Iglesia ni Christo, Secularists, Animists, Ang Dating Daan, and some American “cults”). The Philippines has a LOT of missionaries (Christian and non-Christian, orthodox and heterodox). I am one of these missionaries. Some would say that missionaries should only work among “unreached people groups” (outside the Royal Forests). I think that is extremely narrow, but obviously there should be many many “Frontier Missionaries.”
But what about the missionaries (I will focus here on Protestant orthodox missionaries) in the Philippines? What do they do? It depends, but for the most part, their goal is convert Roman Catholics to their own denomination.
Is this okay? Let me give a few thoughts on this sort of poaching.
1. Some missionaries would argue that seeking to convert Roman Catholics to their own denomination is okay because Catholics are not saved. While I admit that there are many nominal Catholics in the Philippines (nominalism is, after all, the number one world wide belief system), I don’t believe that we should start from the presumption that Catholics are (as a group) unsaved. First, I have met many deeply committed, godly, and faithful Catholics. Arguments that these people are not saved often ends up with a touchy doctrinal balancing act. Evangelicals would say that we are saved through faith, but these Catholics of faith they would argue are not saved because they believe that they must also seek to live godly lives and receive grace from the church. But that argument seems to assume a work-based salvation in itself. That’s because this view assumes that salvation is from faith AND not seeking to do other things to ensure salvation. However, the book of I John was written to Christians who were saved but were not assured of that salvation. If the only people who are saved are those who absolutely know they are saved, then who was John writing to? Faith saves even when there is doubt about one’s salvation. While I admit that there are some issues with some Catholic dogma, and even more so with some flavors of Folk Catholicism, to label all as unsaved is to (in my mind) reject God’s word about salvation by faith and reject the words of Christ not to take on the role of eternal judge.
Yet we see problems come up in this area. I worked with a group where a common testimony started with “I used to be Catholic, but now I am a Christian.” A major mission agency working in the Philippines lists different provinces with their percentage of Christians. The percentage ignores Catholics. Centuries of animosity (in both directions) has led to an inability to even discuss the possibility that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. (And yes, I have seen this bigotry on the Catholic side as well).
2. Some missionaries will seek to convert Roman Catholics NOT because they are Catholics, but because they are not part of their own denomination. This is, perhaps, the most common. A Baptist, Methodist, or Assemblies of God missionary will seek to convert Christians to their own denomination because they believe their own denomination is the best expression of Christianity. While I have some respect for that (I am Baptist because my understanding of God and His relationship with man and the Universe comes closer to a Baptist understanding than other groups) this type of poaching has its problems. I have come across many Christians whose unhappiness that I was not “their kind of Christian” far outweighed any joy that I was a fellow brother in Christ. That type of unhappiness and competition is contagious. There are times when working together is better than trying to tear each other down. Many religions and sects challenge Christianity because of its various denominations. While I have no problem with denominationalism (I see no reason that political unity is better than political diversity) but the fighting among Christians across denominational lines adds credence to their challenge.
3. Curiously, some missionaries refuse to work with those who don’t poach. Our ministry, Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center is non-denominational. We work with Christians and Christian groups that ascribe to the Apostle’s Creed. That is not because we are “creedal” but because it is a fairly simple expression of orthodox, historic, Christianity. One school we had connections with was very positive a work across denominational lines. In some situations it can be nearly impossible. For example, our old organization did medical missions. We worked with groups that would be described as Evangelical. Because medical missibout what we were doing until they discovered that we have members of our organization who are (faithful and godly) Catholics. Another group developed a very negative attitude about us. They wanted us to do counseling (we are a counseling center after all). However, what they called counseling was evangelism and often poaching. (Many of us are involved in evangelism in our private ministries, but our counseling group is focused on crisis counseling and psychospiritual problems.) It is a challenge toons were tied to church evangelism, it would be quite difficult to work with some denominations.
If this is Poaching, what is Trespassing?
To me, trespassing is working in and among Christians and non-Christians alike. The goal is not to draw people to one’s own denomination from other orthodox Christian organizations but to point people ever closer to Christ. What does this mean?
We recognize that EVERYONE, non-Christian, heterodox Christian, nominal Christian, and committed Christian, need to be helped toward Christ. They don’t necessarily need to be drawn to our own denomination to be drawn closer to Christ.
We recognize nominal Christianity as often preparatory to true faith. Story… one time my wife was in line at the grocery store here in Baguio when two ladies behind her started talking. When they found out that she is Protestant Christian, they began bad-mouthing Catholicism (the two were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were using the Protestant proclivity to have poor feelings about Catholicism as an open door to sharing their heterodox beliefs). My wife said, “Oh no, I feel very blessed that I was brought up Catholic. Even though I did not at that time really seek God, I still learned about God, Christ’s sacrifice for me, and His work on earth through the church. I was very blessed to have been brought up in the Catholic church.” The two had nothing to say since they weren’t prepared for that type of response. (Evangelical Christians REALLY need to stop being so predictable.)
We are NOT AGAINST leading people into our denomination. If I think my denomination is a good place for someone to grow in faith, hope, and love, then I welcome those who want to join us. But that is not our primary goal. Our goal is to guide people to God. Some time ago we were working with a kind, faithful, and godly Catholic nun. During that time, her superior came to visit. We felt that she was there, partly to be sure that the nun was not converting away from her group. In truth, we absolutely did not want her to join our denomination. Why? First, she was growing in her faith within her present faith community. Second, we wanted to continue to build healthy ties with the Catholic church and we did not want to ruin that by poaching. However, if someone is in a denomination and is not growing and they are seeking to grow within our denominational community, of course they are welcome.
So what is the end of this? I believe that poaching in the Royal Forest (actively seeking to draw orthodox Christians away from their one faith communities) is misguided and and destructive for the body of Christ. However, trespassing (actively working in and among God’s people of different types) is good and even necessary. Frontier Missions is vital but there needs to be people working in the Royal Forest as well.
Quote by Peter Beyerhaus (b. 1929) summarizing Walter Freytag (1899-1959) view of Protestant Missions in 4 waves.
In Pietist mission the Kingdom of God was narrowed to a
purely individualist-ethical outlook. They concentrated on the salvation of individuals… Second, came those who held that the goal was not so much individual converts but self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating churches. These missiologists did not teach the churches must be identical with the Kingdom of God, but acted as though they were… Third, philanthropic missions, mainly with Anglo-American background, conceived of the Kingdom in terms of bettered social conditions in the world. This view, which today is celebrating an unexpected comeback, Freytag called the idealistic and socio-ethical . contraction… Finally, the fourth wave, in sharp contrast to the former three, which held that the kingdom was already present in this world, believed that the Kingdom is yet to come. The apocalypitc evangelists, men like Frederik Franson and Grattan Guiness, believed the Kingdom to be an eschatological phenomenon and located it in the totally transcendent realm. The only object of mission, they said, is to speed up the second coming of the Lord and the consequent establishment of the apocalypitcal Kingdom.
<Quote from Mission, Humanization, and the Kingdom, 1972, p. 55. Quoted by Eun Hong Kim, “Peter Beyerhaus’s Missiological and Theological Thought”, Asia Pacific Journal of Intercultural Studies, Jan 2006, p. 35-36>
So Beyerhaus looks at Protestant mission history in terms of the view of the Kingdom of God.
Wave 1. The Kingdom of God is individual lives
Wave 2. The Kingdom of God is The Church
Wave 3. The Kingdom of God is Society
Wave 4. The Kingdom of God is the future transcendant kingdom.
The first 3 waves at least make sense because they are focused on human lives. The Kingdom of God is about a recreated individual, in an purified Church, in a transformed society. The fourth wave, to me, is a bit questionable, not because there is not some truth about it, but that the focus is wrong. Beyerhaus did believe that the last wave had value in that the coming of the Kingdom of God should “speed up” our evangelistic fervor. Personally, I think it should motivate us to faithfulness, not trying to be “quick” but I suppose that is a matter of opinion. Some in the 4th Wave believe that we can get Christ to come back sooner through evangelism (The Lausanne Covenant seems to suggest this). This appears to be a regrettable interpretation of Matthew 24.
Regardless, all four waves have problems because of their limited scope. God’s Kingdom is not simply centered on God, not simply centered in people (or groups of people), and not centered in a specific period of time.
I have been a bit down on “Power Encounter” as a missiological method… especially in this blogsite. Power Encounter has been popularized by Charles Kraft whose understanding has been affected by his work in West Africa. He found the animistic beliefs there made the people receptive to Christianity marketed in terms of power. And perhaps that is the best way to present God’s message in West Africa… I wouldn’t know. However, some people have sought to normalize power encounter to the point that some feel that it is a necessary or preliminary step to conversion. I don’t see this at all. Paul pointed out that Jews seek a sign and Greeks seek wisdom. To assume that everyone must go through a logical or philosophical argument of belief prior to conversion (based on Greek ideals) makes as much sense. But even within the Jewish ideal, the role of power encounter seems to be questionable as a missiological method. To demonstrate this, I would like to take one of the two clearest ex
amples of power encounter in the Bible… Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
The story of Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal is in I Kings 18, while Elijah’s encounter with God is in I Kings 19. Please read these passages if you are uncertain about the details of this part of Elijah’s life.
Elijah won a power encounter with the priests of Baal. What were the results of this:
1. Over 400 priests of Baal were killed
2. People on Mount Carmel fell facedown and said “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!”
3. Apparently, prophets of God were able to minister somewhat more freely in the Northern Kingdom
These all sound pretty good, but there are some questionable points as well.
1. Having false priests executed would not be considered an acceptable missiological goal today.
2. There is no real evidence that the people’s cries to God led to a long-term change of heart. The drift away from God continued in the Northern Kingdom.
3. While King Ahab appeared to be more open to listening to God’s prophets, there was no major change, and his son was still a follower of Baal.
So, there is (in my mind) some clear doubt that power encounter is generally a good missions method. In fact, the use of power encounter (even in broad definition) is relatively uncommon in the Bible.
So let’s look further in this passage. If Elijah’s relationship with the priests of Baal was Power Encounter, then the relationship between God and Elijah was Love Encounter.
After the priests of Baal, Elijah went back to the royal court, probably part of his victory lap. But there he found out that Queen Jezebel was unmoved by the power encounter and planned to have Elijah killed (a reverse power encounter).
Elijah ran for his life. Some find this confusing or demonstrating lack of faith. But let’s be honest. Elijah did his most awesome miracle and thought he was done. He found out that he was wrong and could soon be killed. He had a CRISIS. His response was normal. It was a “normal response to an abnormal circumstance.”
How did God deal with Elijah? He dealt with him in a loving manner. Curiously, the way God did it was quite similar to the crisis response method taught by NOVA (National Organization for Victim Assistance). NOVA has a three step system:
A. Safety and Security
B. Ventilation and Validation
C. Prediction and Preparation
A. Safety and Security. God allowed Elijah to escape a dangerous situation and go to where he felt emotionally secure and physically safe. Elijah was not running from God, he was running to Mount Horeb (Sinai). Elijah was running to God. God actually sent him an angel to feed him and give him drink so that he had the strength to continue his journey. During this time God did not speak to Elijah. Some would call this a “Ministry of Silence.” In a time of crisis, people need a time to get to a place of safety and feel emotionally secure. They also need some silence to begin to process their experience. This is exactly what God did. God gave him 41 days.
B. Ventilation and Validation. Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb and wanted to die. God asked him “What are you doing here?” This gave Elijah an opportunity to ventilate. Elijah expressed his anger (with God), his fear, his aloneness, and his frustration. God did not correct him at this time. God did not get angry. He did not try to justify Himself to Elijah. Then God did something kind of strange. He showed His power to Elijah, but it was made clear that these signs of power were not God or where God was. Rather, it was in a small voice with Elijah. Again, God gave Elijah the opportunity to ventilate without being criticized. The first step was a “Ministry of Silence”, but this part was a “Ministry of Presence.”
C. Prediction and Preparation. After giving Elijah ample time to ventilate, Elijah was ready. He had worked through the past, he was ready to look to the future. God gave him new tasks. He was to anoint two people as kings. Then he was to get a helper. Not only was this a new task, but this was to prepare him for new tasks (since being alone is difficult for someone in ministry). Only at this point does God correct some of Elijah’s bad thinking (not during the ventilation/validation stage) when He tells Elijah that he is not alone… there are others also faithful to God.
This is a Love Encounter. God revealed Himself to Elijah in a way that contrasted the fickle world around him. What were the results of this Love Encounter?
1. Elijah was revitalized for ministry
2. A second prophet was brought in and trained for long-term ministry
This is definitely missiological.
Reiterating, there may be times when Power Encounter is useful, but there are questions about its real effectivity. But Love Encounter is definitely missiological effective.